NEW YORK – Jamaican gang leader Christopher "Dudus" Coke pleaded not guilty Friday to U.S. charges that he ran a massive drug ring in the Eastern U.S. from his Caribbean stronghold.
The 42-year-old boss of the Shower Posse gang was sent to New York on Thursday under tight security after waiving extradition. His case had sparked street violence in Kingston that left more than 70 dead.
He entered the plea at an appearance in Manhattan federal court and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison in the United States if convicted.
In court papers, New York prosecutors said Coke conspired to distribute cocaine and marijuana throughout the eastern United States for more than 15 years. 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 papers said. The tribute payments also included firearms, the papers add
Coke was captured in Jamaica on Tuesday, but not without a fight: After Jamaica's prime minister announced he would agree to a U.S. request that the leader of the notorious Shower Posse gang be extradited, his armed supporters and government security forces clashed in the streets of the Tivoli Garden slums for four days, leaving 76 people dead.
On Wednesday, Coke agreed to waive extradition. He said he was saddened by the deaths 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," Coke said in a statement released to the news media, his first public comments since the extradition request in August.
The U.S. indictment alleges that, since 1994, members of Coke's gang in Jamaica and their U.S. counterparts "have sold narcotics, including marijuana and crack cocaine, at Coke's direction." It says that cooperators have recorded phone conversations with Coke about shipments of drugs and handguns.
At his extradition hearing at a military outpost in Kingston, the Caribbean nation's capital, Coke expressed confidence that he will be found innocent and allowed to return to his family in Jamaica.
Copyright 2014 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.