THE NEWCASTLE-based “right-hand man” of an alleged cocaine importation syndicate co-ordinator has pleaded guilty to his role in smuggling $245 million worth of the drug into Lake Macquarie.
Dennis Malcolm Bath, 69, of Broadmeadow, who Australian Federal Police say provided “logistical support” to 63-year-old alleged cocaine cartel co-ordinator Kent Anthony Jackson, was arrested onboard the 13-metre catamaran “Skarabej” while it was moored at Toronto on November 15 last year. Inside the twin hulls of the vessel police found more than 700 kilograms of cocaine in what was by far the biggest drug bust in the Hunter’s history.
It was Bath’s job to “deconstruct” the catamaran and carefully cut through the hull to remove the cocaine, according to court documents.
And now the roles that Mr Jackson, 63, of Islington, and Mayfield East sailor, musician and part-time model Craig William Lembke, 48, are alleged to have played in the importation syndicate can be revealed after Bath admitted to his involvement on Monday.
Bath, who is represented by solicitor Chris O’Brien, appeared in Newcastle Local Court via audio visual link from jail where he pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of a border control drug, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
A few moments later Mr Lembke, who is represented by solicitor Mark Ramsland, appeared on the screen from Cessnock Correctional Centre where he pleaded not guilty and was committed for trial on the same charge.
The pair will appear in Newcastle District Court on July 5 – Bath to get a sentence date and Mr Lembke to get a trial date.
Mr Jackson did not appear in court and his matter was adjourned to Newcastle Local Court on July 25.
He has not entered any pleas.
According to Australian Federal Police investigators, the three men are members and “vital elements” of a transnational organised crime group that imports drugs into Australia.
And police allege it was Mr Jackson, a well-known musician who lives in Thailand and Newcastle and regularly travels between the two, who organised for Mr Lembke to collect Skarabej from Tahiti.
On September 15, after landing in Sydney on a flight from Bangkok, Mr Jackson is alleged to have told Bath: “We have a shipment that they're telling about. “We have a boat, we just need to fly up and go and get it. “We’ll make some plans tomorrow… some plans and results.”
Then, about two weeks later, Bath is alleged to have driven Mr Jackson to Mr Lembke’s house.
He was inside for about 20 minutes and when he returned to the car, Mr Jackson allegedly told Bath: “So, he’s in”, according to Federal investigators.
Based on the context of the conversation, investigators say they will allege that Mr Jackson was confirming Mr Lembke’s involvement in the cocaine importation plot.
And once he had spoken to Mr Lembke, police allege that Mr Jackson sent a number of emails, purporting to be someone else, to an associate of Mr Lembke, asking them to collect a vessel from Tahiti and sail it to Australia for a fee.
Mr Lembke and his associate are alleged to have then flown to Pape’ete, Tahiti on October 13 to collect the catamaran and deliver it to Lake Macquarie.
Once they cleared Customs, the pair went to a marina and boarded Skarabej, Australian Federal Police allege.
The vessel, which was under surveillance by French Polynesian law enforcement, had arrived in Tahiti from a port in Ecuador on July 25 with three Slovenian nationals onboard.
The whereabouts of the Slovenian crew, a captain and two crew members, are unknown, Australian Federal Police investigators say.
Skarabej departed Tahiti at 5.20am on October 17 bound for the east coast of Australia. Investigators allege Mr Lembke and more than 700 kilograms of cocaine were onboard.
At 3.33pm on November 10, the vessel arrived at Coffs Harbour Marina.
During discussions with Australian Border Force officials, Lembke and his associate allegedly said they were a delivery crew contracted to transport the boat to Pittwater in Sydney for the owner to use over the Christmas period.
Then a few days later, on November 13, the vessel left Coffs Harbour and headed south.
The next morning, Mr Jackson landed at Sydney International Airport on a flight from Bangkok where he was met by Bath.
During the drive to Newcastle, the pair allegedly had a conversation about the cocaine concealed in the catamaran.
“Can we get it all off in one go,” Bath said.
“It’s less than a tonne.
“Three quarters of a tonne is the normal payload for a ute or a van.”
During the same conversation, Bath allegedly said: “So, um, if we could get it all off in one go, in one night. “Just to keep them happy, if you wanna get it off in one night and bring it straight down.”
Mr Lembke is alleged to have sailed the catamaran into Lake Macquarie at 10am on November 14.
A few hours later he moored the vessel at the Toronto Yacht Club and allegedly walked up to meet Mr Jackson and Bath at the Toronto Hotel.
Over the next 24 hours, Bath tried to work out how to “deconstruct” the vessel and access the cocaine, making a trip to Bunnings to buy a multi-function power tool and a plaster board cutting blade.
He was arrested onboard at 3pm on November 15.
Two minutes later police swooped on Mr Lembke at The Esplanade Motel at Warners Bay.
And, finally, police arrested Mr Jackson at his house at Islington.
The trio remain in jail.
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