A Canberra cafe owner who used social media to show off flashy cars and brag about his apparent wealth has failed to overturn his conviction for multiple drug offences.
Brendan Baker, 29, was last year sentenced to 13 years and eight months jail with a seven year non-parole period for a string of major drug charges, including importing drugs from China.
He claimed he was wrongly convicted and launched an appeal in the ACT Court of Appeal in November on seven grounds, including that the trial judge had “erred” on several points of law.
Today that appeal was dismissed by Justice Wendy Abraham, Justice David Mossop and Justice Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson, who said “there was no unexplained failure in this case”.
Baker appeared in court via video link and nodded when the appeal was thrown out, telling the judge: “Yeah thank you, no worries”.
Informer’s credibility challenged in appeal
Baker was convicted of drug trafficking last year largely on the evidence of a police informer.
At the time, Baker’s legal team argued this person was “unreliable” and a drug dealer who had struck a deal with police.
The informer’s reliability was challenged again in Baker’s appeal by his barrister Beth Morrisroe, who argued the jury should have doubt about the informer’s credibility.
Ms Morrisroe also argued that handwritten notes about drug deals found at Baker’s share house were never analysed by an expert.
However, the arguments failed to sway the three-judge panel.
“An assessment of the evidence reflects that it was open to the jury to be satisfied about the guilt of the appellant in relation to the counts on which he was convicted,” the judges found in their decision.
“There was evidence which supported his version of events, in that it rendered it more probable.
Another of Baker’s grounds of appeal was that prejudicial evidence was put to the jury, which the judges dismissed.
“The jury was given appropriate directions as to the use of this evidence and there is no basis to suppose that the jury would have done anything other than follow those directions,” the judges said.
Baker also said that prosecutors did not provide an adequate reason for not calling a witness, which the judges similarly dismissed.
Wads of cash found in Baker’s home
Baker was arrested in 2018 and accused of trying to import drugs from China.
Large large wads of cash were found in his home during police searches.
During his trial, Baker’s lawyers argued he legitimately bankrolled his lavish lifestyle, which was well-documented on social media, with proceeds from a Kingston cafe, a home renovation business and a building supplies shop.
“He’s not on trial for being part of the selfie generation, or his prolific use of hashtags,” Mr Baker’s lawyer Astrid Haban-Beer said.
However, prosecutors convinced the jury Baker’s wealth came not from his business ventures, but from drug dealing.
Baker was set a non-parole period of seven years, which was backdated to his arrest in 2018.
Judge Wilmoth said that Honey’s long-term drug addiction and repeated relapsing meant that he was suitable for a lengthy CCO that would allow authorities to monitor his behaviour.
“He has had to deal with the ramifications of that – being publicly vilified for it – because of the opposition of some in the local community to the very existence of the safe injecting room.”
The court heard that since he was found guilty, Honey had lost his house and his job.
A police investigation found Honey was involved in dozens of heroin transactions, selling the drug near the Richmond centre, outside a primary school, in local streets and at his nearby home.
He pleaded guilty to one count of drug trafficking in September. Honey’s lawyers argued he was involved in “low-level street offending” to friends and people he knew and there was no evidence of financial reward.
Honey’s barrister, Daniel Sala, argued that his client’s criminality should be seen through the lens of his battle with drug addiction and that he had become the focal point of the animosity felt by some members of the Richmond area towards the safe injection facility.
“He’s become this sort of pariah that represents to so many people in that Richmond area what are all the problems with this program,” Mr Sala said.
“What is particular about this, is that there really is this concerted effort to undermine and attack and remove this institution of the safe injecting room.
“When all this came out … many people saw it as reflective of the type of individual that uses his place and what is going to happen in that it’s a den for the corrupt.”
Prosecutor Briana Goding said that Honey’s offending was serious because of the number of transactions that took place and that it happened outside a primary school.
Judge Wilmoth acknowledged Honey’s long history of drug problems, his struggles with depression and that he had been abused by vigilantes for the work he did.
Magistrate Gilligan had the outreach worker assessed for a non-custodial community correction order but decided a jail term was appropriate as Honey had not complied with previous attempts at rehabilitation.
Four other people arrested with him last year still have their cases before the courts.
Honey, who was granted bail after immediately appealing his original sentence, will likely leave prison at the end of May 2021.
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David Estcourt is a court and general news reporter at The Age.
In voices both strained with emotion and seemingly hardened with trauma, they stepped forward – cautiously, with trepidation – to level their allegations: that Mearan, a former Portsmouth, Ohio, city councilman and still-practicing attorney, trapped them in a cycle of drug abuse and sexual servitude.
They told their stories to agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. To FBI investigators. To journalists with The Cincinnati Enquirer, part of the USA TODAY Network. The worst that came of it were the convictions of eight defendants who pleaded guilty to drug charges – and none of those eight were Mearan.
On Friday, everything changed. After decades of rumors and investigations, Mearan was arrested on human trafficking, racketeering and related charges. He was expected to be arraigned in Scioto County Common Pleas Court on Monday.
Mearan, 74, has denied having anything to do with trafficking, prostitution or drugs.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said otherwise.
“If Dante were around, he’d invent an eighth circle of hell for this guy,” he told The Enquirer late Friday, hours after Mearan was arrested outside his Portsmouth office on 18 felony charges.
“His victims were utterly powerless. One of the problems with this case is everyone thought Mr. Mearan was untouchable. The victims were reluctant to come forward because they thought nothing would ever happen to him, but something could happen to them.”
Some women did come forward, however – including Heather Hren, who spoke with Enquirer reporters for an investigation that ran in two parts published in March 2019 and September 2019. She said Mearan had arranged for her to have sex with a Cincinnati doctor for $200 and arranged for a probation officer to take nude photos of her, among other allegations.
Mearan, she said, “trafficked me to his friends or pimped me out.”
Hren was one of 10 women initially interviewed by The Enquirer last year, most of whom asked that their names not be published. The newspaper also pored through hundreds of investigative documents, including arrest and court records, and interviewed an additional 50 people for the project.
Here’s what the women alleged: Mearan, as a prominent attorney, would represent women facing drug charges. The lawyer promised them lenient sentences from judges he knew and parole officers willing to ignore probation requirements, but there was a catch: The women had to agree to have sex for money.
The sexual liaisons allegedly occurred in Portsmouth, Cincinnati and Columbus, but also outside Ohio. The Enquirer was told of sex-for-money trips to New York, New Jersey, Louisiana and Florida.
The women were paid $200 to $2,000 per encounter, and in some of the instances, Mearan himself handled the payment, they said.
The Enquirer interviewed Mearan twice during the investigation. He consistently denied the allegations. At one point he said he didn’t know what a sex trafficker was and asked for a definition.
Mearan’s home was raided this spring, a year after the newspaper’s initial report, by agents with the Ohio Bureau of Investigation. At the time, Mearan told reporters that any investigation into him would be fruitless because he led a “boring life.”
The Enquirer’s investigation began after the newspaper obtained a federal wiretap affidavit which had been filed under seal with the Southern District of Ohio. The 80-page affidavit, filed in August 2015 by DEA Senior Special Agent Keith Leighton, said Mearan had been “known to law enforcement” in Portsmouth since the 1970s.
The agent linked Mearan to 27 women who worked for him as prostitutes, including two believed to have been met with foul play – one woman was dead with “multiple traumas” in 2013, and another, Megan Lancaster, has been missing since April of that year.
Lancaster, who was 25 when she was last seen, kept names and phone numbers in color-coded notebooks that her sister-in-law, Kadie Lancaster, compiled and showed The Enquirer last year. The entries included notations like “dance for” and “men who give money.” Mearan’s name and number appeared alongside both notations.
Kadie Lancaster said she was tagged in a post on Facebook on Friday evening with the news that Mearan had been arrested. She said she never thought it could happen.
“The whole thing was just surreal,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe it had finally came to a head.”
Megan Lancaster was last seen in Wheelersburg, an Ohio River city of about 6,000 residents about 10 miles west of Portsmouth. Saturday was her 33rd birthday.
Linda Mills, 35, was one of the accusers featured in The Enquirer’s investigation. She said she was promised a modeling contract by a former Scioto County Sheriff’s deputy, only to be sex-trafficked at age 15. She described being forced to have sex with multiple men, getting addicted to drugs and becoming pregnant in 2003. The baby, born in 2004, was put up for adoption, she said.
Told Friday of Mearan’s arrest, she started to cry.
“No one’s ever believed me,” said Mills, her voice thick with tears. “I just wish I could look him in the face and all of the other ones and say: ‘Look at what you’ve done. Look at what you’ve caused.’”
Mills described conflicting emotions, saying she felt both blessed that Mearan finally faced charges, but adding, “I’m so angry.” She said Mearan was protected for years by high-profile lawyers, judges and officers.
“Why are you protecting this man?” she asked. “Because you’re part of it and no one wanted to listen to people.”
Mearan is lodged in the Scioto County Jail. The prosecution is a joint effort between Yost’s office and Scioto County Prosecutor Shane Tieman.
According to the Supreme Court of Ohio’s attorney services office, Mearan’s registration is active. He was admitted as an attorney in 1971 after graduating from Ohio State University and passing an exam. His listing indicates he has no record of disciplinary problems, nor of administrative sanctions and suspensions.
Mearan operates his own law firm, the website for which describes him as accomplished, humble and passionate and says he “has created quite the reputation for himself during his years of practice.”
The 18 felony charges Mearan faces include human trafficking and compelling prostitution. They stem from activity between 2003 and 2018 involving six women. If convicted of all charges, he faces more than 70 years in prison.
Yost said now that Mearan has been charged, other victims may feel safe enough to come forward. He said he was impressed by the six women who are already a part of the case for their strength and resilience.
“When we called today and went around and talked to them to let them know … there was a deluge of tears,” Yost said. “They never thought it would happen.”
Lawyers for a Darwin man accused of trafficking his wife to India say the allegations are false and part of a bid by the woman to remain in Australia.
Pratap Singh, 28, is accused of tricking his wife into leaving Australia and stealing $60,000 from her family
His lawyers told a bail hearing the case against him is “very weak” and based on false claims
Judge Greg Cavanagh is considering granting bail on the condition of electronic monitoring
Pratap Singh, 28, appeared via video link in the Darwin Local Court to apply for bail after being charged last month with trafficking in persons, which attracts a maximum penalty of 12 years jail.
Mr Singh is accused of tricking his 27-year-old wife into leaving Australia to fly to India in February 2019 and then providing false information in divorce proceedings he started in Australia earlier this year.
Detectives from the Australian Federal Police’s Human Trafficking Operations have also alleged Mr Singh used threats and coercion to garnish his wife’s wages and money from her bank account, ultimately stealing $60,000 from her and her family.
But lawyers told Mr Singh’s bail hearing they would be fighting the charges.
Solicitor Lyma Nguyen said the complainant’s credibility and the veracity of her claims were called into question by documents from separate proceedings, which were not read out in court.
Ms Nguyen told the court Mr Singh’s wife was “dependent on [Mr Singh]” for her Australian visa and had made the claims in order to remain in the country.
All four family members were involved in the drug operation between 2016 and 2017, which included a cannabis crop at Chaffey near Renmark.
In sentencing Perre, Judge Rauf Soulio said Perre was the central figure in the trafficking enterprise.
“You socialised there and planned and conducted the offending.
“Your role in relation to the trafficking of cannabis included providing directions and advice to others involved in the trafficking, arranging meetings where cannabis and cash were exchanged and facilitating the transportation of cannabis to Western Australia.”
Judge Soulio said a police search of the Salisbury property led to the discovery of cash, plastic heat-sealed bags, a heat-sealing machine, digital scales, a cash note counter, and a homemade silencer, as well as books relating to gun parts.
In sentencing submissions, lawyers for Perre previously told the court that he had a number of medical conditions including hypertension and diabetes, and that he would be placed at greater risk of contracting coronavirus while in custody.
But Judge Soulio today said Perre’s health issues can be properly managed within the prison system.
The White House on Wednesday called out Venezuela and almost two dozen other nations as “major drug transits” or “drug-producing countries,” in an effort to tackle the ongoing drug trade in the U.S. – an issue Trump has attempted to curtail since he took office.
The Justice Department in March already indicted Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro for his alleged involvement in a decades-long narco-terrorism and international cocaine trafficking conspiracy scheme. A $15 million bounty has been placed on Maduro for information that could lead to the arrest of the socialist.
The United States no longer accepts the validity of Maduro’s presidency, instead recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself the true president of Venezuela in 2019.
“The most complicit kingpin in this Hemisphere is the Venezuelan dictator, Nicolas Maduro,” The White House said in a statement. “He joined a multitude of other regime cronies who are either under U.S. indictment or were sanctioned for drug crimes by the Department of the Treasury.”
Maduro, along with Venezuelan National Assembly member Diosdado Cabello Rondón, were accused of conspiring with Colombian rebels and military members “to flood the United States with cocaine” and use the drug trade as a “weapon against America,” according to the DOJ indictment from March.
Maduro responded to the March indictments by calling Trump a “racist cowboy,” and warned the U.S. against attempting any sort of invasion.
“Donald Trump, you are a miserable human being,” Maduro said during a televised address.
“If one day the imperialists and Colombian oligarchy dare to touch even a single hair, they will face the Bolivarian fury of an entire nation that will wipe them all out,” he added.
Maduro has not yet commented on the U.S.’s most recent attempts to target the socialist country but faces additional international challenges as United Nations’ investigators accused the president and other top officials on Wednesday of crimes against humanity.
The Human Rights Council found that the socialist government wasdirectly responsible for extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and illegal detentions of thousands of victims that opposed the regime.
Venezuela is a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) which means the findings found in the U.N. report could be utilized by the ICC to prosecute Maduro and other senior leaders.
Maduro is already under increased pressure by the U.S., along with other nations who support Guaidó’s presidency, but with the recent findings they could expect to see increased international sanctions which have already crippled Venezuela’s economy.
Maduro believes the U.S. is trying to overthrow him in order to exploit the massive oil reserves Venezuela contains.
LONDON — A trucking company manager from Northern Ireland pleaded guilty on Friday to the manslaughter of 39 Vietnamese people, including two 15-year-old boys, whose bodies were found last year in a truck trailer in Essex, east of London.
Ronan Hughes, 40, from County Armagh in Northern Ireland, made the plea at the Old Bailey criminal court in London, where he accepted responsibility for his role in a case that shocked Britons and brought attention to the deadly perils of human trafficking. In addition to manslaughter, Mr. Hughes admitted conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.
The bodies of the 39 victims were discovered at an industrial estate in the town of Grays in Essex, not long after the truck in which they were concealed arrived at Purfleet on a ferry from Zeebrugge in Belgium in the early hours of Oct. 23 last year.
Mr. Hughes, who was extradited to Britain from Ireland in June, was one of several people accused of being part of a people smuggling ring. The truck driver, Maurice Robinson, also from Northern Ireland, had already pleaded guilty to manslaughter charges.
Most of the victims, aged between 15 and 44, were from Nghe An and Ha Tinh provinces in Vietnam, and had left their homes in search of better economic prospects. Thirty-one of them were men or boys, and eight were women. An inquest established the cause of death as asphyxia and hyperthermia, when the body excessively overheats.
Another man, Eamonn Harrison, aged 23 and from Northern Ireland, denied 39 charges of manslaughter and also pleaded not guilty to conspiring to assist unlawful immigration. He faces a trial in October.
An international athlete-trading scheme that enabled 15-year-old Russian ice skater Katia Alexandrovskaya to switch allegiances to Australia is effectively “human trafficking”, says world athletics boss Sebastian Coe.
Police in South Australia say drugs are continuing to be trafficked across state borders despite coronavirus restrictions, after seizing a large amount of cannabis from properties across Adelaide.
Nineteen properties were searched by SA Police across suburban Adelaide
Plants, dried cannabis and $29,000 in cash were seized
Police believe proceeds of the operation were being sent to Europe
Almost 650 cannabis plants were seized, and three men arrested and charged, following police raids on 19 houses across the metropolitan area, including at Netherby, Findon, Thebarton and Morphett Vale.
The raids were carried out yesterday and yielded more than 60 kilograms of dried cannabis and $29,000 in cash, police said.
The seized drugs have an estimated street value “in excess of $6,000,000” and police said evidence suggested “some of the proceeds of the drug trafficking were being sent overseas to European countries”.
“We found cannabis at 12 of the houses and, quite disturbingly, we found evidence of cannabis at the remaining seven houses as well,” Detective Superintendent Stephen Taylor said.
“With this particular syndicate it appears as though all of the houses were set up [for] hydroponics.
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The Trump administration on Thursday chargedNicolás Maduro and 14 other high-ranking Venezuelan officials with narcoterrorism, drug trafficking, corruption, and other crimes, accusing them of using cocaine as a “weapon” to “flood the US.”
Two federalindictments unsealed Thursday allege that Maduro and former and current officials in his regime partnered with dissidents of FARC — a violent rebel group in Colombia — for 20 years to engage in drug trafficking, causing “tons of cocaine to enter and devastate American communities.”
The Department of Justice alleged that Maduro and other officials “expressly intended to flood the United States with cocaine in order to undermine the health and wellbeing of our nation.”
“Maduro very deliberately deployed cocaine as a weapon,” US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Thursday. “As alleged, the defendants betrayed the Venezuelan people and corrupted Venezuelan institutions to line their pockets with drug money.”
The US government is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to Maduro’s arrest.
Sitting foreign leaders normally enjoy diplomatic immunity in other countries, but the US and dozens of other nations recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president. The indictments against Maduro call him the “former president.”
The sweeping indictments against Maduro are the highest escalation of US efforts to topple Maduro’s socialist government, a month after Trump called him “an illegitimate ruler” and a “tyrant” whose “grip on tyranny will be smashed and broken,” during his State of the Union address.
Maduro’s regime is “awash with criminality and corruption,” Attorney General William Barr said Thursday.
The indictments allege that Maduro and his officials led and managed a drug-trafficking organization called the “Cartel of the Suns.”
The cartel “sought to not only enrich its members and enhance their power, but also to flood the United States with cocaine and inflict the drug’s harmful and addictive effects on users in the United States,” the Justice Department said.
Barr addressed the decision to charge Maduro during the coronavirus pandemic, saying that Venezuelans were “suffering,” and accused Maduro’s government of blocking essential supplies.
Barr said the best way to support the people of Venezuela would be to “rid the country of this corrupt cabal.”