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Dunedin drug trafficker ‘middleman’ pleads guilty to role in $27m cocaine plot

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The middleman for an international drug cartel involved in a $27 million cocaine plot which terminated in Dunedin has pleaded guilty.

Carlos David Ferreira-Sampaio, 47, appeared by video link from prison in the High Court at Dunedin yesterday, a week after his co-defendant, 33-year-old Australian stripper Matthew Hodder, was jailed for four years, two months.

The Portuguese national pleaded guilty to attempting to take possession of the class-A drug for the purpose of supply and will be sentenced in May.

On August 3, 2022, the 254m container ship Spirit of Auckland was transiting through Philadelphia when authorities seized two duffel bags containing 91kg of cocaine from an intake grate under the vessel.

By the time the ship docked in Melbourne four weeks later, Ferreira-Sampaio had flown in from Portugal and recruited Hodder to fetch the narcotics.

“Ferreira-Sampaio acted as the intermediary for the overseas importers, overseeing the operation, and the defendant Hodder was tasked with providing physical assistance with the retrieval,” a Crown summary said.

Matthew Hodder: Photo / Rob Kidd
Matthew Hodder: Photo / Rob Kidd

The duo tested equipment, including an underwater scooter, and carried out reconnaissance on Spirit of Auckland.

But they became spooked when they were spoken to by Australian authorities, so the decision was made to target the ship at its next destination.

On September 13, the men flew from Melbourne to Queenstown, sitting separately, and hired a red Toyota Highlander which they drove to Dunedin.

After renting a motel, they spent $4000 on dive equipment in preparation for the vessel’s arrival.

Three days later, Ferreira-Sampaio and Hodder drove to Careys Bay to scope out the shipping berth and when they returned to their hotel for the night, police bugged their car.

At 3.13am the following day, the men returned to claim the $27m haul.

As Spirit of Auckland entered the shipping channel, Ferreira-Sampaio used a radio to inform Hodder of its progress.

While police looked on, Hodder made numerous dives along the starboard side of the vessel and when he was unable to locate the bags, he came ashore.

It prompted a frantic call from Ferreira-Sampaio to those overseas who were pulling the strings.

The defendants discussed a second dive but because of a lack of air in the tanks, decided to return to the city for breakfast.

When they parked their vehicle, police swooped.

At Hodder’s sentencing last week, the court heard he had become involved because of financial woes following the collapse of his roofing business during the Covid-19 lockdowns.

He had also worked as a stripper under the pseudonyms “Matty Thunder” and “DIY Dave” and the judge accepted the late-night profession went hand in hand with drug culture.

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