How cops took down baggage handler in $10m drug sting

 

It is the preferred strategy from the corrupt baggage handlers' play book to smuggle drugs into Australia via international flights.

For the uninitiated, it's referred to as the "rip on, rip off' method.

The first step is for the baggage handler to remove a luggage containing drugs from an international flight while it is still on the runway.

Once stowed in the footwell of a luggage buggy, the bag is driven to the domestic terminal and put on a baggage carousel where a pre-organised runner picks up the bag and casually escapes with the drugs to a waiting getaway car.

The end result is that the bag with the drugs avoids the process of being screened and X-rayed once it comes off the international flight.

But the strategy does not always work and the consequences are severe.

Uinisitoni Tolutau removing the meth bag from a plane that landed in Sydney from Canada on March 6 2019. Picture: Supplied
Uinisitoni Tolutau removing the meth bag from a plane that landed in Sydney from Canada on March 6 2019. Picture: Supplied

 

The drugs were moved to a luggage buggy. Picture: Supplied
The drugs were moved to a luggage buggy. Picture: Supplied

This point was made clear to baggage handler Uinisitoni Tolutau on June 19 when the Campsie man was jailed for a maximum nine years in the Downing Centre District Court after pleading guilty to importing a commercial quantity of methamphetamine.

The court heard Tolutau, 33, tried out the tactic with two backpacks containing 35kg of methamphetamine, worth $10.5 million on the street, when they landed at Sydney Airport on an Air Canada flight from Vancouver on March 6, 2019.

He then drove the bags to the domestic terminal and dropped the red and green backpacks on a Jetstar carousel, court documents said.

Inside the domestic terminal, Victorian man Paul Silao, 27, was waiting to pick the bags up off the carousel.

The only problem for the drug smuggler was that the Australian Federal Police were watching the men as part of an investigation that was known as Operation Verdi.

Baggage handler Uinisitoni Tolutau unloading two bags and placing on the luggage carousel.
Baggage handler Uinisitoni Tolutau unloading two bags and placing on the luggage carousel.


Silao pleaded guilty to possessing a commercial quantity of a border control drug and was sentenced in the Downing Centre District Court to a maximum six years and nine months in jail in February.

The first challenge for the smuggling operation had been to make sure Tolutau, Silao and the drugs were all at Sydney Airport at the same time.


The drugs were meant to land in Sydney days earlier but were delayed on multiple occasions, court documents said.

Tolutau repeatedly had made sure he was rostered on to work shifts when the plan was scheduled to unfold. This included 3am shifts on March 4.

Meanwhile, Silao had to repeatedly cancel flights from Victoria before rebooking them.

On March 4, Silao sent a text message to a person, named in court documents as "his friend", which said: "Had to change my flight again … to Wednesday."

Tolutau did not turn up to his shift on March 5.

Paul Silao picking the meth bags up from the domestic luggage carousel at Sydney Airport. Picture: Supplied
Paul Silao picking the meth bags up from the domestic luggage carousel at Sydney Airport. Picture: Supplied

But that evening, he arranged to "cover a shift" starting at 3am on March 6, when the drugs would land in Sydney.

At 10.54am, AFP officers watched on as Tolutau drove a "tow tug" truck next to the Air Canada flight. He was filmed taking the bags off the belt loader after they came off the plane before putting them in the footwell of the truck.

Police made an arrest shortly after the drugs were taken off the carousel. Credit AFP
Police made an arrest shortly after the drugs were taken off the carousel. Credit AFP

Tolutau was working for DNATA, a company contracted by Sydney Airport to move cargo and luggage from international flights to the Customs clearance area for processing, court documents said.

DNATA's contract did not include taking bags from the international terminal to the domestic terminal. However, this is where Tolutau took a detour with the two bags.

Meanwhile, Silao had landed in Sydney on a Virgin flight from Melbourne at 9am and brought no baggage.

At 9.01am, he received a text that said: "Do u have ur coins ready for the trolley."

One of the bags with the drugs inside. Picture: Supplied
One of the bags with the drugs inside. Picture: Supplied

Two hours later, Silao was captured on CCTV waiting at Jetstar carousel six.

At 11.15am Tolutau drove the truck to the restricted area of the domestic terminal and loaded the two bags on the Jetstar carousel for Silao to collect.

Police captured crystal clear footage of him loading the bags.

They had similar footage of Silao picking up the bags on the other side when they came through.

AFP officers waited for Silao to put the bags containing the drugs on a trolley before arresting him.

Later analysis of the methamphetamine showed it was 80 per cent pure.

The head of the case, Ryan Henderson from the AFP's Eastern Command Criminal Investigations, said the investigation began with police piecing together strands of intelligence.

"We targeted the Air Canada flight based on information developed by AFP intelligence analysts here in Sydney," he said.

"The intelligence indicated that an organised crime group might try to import a large quantity of illicit drugs on this aircraft. We began an investigation, targeting this suspected importation which eventually resulted in the arrest of these two men.

Originally published as How cops took down baggage handler in $10m drug sting

Paul Silao walks away with the bags filled with 35kg of drugs. Picture: Supplied
Paul Silao walks away with the bags filled with 35kg of drugs. Picture: Supplied
Both Tolutau and Silao were arrested at the airport. Picture: AFP
Both Tolutau and Silao were arrested at the airport. Picture: AFP
Authorities found the drugs inside the sports bags. Picture: Supplied
Authorities found the drugs inside the sports bags. Picture: Supplied

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