From Herald SunVIPs shamed on cocaine
SPECIAL INSIGHT REPORT
By Keith Moor
22 Aug 2005
ONE of Australia's most prolific cocaine dealers has given police the names of his celebrity customers. He provided Victoria Police with taped evidence implicating music, sport and TV stars.
The dealer identified the celebrities -- who are household names -- before being convicted of serious drug offences in 2003.
He is now a police informer and is expected to give evidence in at least one major drug case.
Among those named by the supergrass as regular customers were:
ONE of Australia's biggest rock performers.
A LEADING female actor who spent years starring in one of Australia's longest-running television dramas.
A PROMINENT retired AFL player connected to a male actor who recently turned up at a cocaine dealer's house in Docklands during a police raid.
ONE of Melbourne's female media stars.
SEVERAL leading Victorian barristers.
Police considered investigating the celebrities further to try to corroborate the dealer's claims, but decided against singling them out.
Force priority is to chase drug dealers, not users, even if those alleged users are high-profile.
The supergrass told Victoria Police he handled drugs worth $30 million in the late 1990s and 2000.
He claimed he obtained huge amounts of cocaine from the Australia-wide drug syndicate run by underworld feud victims Lewis Moran, his son Jason, and stepson Mark.
The supergrass told police his cocaine clients included top models, entertainers, and other members of Melbourne's A-list.
The head of the Victoria Police major drug investigation division, Acting Det-Supt Bob Hill, confirmed investigations had identified cocaine use in many high-profile industries.
"Cocaine is essentially the drug that's associated with the rich and famous," he said.
Acting Supt Hill said celebrity drug users were treated no differently.
"The MDID conducts high-level investigations into large-scale illicit drug distribution," he said.
"Our focus is directed towards drug dealers, not charging users.
"We don't necessarily charge everyone who is associated with a drug trafficking enterprise.
"There might be people interviewed who provide intelligence or become witnesses for the prosecution.
"We don't differentiate between whether you are a rock star, television identity or a plumber."
A Herald Sun Insight investigation has found:
AN ITALIAN organised crime gang with global links shipped 434kg of cocaine worth $152 million to Australia in 2001 and last year attempted to smuggle a further 300kg into Melbourne.
AUSTRALIAN crime gangs have established direct links with Colombian cartels to ensure ready access to top-quality cocaine.
WEST African organised crime gangs are using the post to get large numbers of cocaine-filled letters and parcels into Australia.
POLICE intelligence suggests Israeli and Russian crime gangs are expanding networks to increasingly include Melbourne and Sydney.
INTERNATIONAL drug gangs are recruiting couriers from non-suspect countries to smuggle cocaine to Australia by air.
AUSTRALIAN Federal Police figures reveal a 50 per cent increase in cocaine seizures in Australia in the past year.
EIGHTY per cent of AFP cocaine seizures came through the post.
There was a 95 per cent increase in cocaine seizures in Victoria between 2002-03 and 2003-04. The weight of cocaine seized jumped 260 per cent in the 12 months to June 2004, and arrests more than doubled in 2003-04 on the previous year's.
Undercover drug police are spending more time at Melbourne nightclubs.
A recent Australian Crime Commission report said most cocaine users' lack of a criminal profile made it difficult to determine the size of the local market.
From Herald SunCocaine: Shock therapy in party drug ads
22 Aug 2005
IT starts off like any other anti-party drug television advertisement.
There's a nightclub full of beautiful people.
One of those beautiful people leaves the dance floor and locks himself inside a toilet cubicle.
Then it gets shocking.
He peels his scalp back and uses his fingers to scoop out a bit of brain.
The brain part is placed on the toilet seat and chopped into fine particles with a razor blade.
Then he snorts the bloodied bits up his nose through a rolled up banknote.
"It's graphic. Very graphic," said the head of the Victoria Police major drug investigation division, acting Det-Supt Bob Hill.
"But there is no illusion as to the harm you are doing by using cocaine. There is irrefutable evidence that sustained cocaine use causes brain damage."
The brain-snorting ad is being shown on television in New Zealand as part of a campaign against an increase in the use of amphetamine-based drugs, ecstasy tablets and cocaine by nightclub and rave party goers.
Acting Supt Hill said Victoria was also in the grip of an epidemic of the use of such drugs.
"I am not necessarily advocating the use of shock tactics like the New Zealand ad," he said.
"But maybe it is something we should seriously consider as part of an overall strategy to raise awareness.
"Certainly young people need to be better educated about the dangers of using the so-called party drugs.
"Victoria Police is very concerned about the normalisation of these illicit substances.
"There seems to be a perception in sections of the broader community in regard to these drugs that they are not harmful.
"Even using the term party or recreational drugs -- which are terms we do not condone -- gives them a level of legitimacy they do not deserve.
"The terms wrongly suggest they are OK to use when you go out or want a good time.
"People don't fully appreciate the long-term effects of using these drugs.
"We are only now hearing reports of people with significant brain damage as a consequence of their long-term ecstasy or cocaine use in the late 1990s.
"The major drug investigation division is doing a number of drug awareness presentations around Victoria.
"At each and every presentation we do there is someone in the audience with some anecdote about someone they know who abused various substances in the 1990s who is only now suffering the effects of their wild youth.
"There is ample evidence -- through MRI scans of the brains of amphetamine, ecstasy and cocaine users -- that long-term use of such drugs affects the brain by destroying its neurotransmitters.
"The difference between a normal, healthy brain and the brain of a drug user is chilling to compare.
"Comparison of the two images highlights the damaging effect on the brain's structure.
"Why would you do that to yourself?"
Acting Supt Hill uses his drug awareness presentations to show before and after photographs of US drug users to forcefully illustrate the effects of drug use.
"They show the deterioration of users who go from good-looking, healthy individuals to gaunt people at death's door in a few years," he said.
"While the only photographic evidence I have of such dramatic deterioration comes from US cases, I have no doubt there are similar examples in Australia."
Victoria Police major drug investigation division's clandestine laboratory unit head, Det Sen-Sgt Jim O'Brien, believes more needs to be done to educate young people about the dangers of the drugs sweeping Victoria's dance club scene, particularly ecstasy and amphetamine-based drugs.
"Two of the greatest fears parents have is that their kid will be killed in a car accident or they will end up addicted to illicit drugs," he said.
"You have to ask yourself if we as a community are doing enough as far as the drug problem goes.
"We can lock up drug criminals for the next 100 years, but I think more could be achieved through education and raising awareness in the broader community of what the true facts are relating to the dangers of illicit drugs."
TOMORROW: Mafia link to drug smuggling
From Herald SunCocaine: Clubs draw the line for VIPs
22 Aug 2005
SOME Melbourne nightclubs provide secluded cocaine snorting areas for celebrity and regular patrons, according to an A-list model.
The model spoke to Insight on the understanding neither she nor the nightclubs she named would be identified.
She has an intimate and detailed knowledge of Melbourne's cocaine scene, having been on the VIP party and opening night invitation list for five years.
"When I first started mixing in those circles, I was amazed to find how many sports stars, high-profile actors and entertainment industry figures were using cocaine," the model said. "There has been a steady increase in cocaine use since then, particularly in the past 12 months.
"One Melbourne television celebrity I know regularly invites groups of female models to rooms hired in luxury hotels specifically for cocaine parties.
"He will sometimes organise them to coincide with opening nights and will invite those attending back to his room after the performance.
"Cocaine will be in plentiful supply."
The model named several leading celebrities as being cocaine users, including former and current AFL players and a prominent athlete.
"There are celebrity cocaine users out there who most people would never, ever suspect would be users of that kind of illegal substance," she said.
"They generally don't use it in front of people they don't know and are very careful who they buy it from.
"Usage will be at private parties, in their own homes or places where they feel comfortable.
"Places they feel comfortable using it include some of the most popular nightclubs in town. Some nightclub owners and managers condone and facilitate cocaine use for celebrities and regular patrons they know.
"They provide facilities out the back, such as private rooms, offices or sectioned-off VIP toilets, where such people can go to snort cocaine out of sight of other nightclub-goers. Some even provide cocaine-use paraphernalia in the rooms: silver tubes to snort through, cutting equipment, that sort of thing.
"That is very common in Melbourne. I can think of three or four off the top of my head, and I am talking big-name places, which attract very well-known people."
From Herald SunCocaine: It's not okey dokey in any form
22 Aug 2005
THE street price of cocaine in Victoria is about $350 a gram and is most often sold as a white, odourless powder.
It is usually snorted through a straw or rolled-up banknote, though some users inject or smoke it in cigarettes, or through water pipes (known as freebasing).
A gram is enough for 10 lines, or snorts. The effects of the drug are felt almost immediately but last only a short time, resulting in many users having several lines per session to avoid the fatigue and depression of coming down from the high.
Cocaine is a stimulant that speeds up the activity of the central nervous system. It reaches the brain within three to five minutes of snorting.
It is derived from the leaf of the coca plant, which grows in the mountainous regions of South America.
Colombia, Peru and Bolivia are the three main source countries that supply cocaine to the world markets. Colombia produces about 70 per cent of the world cocaine supply.
Cocaine is not produced in Australia. It is often mixed or cut with other harmful substances. Users take it in the hope of achieving a high or euphoric feeling as a result of the drug's stimulation of parts of the brain, but it may cause anxiety and panic instead.
Prolonged use kills the brain cells that trigger the high.
Street names for cocaine include, coke, okey dokey, charlie, nose candy, big C, blow, marching powder, snow, white lady and sleigh-ride.
SHORT-TERM low-dose effects include: reduced appetite, increased heart rate, agitation, sexual arousal, increased body temperature, enlarged pupils, increased alertness and energy, extreme feeling of wellbeing, inability to judge risks, and unpredictable and/or violent behaviour.
SHORT-TERM high-dose effects can produce cocaine psychosis, a mental disturbance. Its symptoms include hearing voices, delusions, suspicion and fear of persecution.
LONG-TERM, use can kill off the receptors in the brain. It also produces behavioural problems and convulsions in some people.
Prolonged snorting damages the lining of the nose and can damage the structure separating the nostrils.
Smoking cocaine can cause breathing difficulties, a chronic cough, chest pain and lung damage. Injecting it can result in blockage of blood vessels and can lead to major damage to organs.
Deaths have been recorded from cocaine overdose due to seizures, heart attack, brain haemorrhage, kidney failure, stroke and convulsions.
Withdrawal symptoms can occur when the dependent stops using the drug or reduces the amount they use.
Symptoms include depression, suicidal feelings, nausea, vomiting, shaking fits, fatigue, weakness, hunger, long but disturbed sleep, irritability, muscle pain and craving.
From Herald SunCocaine: Gangs dive Down Under
22 Aug 2005
GLOBAL organised crime gangs are increasingly earmarking Australia for cocaine smuggling operations.
The latest Australian Federal Police intelligence reveals Italian, West African, Israeli and Russian syndicates see Australia as a lucrative market.
There is ample evidence that Italian and West African gangs are already big exporters of cocaine to Australia.
Police discovered one Calabrian mafia gang alone was involved in two cocaine shipments to Australia totalling 734kg -- with a street value of $256 million -- in the past five years.
Israeli and Russian groups have also identified a growing market for cocaine in Australia and are keen to use their worldwide drug distribution networks to get a slice of it.
"They recognise there is a market," AFP border and international network manager Mike Phelan said.
"Because we are an affluent country, we will always be a market for cocaine.
"It is a more expensive drug than most others, but Australians, being affluent, can afford to pay a premium price for cocaine of high purity -- and crime gangs know that.
"Australia is clearly part of the global market for large amounts of cocaine."
Mr Phelan said cocaine was nowhere near as prevalent in Australia as amphetamine-based drugs and ecstasy tablets, but it was growing.
"There has been a 50 per cent increase in the number of cocaine seizures in Australia during the past 12 months," he said.
"Seizure rates are normally indicative of use, so you can reasonably assume there is a larger amount of cocaine coming in."
Mr Phelan said gangs had made a conscious decision to switch from sending large single shipments of cocaine to Australia.
He said that the more common cocaine smuggling methods now involved:
SENDING lots of small amounts through the mail system, usually to post office boxes opened under false names.
HIDING 1-2kg in machinery parts or other goods delivered by international courier companies.
HUMAN couriers on commercial flights, usually recruited because they held passports from countries unlikely to arouse Customs suspicion.
Mr Phelan said West African crime gangs favoured the scatter-gun approach of sending hundreds of letters and parcels through the mail system.
"Eighty per cent of the cocaine seizures in the past year have come through the postal system," he said.
Mr Phelan said international crime gangs had decided there was more chance of success if they sent a hundred 1kg parcels of cocaine to Australia rather than one 100kg shipment.
"They expect some of the letters and parcels to be intercepted, but their aim is to get a portion of it through," he said.
"It is similar to what we have seen with the cocaine coming into Australian airports.
"What we have seen, particularly in the past 18 months, is a trend towards smuggling 1.5kg lots of cocaine, either in body packs or internally secreted, using people not normally targeted by Customs; that is, people holding passports from countries not traditionally associated with cocaine, such as Britain, Canada, or various European countries."
Mr Phelan said West African crime gangs were very active in recruiting couriers from countries other than South America, where almost all the world's cocaine came from. They often used several couriers at once, expecting some to get caught.
The AFP had excellent intelligence from its network of offices in and around South America on cocaine smuggling trends.
"Our intelligence suggests Australian-based drug syndicates do have links directly into South America," he said.