Portuguese man jailed over drug plot

Carlos Ferreira-Sampaio said he was diagnosed with PTSD after serving Nato in various war zones....
Carlos Ferreira-Sampaio said he was diagnosed with PTSD after serving Nato in various war zones. PHOTO: ROB KIDD
A Portuguese former paratrooper and restaurateur got involved in a $27million cocaine plot in Dunedin because of his debts, a court has heard.

Carlos David Ferreira-Sampaio, 47, appeared in the High Court at Dunedin yesterday where he was jailed for five years, two months after pleading guilty to attempting to take possession of the class-A drug for the purpose of supply.

He became a middleman for an international drug cartel because he owed money from gambling, counsel Harrison Smith said.

He told the court there was a "significant period of threats and pressure" that led to his client’s involvement.

Ferreira-Sampaio's co-defendant, 33-year-old Melbourne stripper Matthew Hodder, was jailed for four years, two months for his role in the scheme and was last month declined parole at his first hearing before the board.

The duo were arrested at Port Chalmers on September 17, 2022, the conclusion of a six-week saga as they tried to retrieve the 91kg haul of cocaine.

On August 3 that year, the 254m container ship Spirit of Auckland was docked in Philadelphia when authorities seized two duffel bags containing the narcotics stashed behind an intake grate under the vessel.

By the time the ship docked in Melbourne four weeks later, Ferreira-Sampaio had flown from Portugal, thinking the drugs were still aboard, and recruited Hodder.

"Ferreira-Sampaio acted as the intermediary for the overseas importers, overseeing the operation," a Crown summary said.

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

But when authorities questioned them about their activities, they abandoned their plans.

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

After renting a room at a motel, they spent $4000 then drove out to Careys Bay to scope out the shipping berth

When they returned to their motel for the night, police bugged their car.

At 3.13am the following day, the men returned to claim the drugs.

Ferreira-Sampaio used a radio to inform Hodder of the ship’s progress and when it docked, the Australian national made numerous dives along the starboard side of the vessel.

Unable to locate the bags, Ferreira-Sampaio called those overseas who were in charge.

The defendants discussed a second dive, but decided to return to the city for breakfast where they were arrested.

The court heard Ferreira-Sampaio was conscripted into military service in his homeland after secondary schooling and later completed a master’s degree in geography and territory management.

Mr Smith said he left the armed forces for a "comparatively peaceful" life, running restaurants in Portugal and Spain and raising his daughters.

But when the business closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, he turned to alcohol and gambling, which saw him become entwined with the criminal underworld.

Justice Jonathan Eaton accepted Ferreira-Sampaio had a PTSD diagnosis after representing Nato in Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor, and witnessing "many atrocities".

Letters to the court from his family described him as "hard-working and caring".

Hodder, who went by the stage names "Matty Thunder" and "DIY Dave", told the Parole Board recently that he became involved with the plot because his business was struggling.

He claimed he was offered $50,000 for the job and believed he was only needed for "security" on a boat.