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NEW YORK — U.S. authorities say Jamaican drug kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke was so ruthless that he once ordered a rival killed with a chainsaw.
However, another episode left a more lasting impression with the general public: He was arrested wearing a curly black wig.
A mug shot of Coke wearing the wig as a disguise while on the run went viral on the Internet after his capture in Jamaica during a bloody siege of his ghetto stronghold in 2010 that left more than 70 dead. At the time, he waived extradition to the United States and vowed to fight drug trafficking, gun smuggling, racketeering and other charges.
But following a guilty plea last year, Coke faces up to 23 years in prison at sentencing this week in federal court in Manhattan.
The 43-year-old Coke has sought mercy in a letter to the judge — seven handwritten pages that in tone are formal and polite but in substance barely touch upon a litany of accusations painting him as a cold-blooded killer.
“Good day to you, sir,” he wrote. “I am humbly asking if you could be lenient on me.”
Prosecutors have argued that leniency isn’t an option. They want Coke to serve the maximum term and be deported.
Coke was a divisive figure in Jamaica, where he followed in the footsteps of his father, Lester Lloyd Coke, better known as Jim Brown, a leader of the notorious Shower Posse during the 1980s cocaine wars. Authorities say he took over the organization when his father, also sought in the United States, died in a mysterious fire in a Jamaican prison cell in 1992.
Once in power, Coke became a folk hero to some followers in the West Kingston slum of Tivoli Gardens. He listed his good deeds in his letter to the judge — throwing Easter parties for seniors, passing out school supplies and Christmas gifts to children and starting a school to teach computer skills to the disadvantaged.
“I implemented a lot of social programs for the residents of my community — programs that teach them about self-empowerment,” he wrote.
The court has received other 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. “Peace is the answer,” it says was his constant message.
The altruism won Coke loyalty and political clout in Tivoli Gardens. But authorities allege his hold on power came at a severe cost that had repercussions in the United States.
In court papers, federal prosecutors call Tivoli Gardens “a garrison community” patrolled by Coke young henchmen armed with illegal weapons bought on the black market in the United States and smuggled into Jamaica. The enforcers’ job included guarding stash houses, punishing anyone who challenged Coke’s monopoly on the drug trade and using intimidation to influence elections, the papers said.
Anyone who crossed Coke was detained and subjected to harsh punishments. One person accused of thievery “was brought to the ‘jail,’ tied down and killed by Coke with a chainsaw,” the court papers say.
In the U.S., Coke controlled a network of large-scale drug dealers who went send him “tribute” payments of cash, electronics or guns, court papers say. On wiretaps, Coke “discussed with them the number and types of firearms they were sending and the methods of packaging,” the papers say.
The firearms “were crucial to Coke’s ability to maintain his power within, and control over the Tivoli Gardens area,” prosecutors wrote.
Prosecutors also allege Coke relied on woman to smuggle cocaine — concealed in condoms and inserted into their vaginas — into the United States on commercial flights to New York City or Miami. One woman who refused to do it was gang-raped and murdered, the court papers say.
Several woman abused by Coke’s gang in Jamaica have written to the sentencing judge asking him to give the defendant a harsh punishment. They’ve also insisted on anonymity.
“I might be targeted for death by the Shower Posse if this letter is brought to the public record,” the woman wrote. “But this letter is my contribution to Jamaica and the Jamaicans for their future.”