Stripper jailed for Dunedin cocaine plot

Matthew Hodder in court today: Photo: Rob Kidd
Matthew Hodder in court today: Photo: Rob Kidd
An Australian stripper involved in a plot to retrieve $27m of cocaine from a ship docked in Dunedin has been jailed for four years and two months.

Matthew Luke Hodder, 33, appeared in the High Court at Dunedin this morning after pleading guilty to attempting to take possession of the class-A drug for the purpose of supply.

Justice Jonathan Eaton said had the plan been successful he would have been looking at a sentence start point of at least 25 years.

"The harm such an importation would've had on the community is immense," he said.

The judge said Hodder "excelled" in the stripping profession but the late-night lifestyle led him almost inevitably to drug use.

The defendant went by the names “Matty Thunder” and “DIY Dave” during his time as an exotic performer and his online agency described him as "an experienced model and male entertainer ... willing to give anything a shot".

It was not revealed exactly how he became entwined with an international criminal syndicate dealing in serious drug trafficking but counsel Phil Hamlin conceded it was money-driven.

The court heard Hodder's roofing business had gone under during the Covid-19 crisis and he had turned to alcohol and cocaine to cope.

"He was in a mess and was involved, no doubt, for financial matters and to get himself out of the problems he had in Australian," he said.

Matthew Hodder went by the names “Matty Thunder” and “DIY Dave” during his time as an exotic...
Matthew Hodder went by the names “Matty Thunder” and “DIY Dave” during his time as an exotic performer.
"That was one of the motivators but one of the causes of that was his mental health issues and addiction history."

On August 3, 2022, a 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.

Because the GPS trackers were water damaged, traffickers were unaware the drugs had been confiscated and the ship docked in Melbourne four weeks later.

Hodder and his co-defendant – who pleaded not guilty and has name suppression - tested equipment, including an underwater scooter, and carried out reconnaissance on Spirit of Auckland.

But the pair abandoned their plans when they were spotted by Australian authorities.

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, Hodder spent $4000 on dive equipment including a wetsuit, pressure gauges, a torch, dive bag and snorkel.

While he was unaware what exactly he was supposed to be taking off the ship, he knew it was illegal and valuable, court documents said.

On September 16, the men 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 next day, the men returned to claim the $27m cache.

On the way, the co-defendant commented on the cost of fuel and Hodder told him: "It's all right mate, after tonight you're not gonna have to worry about the petrol prices. You can buy a petrol station. Put whatever prices you want."

As Spirit of Auckland entered the shipping channel, the co-defendant drove alongside it, communicating its position by radio to Hodder who hid under a dock in Port Otago’s restricted area.

As 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.

After hurried conversations with people overseas involved in the plot, the defendants were sent a video of where the drugs were stashed.

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

When they parked their vehicle, police swooped, seizing four cellphones, a laptop and cash in three denominations totalling $2359.

After being apprehended, Hodder said he had originally thought his role only extended to swimming to a catamaran and when he discovered the extent of the job he said he sought a way out.

He said he was subjected to threats by those above him in the chain.

In an interview in custody before sentencing, the defendant stressed his remorse and said: "I've never felt so free in my whole life."

Mr Hamlin said Hodder was keen to complete his sentence and get home.

"His arrest in New Zealand has brought him around to recognise the error of his ways and he wants to set himself on a different path," he said.

"He wants to get back to Australia to make a better life for himself."


Deep dive

July 31, 2022: US law enforcement tipped off about cocaine on a ship bound for Australia.

Aug 2: 91kg of the class-A drug seized while ship is docked in Philadelphia.

Sept 6: Matthew Hodder practises scuba diving in preparation in Melbourne.

Sept 8: Hodder is spotted by Australian authorities, aborts retrieval attempt.

Sept 10: Ship leaves Melbourne for Dunedin.

Sept 13: Hodder and co-defendant fly to Queenstown, hire car, head to Dunedin.

Sept 15-16: They buy $4000 of dive gear from shops and hire air tanks.

Sept 16: Defendants drive to Careys Bay to scope out port, police bug their car.

Sept 17: Hodder cannot find the cocaine, the pair return to town where they are arrested.