Racing identity Damion Flower jailed for 28 years
Racing identity Damion Flower has been handed a maximum sentence of 28 years in prison for running a cocaine-importation ring that smuggled large shipments of drugs through Sydney airport.
- The racehorse owner pleaded guilty to running a syndicate smuggling cocaine through Sydney Airport
- A former Qantas baggage handler was jailed for 14 years
- The pair used coded text messages to signal when drug shipments hidden in luggage needed to be intercepted
Former Qantas baggage handler To’Oto’O ‘John’ Mafiti has also been sentenced to at least 14 years in jail for collecting the bags of cocaine that were hidden in luggage unloaded from planes arriving from South Africa on nine occasions.
The pair, who were close friends, used coded text messages to communicate when the drugs would arrive and which bags Mafiti needed to intercept as they came off the planes.
A total of 228 kilograms of cocaine was imported by Flower, who was once a high-profile racehorse owner with connections to Sydney’s rich and famous.
Before getting involved in the horseracing industry, Flower also worked as a baggage handler for Qantas and used this knowledge to set up the drug-smuggling ring which operated between 2016 and 2019.
Coded messaged sent via text
Flower and Mafiti used burner phones to organise the drug pick-ups, sending text messages that appeared to provide betting odds on football matches but were actually alerts about upcoming shipments.
On the day of their arrest, May 22, 2019, Flower sent a message to Mafiti which read:
“Hey bro what up? Looking at super rugby games and prices for Saturday game. Our Christchurch Crusaders will smash the Blues bruv. I’m going to put on multi-bet. First game 5, second game 4 and last tri-scorer player eight. He’s a flying machine bro. Wind burn lol lol.”
A bag with almost 20 kilograms of cocaine later arrived on Qantas flight QF64 inside a baggage container marked ‘AKE 92548’ – the last three digits corresponding with the numbers Flower gave for the multi-bet.
Mafiti picked the bag up, put it on his baggage cart and then carried it out of the staff exit to avoid any customs inspection.
The District Court heard Mafiti would often request to work overtime or simply stay back on shifts when he knew a shipment was arriving later that day.
Shipments became more frequent
This operation worked successfully on nine occasions but three other attempts failed when the bags were seized by authorities.
Justice Sarah Huggett said these setbacks failed to deter the pair and they began to organise more-frequent shipments as time went on.
“The scheme and operation was far from amateur,” she said. “The system worked very effectively.”
Mafiti was generously remunerated by Flower for his involvement in the scheme but the judge accepted his participation was out of “misplaced loyalty” to his friend.
Justice Huggett said Flower was the instigator and coordinator and, therefore, had a higher degree of responsibility for the serious crimes.
She accepted he was largely motivated to make money to inject into his struggling business, the lavish Platinum Park stables on the Hawkesbury River.
Flower’s racehorse business in trouble
Flower gave evidence to the court that his business was “likely to fold” because clients weren’t paying what they owed and he feared he would soon be unable to provide for his family.
The court was told that the father of two put most of the profits from the drug-importation scheme into his racehorse business and gambled the rest.
Flower was one of the first to buy a spot in Australia’s richest horse race, The Everest, and once owned champion racehorse Snitzel.
Those in racing circles said they were never sure how Flower made his money and, at the time of his arrest, he admitted he had an unexplained income of more than $4 million.
Flower and Mafiti have been in custody since their arrest in 2019 and Flower says he has been threatened by other prisoners at Long Bay Jail and has had to defend himself on multiple occasions.
Both men pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of drugs and dealing with the proceeds of crime but declined to give evidence about their contacts in South Africa.