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(AP Photo/Yesikka Vivancos, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 13, 2003 file photo, Jamaican reggae star Buju Banton poses at the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards in Miami. Banton checked out some cocaine, put some on his finger and tasted it _ all of it caught on law enforcement video inside a Florida warehouse. Now he has another chance to explain why. The Grammy-nominated singer's second trial is scheduled to begin Monday with jury selection, five months after a previous jury hung on federal drug trafficking charges that could put him in prison for life.
TAMPA, Fla. — The case against Grammy-winning reggae star Buju Banton hinges on one man: Alexander Johnson, a former cocaine transporter turned federal informant who has earned over $3 million helping the government in drug cases in recent years.
Johnson testified during Banton's trial Tuesday, telling the jury how he and the singer met in 2009 in the business-class section of a Madrid-to-Miami flight and how, over drinks, they began chatting about the cocaine trade.
This is Banton's second trial on several cocaine charges, including conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine. The first trial, held last year, ended in a mistrial after the jury deadlocked. If convicted, he faces life in prison.
Johnson said Tuesday that after his eight-hour flight, he went to his superiors at the Drug Enforcement Administration to alert them that he would meet with Banton, whose given name is Mark Myrie, and tape record phone calls and meetings.
For several hours Tuesday, Johnson described multiple meetings with Banton in Florida, and prosecutors played tapes and phone calls.
In one meeting, held at the now-defunct restaurant Bova Prime in Fort Lauderdale (formerly co-owned by convicted Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein), Banton could be heard asking Johnson if he had any contacts for buying cocaine.
As Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" played loudly in the background, Banton said, "I give you my money, you buy, you sell."
Both Johnson and prosecutors say that Banton never put any money into any drug deal, nor did he make any money.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents recorded the singer inspecting the cocaine and tasting the drugs with his finger on Dec. 8, Preston said. His co-defendant, Ian Thomas, gave the undercover officer $135,000 on Dec. 10; he has since been arrested and pleaded guilty to drug charges.
Banton was not present for the Dec. 10 drug deal _ he was at home in South Florida _ but he "took a substantial step" in committing the crime by helping negotiate the deal, Preston said.