NEW YORK (AP) — A reputed Jamaican drug kingpin described by U.S. authorities as among the world's most dangerous drug dealers pleaded guilty to racketeering and assault charges Wednesday, admitting his leadership in an international criminal organization that delivered drugs across the world for more than a decade.
Christopher Coke entered the plea in U.S. District Court in Manhattan to charges that carry a potential penalty of 23 years in prison, substantially less than the possible life sentence he could have faced on the original charges. Sentencing was set for Dec. 8.
He said he was the leader and organizer of the Presidential Click drug organization, which authorities said distributed drugs since 1994 worldwide, including to New York City, Miami and Kingston, Jamaica. They said the Presidential Click controlled the Tivoli Gardens area, a neighborhood in inner-city Kingston, where gunmen armed with U.S.-made weapons acted at Coke's direction.
"I directed certain activities, not limited to distribution of cocaine and crack cocaine" in Jamaica and the U.S. and the purchase and importation of firearms, he said.
"For nearly two decades, Christopher Coke led a ruthless criminal enterprise that used fear, force and intimidation to support its drug and arms trafficking 'businesses,'" U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement. "He moved drugs and guns between Jamaica and the United States with impunity. Today's plea is a welcome conclusion to this ugly chapter of criminal history."
Wearing a wig and traveling in a preacher's car, he was arrested by Jamaican authorities at a police checkpoint in June 2010 and extradited to the U.S.
A hunt for him in his West Kingston slum stronghold led to a confrontation that killed 73 civilians and three security officers over four days of fighting.
Coke was well known in Jamaica as a businessman who promoted shows. He also kept a high public profile in the ghettos west of Kingston, reportedly handing out cash and school supplies to needy children. He was also credited with helping to keep order by using his authority to punish thieves and other criminals in an area where the government has little presence.
His father was Lester Lloyd Coke, better known as Jim Brown, a leader of the Shower Posse during the 1980s cocaine wars. Authorities said Christopher Coke took over the organization after his father died in a 1991 prison fire while awaiting extradition to the U.S.
Just outside the bullet-pocked slum of Tivoli Gardens, Coke's former headquarters in West Kingston, a resident expressed disbelief that the gritty neighborhood's ex-strongman had pleaded guilty in New York.
"Can't believe he go out like that," a burly man nicknamed Buju said in Jamaican patois as he walked toward a corner where in May 2010 a group of masked men had erected barricades of wooden pallets and junked cars just before security forces launched their assault to capture Coke. "Thought he'd fight it to the end."
Mark Golding, justice spokesman for the opposition People's National Party, said Coke's defense team obviously had very limited options after a U.S. federal judge ruled against suppressing wiretap evidence in recent weeks.
"I believe that must have been very compelling evidence against him," he said. "The U.S. authorities had pursued this case against Coke for years, and of course the geopolitical aspects of this case were very sensitive."
AP Writer David McFadden contributed to this report from Kingston, Jamaica.