How rookie female cop secretly posed as a drug mule
IT is one of the most dangerous international drug trafficking operations undertaken by Australian cops. A rookie policewoman with no undercover training is thrust into an organised crime network posing as their drug mule. Her work smashed a crime syndicate with links to the Chinese triads and took 55kg of heroin worth an estimated $75 million off the street in two countries. That rookie cop, Zoe Jones (an assumed identity) breaks her silence to tell Natalie O'Brien her harrowing story.
It was only ever supposed to be a conspiracy to import heroin - not a full-blown drug trafficking job.
At the time it began, Zoe Jones was a detective with the NSW Police Drug Enforcement Agency. She was at her desk at Taskforce 1, when her boss, Detective Superintendent Ray Southwell, asked her to go undercover for an urgent drug investigation.
She had never done undercover work before. And there was no time for training.
Police had intelligence a big drug importation from Asia was planned.
Zoe in her undercover role was supposed to be able to organise a drug mule for them to carry the drugs back into Australia.
But she was only ever meant to get the job started and then hand over to an experienced undercover cop.
'"Don't worry, you won't be going anywhere,' my bosses told me," Zoe recalls.
"I was just supposed to meet the crooks, gain their confidence and get them talking about the drug-smuggling operation."
At the meeting in a hotel in Sydney, the crooks were ordering alcohol and pushing her to do the same. Zoe didn't know if she was allowed to drink, as she was on duty. She was flying by the seat of her pants.
But she improvised so well, the crooks immediately confided in her with details of their planned drug-trafficking scheme.
They bought her hastily formulated cover story - she was not a drug addict but was in it for the money; she loved cash, she loved flash things and she wanted money for gambling.
The woman at the meeting, who we have named Sally, told Zoe she was arranging the drug importation to raise enough cash to hire a helicopter to bust her lover and associates out of a Western Sydney jail.
Sally told Zoe she wanted her to be their drug mule.
At a debriefing with her police superiors, Zoe was encouraged to stick with the job.
"But don't worry, you won't be going anywhere," Zoe was told.
"Don't forget this is only a conspiracy to import heroin. You won't be leaving the country."
So Zoe began building a relationship with Sally, shopping together and catching up for coffee. Their rapport grew as they planned the trip, selecting tourist trips for Zoe to take in Hong Kong.
They chose the five-star hotel they would stay in and they went together to buy airline tickets and to purchase travellers' cheques.
There had been some delays in getting together the cash so Zoe and Sally, who was to accompany her but pretend she did not know her, took the only seats left - in business class.
Sally had developed a cover story for Zoe as well.
She was to act like a tourist on a shopping spree for Christmas presents. She had to prepare for the vacation just like any other tourist, get shopping bags and book tours to visit the floating markets and ride the tram to The Peak on Hong Kong Island.
Sally made her watch the movie Midnight Express and told her to take notice that the smuggler, Billy Hayes, was only caught because he panicked and sweated.
Zoe dutifully watched it so she could answer questions if necessary - still convinced she wouldn't be going anywhere.
"It was getting close to the time when we were all supposed to travel - and the arrests would be made," Zoe says.
"Then one day the boss rang me and said come in to my office. He sat me down and said there is something really important I have to tell you," she says.
"We have been looking at it. You had done such a good job. We want you to go to Hong Kong. You are leaving on Monday."
It was Friday.
"I burst into tears. The next thing I knew I was bloody going to Hong Kong," Zoe says.
As if she was not nervous enough, a well-meaning colleague driving her to the airport kept telling her she shouldn't be going and that he was worried she was going to die.
"I had to tell him to shut up," Zoe says. "I was terrified enough."
After Zoe arrived in Hong Kong everything that could go wrong did.
The drug kingpin who had been shadowing Zoe's every move told Sally to let Zoe know he wanted to have sex with her.
Horrified, she told Sally she never mixed business with pleasure. But every time she got a knock at the door, Zoe thought it was him. She was beside herself with anxiety.
Then Sally took possession of the heroin and disappeared for two days. When she finally surfaced she admitted she had tasted the "gear and wiped herself out".
Just before Zoe was about to leave, an envelope was slipped under her hotel room door.
It contained two valium tablets to keep calm, and the names of two solicitors in Sydney should she get caught.
Zoe packed the heroin into a girdle-style belt and strapped it to her body. She donned a silk jacket to cover the drugs and headed for the airport.
The crooks had told her they had Chinese triad and IRA associates at the airport who would watch her every move. It was intended to reassure Zoe but made her even more nervous.
When she arrived in Australia she was picked up by police at the airport and they quickly switched the heroin for a substance that Zoe realised looked nothing like the real drugs.
Then she headed to a Western Sydney hotel - a prearranged meeting place with Sally.
When Sally picked up the fake drugs and left, Zoe collapsed in a heap on the hotel room bed.
"I thought it was over and I could relax, but then the phone rang and the undercover surveillance team tell me they have lost the crooks and the fake drugs," she says.
Zoe was terrified that Sally would have realised the drugs had been switched and would think Zoe had ripped them off.
Then came a knock at the hotel room door.
It was Sally, clutching a suspicious looking bag. Zoe's mind was racing.
"I thought she had a gun in the bag and had back come to kill me."
Zoe opened the door and grabbed Sally's hands, holding them in a grip so tight she couldn't move them, and then dragged her towards the bed.
But Sally threw her hands up and broke Zoe's grip. The bag was up-ended and money flew everywhere.
There was no gun - it was her payment for being a successful drug mule.
Within seconds, Zoe saw familiar faces storming into the room and she and Sally were handcuffed and arrested.