NEW YORK (CBS/AP) Alleged Jamaican drug lord Christopher "Dudus" Coke, who waived extradition, pleaded not guilty in a U.S. court Friday afternoon to charges that he ran a massive drug ring in the Eastern U.S. from his Caribbean stronghold.
Coke had reportedly been on the run since the U.S. issued a warrant for his arrest in connection with drug trafficking and gunrunning charges may 18. The ensuing hunt for him by Jamaican officials, including a major 4-day-long offensive on a Kingston slum where they believed Coke was hiding, was one of the bloodiest in recent memory and claimed 76 lives. It also prompted Jamaican officials to declare a state of emergency.
According to Rev. Al Miller, an influential evangelical preacher, Coke was on his way to the U.S. Embassy to turn himself in when his convoy was intercepted by Jamaican authorities at a roadblock.
On Wednesday, Coke agreed to waive extradition, and be taken to the U.S. to face charges that he received tribute payments as part of a vast and lucrative conspiracy to flood the East Coast with cocaine and marijuana. He is also facing gun running and drug trafficking charges.
In a prepared statement to the press Coke said he was saddened by the deaths at the Tivoli Gardens slum and hoped his departure would help his country heal.
"I take this decision for I now believe it to be in the best interest of my family, the community of western Kingston and in particular the people of Tivoli Gardens and above all Jamaica," the statement said.
Many poor Jamaicans see Coke as a hero who, like many "dons," seemed to provide a semblance of protection and a form of law and order that the government has not been able to achieve.
But U.S. prosecutors say the loyalty shown by the Kingston slum dwellers was shared by many drug dealers up and down the East Coast. In court papers, the federal prosecutors in Manhattan say drug dealers in the U.S. regularly sent "cash and goods, including clothing and electronics, to Coke as 'tribute' payments, in recognition of his leadership and assistance." The tribute payments also included firearms, the papers add.
Coke faces a maximum sentence of life in prison in the United States if convicted.
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