Above: Jamaican strongman Christopher Coke (FP)
By the Caribbean Journal staff
Jamaican strongman Christopher Coke has been sentenced to 23 years in prison by US District Judge Robert Patterson.
Coke, the leader of the international criminal organization called the “Shower Posse,” was based in the Tivoli Gardens section of Kingston.
The 23-year sentence was the maximum possible term, and matched that sought by prosecutors.
The sentence followed a guilty plea Aug. 31 to one count of racketeering conspiracy and one count of conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering.
“From his home base in Jamaica, Christopher Coke presided over an international drug and weapons trafficking that he controlled through violence and intimidation for nearly two decades, enlisting an army of ‘soldiers’ to do his bidding,” Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara said. “With his conviction, he is no longer able to traffick drugs in the US, move guns across our border, or terrorize people, and with today’s sentence, he will now spend a very long time in prison for his crimes.”
In February, prosecutors had called the 23-year term necessary to “protect the public from further crimes of the defendant.”
In the lead-up to sentencing, prosecutors said they had received a number of unsolicited letters testifying to alleged conduct by Coke, including abuse and murder of friends and loved ones.
While some in Kingston had supported Coke’s “charitable efforts” in Tivoli Gardens, the government said it was those efforts that made his criminal conduct even “more disturbing.”
One such letter, written by a Jamaican woman, said that she might be targeted for death if it were brought to public attention.
The United States’ request to extradite Coke in the spring of 2010 led to a high-profile reluctance by the then-Jamaica Labour Party government to comply.
When it finally decided to comply with the request, the Jamaican government’s mission June 22, 2010 to raid Tivoli Gardens and arrest Coke led to the deaths of 73 Jamaican citizens. (That mission also led to another controversy after a US spy plane reportedly flew over Kingston during the raid. Jamaican officials had initially denied any US assistance during the ambush).
Former Prime Minister Andrew Holness said at the time that Jamaica had, in fact, received US surveillance help during the Tivoli Gardens raid, accepting what it called a US offer for surveillance and imagery assistance.
Holness said the US did not “participate in the operations,” however.
The Coke affair, and the ruling party’s efforts to engage US law firm Manatt, Phelps and Phillips to lobby against Coke’s extradition, led to a high-profile Commission of Enquiry.
Coke had led the so-called “Presidential Click” since the early 1990s, which had members in Jamaica the US and other nations.
Members of that criminal organization have been involved in trafficking in cities around the world including New York, Miami and Kingston.
“At Coke’s direction and on his behalf, members distributed marijuana, cocaine and crack cocaine and sent him the proceeds,” Bharara said. “They also supplied Coke with firearms that they obtained in the United States.”
Coke had been designated by the US Department of Justice as a Consolidated Priority Organization Target, a list that includes some of the world’s most dangerous traffickers.
In addition to Coke’s prison term, he was sentenced to four years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1.5 million in forfeiture.