NSW man jailed following $47 million cocaine investigation

Australian Federal Police, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, NSW Police Force, Australian Border Force, NSW Crime Commission, US Homeland Security Investigations

Editor's note: Footage of the operation is available via hightail.

A New South Wales man, 50, has been jailed following an international, multi-agency investigation into the importation of 188 kilograms of cocaine supplied by a Mexican drug cartel in 2019.

The Picnic Point man was sentenced yesterday (19 August, 2022) to nine years’ imprisonment, with a non-parole period of 5 years by the Downing Centre District Court.

Police investigating the 2019 cocaine import observed the man moving hundreds of aluminium ingots and attempting to access the cocaine he believed was hidden inside them.

He was already in prison for an unrelated matter when police served him with a court attendance notice in March/April 2021 for his role in importing the cocaine, which had an estimated street value of $47 million.

The AFP estimates this seizure saved the community more than $120 million in drug-related harm, including associated crime, healthcare and loss of productivity.

The man pleaded guilty on 29 April, 2022 to attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine, contrary to subsection 307.5(1), contrary to section 11.1 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

He also plead guilty to an additional state offence knowingly taking part in the supply of not less than a commercial quantity of pseudoephedrine, contrary to s 25(2) of the Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act 1985 (NSW).

AFP Detective Acting Superintendent Luke Wilson said disrupting the supply of cocaine inundating our communities was paramount to combatting organised crime and reducing the harm to at risk Australians.

“The high demand for cocaine in Australia is at the forefront of our battle with organised crime syndicates; they see that big dollar sign over Australia and know the profit they can make is substantially more than any other target market,” Det. Act. Supt Wilson said.

“Law enforcement cannot win this fight alone. As a community, we need to continue educating each other about the high risks associated with illicit drug use; to reduce the harm, demand and ultimately the profit going back to organised crime.” 

NSW Police Force Drug and Firearms Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent John Watson, said police continue to closely monitor cocaine border detections and the drug’s increased recreational use in Australia.

“Like this seizure, forensic drug profiling of cocaine found here in Australia continues to show most originates from Colombia and other areas of South America,” Det Supt Watson said.

“The illicit cultivation of coca bush in these areas significantly impact upon local indigenous communities and nearly half is carried out in areas with special environmental protection status.

“The reality is that by partaking in both the importation or recreational use of cocaine here and overseas, you are supporting the proliferation of serious crime around the world and the devastation of other people’s lives,” Det Supt Watson said.

ABF Enforcement Operations East Acting Commander, Hany Elbatoory, said the ABF would continue to make it as difficult as possible for criminal syndicates to illegally import illicit drugs such as cocaine into Australia.

“The ABF has significant skills, technological capability and targeting methods when it comes to detecting drugs at the border," A/g Commander Elbatoory said. 

“Those who choose to be involved in this kind of activity can expect their illicit goods to be detected and stopped at the border, and receive significant criminal penalties for their actions."

“This outcome is a strong example of international cooperation and commitment to disrupting transnational organized crime syndicates,” said HSI Attaché Ernest A. Verina.

"U.S. Homeland Security Investigations stands shoulder to shoulder with our Australian law enforcement partners to ensure that communities are kept safe from the importation of dangerous drugs.”

NSW Crime Commission Commissioner Michael Barnes said the success of the operation highlighted the ability of state and Commonwealth agencies to inflict maximum damage on the supply of illicit drugs in Australia.

“The NSW Crime Commission is proud of the work we do with our partner agencies, bringing our respective unique capabilities to bear on organised criminals networks,” he said.

ACIC Acting Executive Director Intelligence Operations Thomas Hester congratulated our partners and said that through further collaboration, we will continue to target those who provide dangerous drugs to the community.

“We look forward to working with the Australian Federal Police on more successful operations as we extend our reach into criminal networks. The result today shows how we are working together to deliver impacts through our unique intelligence insights to stop serious and organised crime damaging our communities.”

Members of the community with information about drug imports can contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or make a report online through Crime Stoppers.

Note to media:

Media are encouraged to include help-seeking information in stories about illicit drugs to minimise any negative impact on people in the community. The following services provide people with access to support and information.

  • For free and confidential advice about alcohol and other drug treatment services call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.
  • Access free 24/7 drug and alcohol counselling online at www.counsellingonline.org.au.
  • For information about drug and alcohol addiction treatment or support, go to www.turningpoint.org.au.
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