Jamaican cooperator testifies in NY drug case

A former track coach at a Jamaican high school testified Wednesday that a notorious drug kingpin sought his illegal services to obtain fraudulent visas for couriers — including a young girl — to smuggle drugs into the United States.

Anthony Brown described how henchmen for Christopher "Dudus" Coke showed up at a track meet in Jamaica in the late 1990s and told him "the president" wanted to see him. Brown climbed into a car where Coke waited with a handgun in his lap. They struck a deal for six visas for $1,500 apiece — about half of what Brown normally charged.

He gave Coke the cut rate because he "was one of the most ruthless persons in Jamaica," Brown told a judge in federal court in Manhattan. He added that he later fled Jamaica because he feared Coke wanted him dead.

The 32-year-old witness was testifying at an ongoing sentencing hearing for Coke, who pleaded guilty last year to U.S. racketeering conspiracy and assault charges. Prosecutors are using his testimony and that of another cooperator to try to persuade a judge to give Coke the maximum 23-year term.

Coke, 43, was arrested in Jamaica and extradited in 2010 following a bloody siege in Tivoli Gardens, a West Kingston slum that U.S. authorities describe as "a garrison community" he used to oversee an international drug trafficking ring. The stronghold was patrolled by Coke's young followers armed with illegal weapons bought on the black market in the U.S. and smuggled into Jamaica, prosecutors say.

Lawyers for Coke contend the allegations that Coke waged a campaign of fear and intimidation in Jamaica are overblown and rely on cooperators willing to lie on the witness stand in a bid for leniency in their own cases. Brown has pleaded guilty to drug charges that could result in a lengthy prison term and deportation, but prosecutors can ask the sentencing judge to give him credit for his cooperation.

Brown testified that he became a track coach at St. Jago High School — alma mater to Olympic athletes — in the late 1990s after attending school there. As part of his job, he traveled with the team to track meets in Miami and elsewhere.

The witness said he supplemented his meager high school income by charging people to get them visas by claiming they were either members of the track team or part of their entourage. When Coke sought his services, one of the phony applicants was a girl who was 12 or younger, Brown said.

When he met the girl, "She was crying," he said. She told him that her father had "gotten a beatdown" from Coke's men, he said.

Brown testified he delivered the six visas to Coke in 1998. But the drug boss only gave him $2,000 of the $9,000 due.

For another order in 1999, Coke paid nothing. Brown said he felt powerless to do anything about it.

Coke "just told me he'd take care of me," he said.

In 2000 — after Brown tried and failed to get visas for eight more passports provided by Coke — he panicked and decided to flee "for my life."

Said Brown: "I took the (passports) and I threw them away. ... I knew I was in big trouble."

No sentencing date for Coke has been set.