An alleged plot by the Hells Angels gang to smuggle 400kg of cocaine into New Zealand was first hatched by a serving inmate who had been fooled by an undercover DEA agent, the Herald can reveal.
The prisoner - who had served nearly 20 years of a life sentence for double murder - was later found dead in his cell following a suspected suicide.
The latest twist in the case comes as an Auckland man will argue in the High Court today to overturn an extradition order which would send him to the United States.
Miles John McKelvy, a convicted fraudster and drug importer, was arrested in Auckland in November 2020 for his alleged role in the drug conspiracy.
But US authorities want McKelvy to stand trial in Texas alongside two other New Zealanders, Murray Michael Matthews and Marc Patrick Johnson, who were arrested by Romanian police along with the president of the Bucharest chapter of the Hells Angels.
The trio were caught in a sting operation in dramatic footage captured on a drone-mounted thermal image camera, in a raid orchestrated by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in the United States.
Matthews is a patched member of the Auckland chapter of the Hells Angels, while Johnson is a trained chemist with a long history in the drug world as one of the first meth cooks in the country.
Both men are now fugitives after being released on bail by the Romanian courts, the Herald revealed last month.
While their whereabouts is unknown, their alleged co-conspirator McKelvy continues to fight the extradition order granted in the Auckland District Court earlier this year.
The ruling of Judge Peter Winter to send McKelvy to the United States contains new details of the extraordinary DEA operation, including how a serving inmate in a New Zealand prison set the whole chain of events in motion.
In 2004, Wen Hui Cui was sentenced to serve at least 19 years in prison after stabbing his ex-girlfriend and one of her friends to death on the North Shore the year before.
Using a smartphone smuggled into prison, Cui started communicating in May 2020 with someone he believed to be a large-scale drug trafficker based in the United States.
The pair contacted each other through Wickr, an encrypted app favoured by the criminal fraternity because law enforcement cannot intercept the communications.
However, the purported drug supplier was in fact an undercover DEA agent.
Cui told the undercover agent he was interested in purchasing a large quantity of cocaine for shipment to New Zealand to supply the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
The double murderer then introduced his business partner, Murray Matthews, and the trio continued to negotiate by Wickr.
As a result of those discussions, $50,000 was transferred into a US bank account - controlled by the DEA - as a deposit for the purported 400kg of cocaine.
Matthews travelled to Bucharest in July 2020 to meet the DEA agent, where they were joined by Marc Johnson. He was introduced as the financier of the planned transaction, and the plans for the drug shipment were made.
The drugs were supposed to be shipped from Peru to Texas, where the cocaine would be repackaged, concealed inside machinery and freighted to Romania, then New Zealand.
Three more payments totalling more than $1 million were deposited into the secret DEA bank account.
Then on September 16, 2020, Matthews gave the undercover agent the contact details of someone who would allegedly receive the cocaine shipment on behalf of the Hells Angels.
This “broker” was Miles McKelvy, who allegedly communicated with the undercover agent about delivering the cocaine shipment to New Zealand.
As part of the DEA sting, the undercover agent told Cui the bank funds deposited as payment for the cocaine shipment had been frozen and another meeting in Romania was necessary.
Soon after the meeting, Murray Matthews and Marc Johnson were locked up in Romania in November 2020, and McKelvy was arrested in Auckland for extradition.
The 65-year-old has been charged in the United States with conspiracy to manufacture, import and export cocaine.
Whether he is ultimately likely to be guilty of the US charge does not determine the extradition claims currently before the High Court.
Wen Hui Cui had yet to be charged and was found dead in his cell at Wiri prison the following year.
A spokesperson for the Coroner has confirmed Cui’s death was being treated as a suspected suicide.
Jared Savage is an award-winning journalist who covers crime and justice issues, with a particular interest in organised crime. He joined the Herald in 2006, and is the author of Gangland and Gangster’s Paradise.