NEW YORK -- Following bloodshed over his capture, Jamaican gang leader Christopher "Dudus" Coke arrived in New York City under tight security on Thursday to face charges he flooded the East Coast with shipments of cocaine and marijuana, authorities said.
Drug Enforcement Administration agents brought Coke by plane to an airport in suburban White Plains, New York, hours after he waived his right to extradition in Jamaica. He was smiling as agents led him to a car that took him to a federal lockup in lower Manhattan to await arraignment on Friday.
In agreeing to leave Jamaica without a legal fight, Coke said he was saddened by the 76 lives lost in street clashes between fiercely loyal supporters and security forces in his power base in Tivoli Gardens slum. He said he hopes his decision will help Jamaica 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 U.S. requested his extradition in August.
Coke, 42, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison in the United States if convicted of drug and gun trafficking charges.
An indictment unsealed last month in federal court in Manhattan alleges that since 1994, members of Coke's notorious Shower Posse gang in Jamaica and their U.S. counterparts "have sold narcotics, including marijuana and crack cocaine, at Coke's direction."
The U.S. cohorts, the indictment says, "commonly send cash and good, including clothing and electronics to Coke as 'tribute' payments, in recognition of his leadership and assistance." The tribute payments also include firearms, the court papers add.
The indictment says that cooperators have recorded phone conversations with Coke about shipments of drugs and handguns.
Coke was captured Tuesday after a monthlong manhunt. He was disguised in a wig and riding with the Rev. Al Miller, an influential evangelical preacher who said Coke was on his way to surrender at the U.S. Embassy.
The 15-minute extradition hearing Thursday was held under heavy security at a military outpost in Kingston, the Caribbean nation's capital, out of fear of possible attacks by supporters.
Coke wore a gold chain over a blue striped shirt and was surrounded by security officers who towered over the 5-foot-4 strongman. He nodded to journalists on his way into the makeshift courthouse and acknowledged in a soft voice that he understood he will face trial in New York.
He expressed confidence that he will be found innocent and allowed to return to his family in Jamaica.
The government initially resisted the extradition request in a nine-month standoff with the United States that became a political liability for Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who represents Tivoli Gardens' district in parliament. Golding, whose governing party has long-standing ties to gangs in Tivoli Gardens, narrowly survived a no-confidence vote over his handling of the case earlier this month.
After Golding announced he would relent on the extradition request, security forces and gunmen loyal to Coke battled for four days, leaving 76 dead. The prime minister described the fight as a turning point in Jamaica's struggle with organized crime.