Te Puke woman in smuggling farce

By Media, APN New

A young woman who was raised in the Bay has hit international headlines over a farcical attempt to smuggle $3 million of cocaine into New Zealand.

The Herald on Sunday yesterday reported Kirsty Harris, 26, who was raised in Pukehina and attended Te Puke High School, was sentenced to three years and one month in an American jail.

In a California courtroom, Harris said: "I have embarrassed my friends and my family - and my country," the newspaper reported.

Harris and former partner Tony Wilkinson, 43, were caught with 5.8kg of cocaine in their cruise ship cabin during a 36-hour stopover in San Francisco.

They had drawn attention to themselves among their comparatively sedate fellow passengers - a "sea of white-haired seniors" on the P&O cruise ship Aurora - with a lovers' spat, brazen drug-taking and Harris' on-board dalliance with a man who would also be arrested on drug charges.

The party-loving Harris cheated on her older boyfriend with alleged cocaine smuggler Ahmed Rachid, 27, of Australia, a passenger on the same ship.

That led to a drug-fuelled fight at one of the ship's bars which brought the trio to the attention of Homeland Security officials in San Francisco in February.

Rachid's cabin was searched on the suspicions of a border patrol officer in San Francisco.

The Kiwi pair's cabin was also searched because of Harris' connection to Rachid.

US judge Jeffrey White said Harris and Wilkinson were guilty of "felony" stupidity and he took pity on the pair.

Wilkinson was sentenced to four years and two months.

It is not known whether Harris' family still live in Pukehina but locals spoken to yesterday believed the family had left the district at some point after Harris finished her primary school education at a local school.

Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Cahill, of the Organised and Financial Crime Agency, told APN it would have been the largest cocaine haul ever to reach New Zealand. "It just goes to show that there is the market for that amount in New Zealand," he said.APN News & Media


- Bay of Plenty Times

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