Former NRL player Aukuso Junior Paulo has been sentenced to a minimum of 11 years and four months in prison after a failed attempt to supply nearly one tonne of cocaine in Sydney.
His co-accused, Kigi Kamuta, has been sentenced to a minimum of 10 years and nine months.
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Both were dramatically arrested in Sydney’s Centennial Park in 2017 after a police officer posed as a member of a criminal enterprise and began speaking with their associate "Peking Duck".
Peking Duck organised to purchase a large amount of cocaine from the undercover cop who was to hand over the drugs to Kamuta and Paulo in December 2017.
Dressed in orange hi-vis vests, the two offenders travelled from Maroubra to the popular inner-city park in hire cars, accompanied by Royce Royal Hura, when they were stopped by police.
After searching the vehicles detectives found a Smith & Wesson pistol, a Beretta pistol and ammunition, encrypted Blackberry devices and nearly $650,000 in cash.
Paulo, 36 and Kamuta, 42, were later charged with attempting to supply 900 kilograms of cocaine, which has a potential commercial value of $180 million.
In handing down his sentence, Judge Antony Townsden said the two offenders played less of a role than Peking Duck.
“The fact that the drugs were not disseminated in the community is not a mitigating factor,” Judge Townsden said.
Judge says Paulo’s role ‘slightly more serious’
Ex-Parramatta Eels player Paulo, 36, pleaded guilty to two counts of possessing an unauthorised pistol and knowingly dealing with the proceeds of a crime. He was found guilty of participating in a criminal group and supplying a prohibited drug.
Kamuta was found guilty on all identical charges.
The judge deemed Paulo’s role in the criminal enterprise as “slightly more serious” than Kamuta's.
Neither man gave evidence during their trial but in a signed affidavit Kamuta - who will be deported back to New Zealand - said he was influenced by the deteriorating mental health of his wife at the time.
“I made the worst decision of my life,” Kamuta said.
Diagnosed with a mild intellectual disability, he said he was struggling to support his wife and two children and was not thinking properly at the time.
Paulo wrote in his letter to the court about a difficult and dysfunctional upbringing, and having witnessed his mother being assaulted while living in a refuge home.
Forced out of his successful playing career from an injury aged 31, he began problem drinking and gambling but has since enrolled into his first year of a Bachelor of Science and Psychology.
Paulo was given a maximum sentence of 17 years behind bars, and will be eligible for parole in 2029.
Kamuta was given a maximum term of 16 years and will be eligible for parole in 2028.