NEW YORK (AP) — Sentencing was postponed Friday for a Jamaican drug lord who was captured during a bloody siege of his ghetto stronghold and admitted to leading a criminal organization that delivered drugs across the world for more than a decade.
A federal judge ordered a hearing May 22 on evidence for how many years Christopher “Dudus” Coke should remain behind bars after pleading guilty last year to charges of racketeering and assault. He faces up to 23 years in prison.
During the brief hearing Friday, the 43-year-old Coke smiled and blew kisses to three rows of family and friends seated in the courtroom who had traveled from Jamaica for the hearing.
“We feel good; we feel wonderful. Words can’t describe,” said his cousin, Danisha Smith, outside court. She said his cousins, aunts and uncles would return for the May hearing.
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum prison time because of what they say was years of violence, drug running and mayhem that he presided over from his home base in a West Kingston slum called Tivoli Gardens.
In court papers, federal prosecutors called the slum “a garrison community” patrolled by Coke’s young henchmen armed with illegal weapons bought on the black market in the United States and smuggled into Jamaica.
Elections were rigged. Anyone who crossed Coke was detained and punished, they said. One person accused of thievery “was brought to the ‘jail,’ tied down and killed by Coke with a chainsaw,” the court papers say.
Coke’s gang also used women as mules to transport drugs to the U.S., the papers said. Several women abused in Jamaica wrote to the sentencing judge asking him to give the defendant a harsh punishment.
Coke himself wrote a seven-page letter arguing for leniency, citing years of good deeds like feeding the poor, opening schools and helping residents with doctor bills.
The court has received letters of support from Jamaica. One man described how “Dudus” started youth soccer leagues, paid medical bills for sick neighbors and even helped children with their homework. The altruism won Coke loyalty and political clout in Jamaica.
Coke was taken into custody during the 2010 siege, which left more than 70 dead.
His attorneys argued that federal prosecutors were trying to inflate Coke’s wrongdoing in order to get a stiffer sentence. He had faced life in prison on the original charges.
U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson ordered the May hearing, where prosecutors are to show evidence to support their allegations of Coke’s misdeeds. The sentencing will be sometime after that.
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