Retired US couple jailed for role as drug mules

LIKE many retired couples, Americans Archie Ross and his wife Karenkay had their sights set on travelling the world.

He had served in the Vietnam War, she had been diagnosed with cancer and the Californian couple had raised two adopted daughters together since they were married in 1974.

When Mrs Ross, 67, made contact with a Ghanaian man, known as "Daniel", their dream was seemingly realised.

In 2013, they made three trips in six months.

India to Japan, Peru to Ghana, and Brazil to Italy.

Their accommodation, airfares and expenses were paid for and all they had to do was deliver various packages and stay in contact with Daniel.

They believed they were part of a "black money scam", where there role was to transport chemicals which would be used to clean cash that had been dyed to avoid detection by authorities.

Mr and Mrs Ross assumed they were doing nothing wrong.

In 2015, their Ghanaian contact arranged for them to fly from Peru to Hong Kong where they collected packages that "appeared to be bedsheets, coffee and rice".

Once in Asia, they split the consignment and delivered it to two separate parties as they had been told.

The couple spent weeks in a Hong Kong hotel until they heard from Daniel again.

At his request, Mrs Ross collected two locked suitcases, which she then stored in her room.

A week later, on October 19 last year, the pair flew to Auckland on an Air New Zealand flight.

Red flags were only raised with Customs staff when during routine questioning the defendants told staff their luggage contained experimental malaria medication.

They were asked to open the bags and suspicions skyrocketed when Mr and Mrs Ross admitted they did not have the keys.

The bags were forcibly opened to reveal 7.2kg of methamphetamine - potentially worth more than $7 million.

Though they told police they did not know what was inside the suitcases, they later admitted wilful blindness.

In the High Court at Auckland this morning, Mrs Ross and her 68-year-old husband were locked up for four years two months after admitting importing the class-A drugs.

Justice Christian Whata said he could have jailed them for up to 14 years but shaved time off their sentences for a variety of factors.

A key issue was the couple's medical ailments.

The court heard Mrs Ross suffered from extreme anxiety and had undergone chemotherapy for cancer, while her husband was plagued by diabetes, hypertension, prostate problems, spine injuries and acid reflux.

Both had been "groomed over several years to be exploited as drug mules" the judge said and he accepted they were "deeply remorseful".

Another man charged in connection with the importation will appear in Manukau District Court next month.

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