An American drug-runner claims she was pressured into smuggling nearly $1 million of cocaine into New Zealand by a syndicate who sent her a graphic video showing the savage murder of a family member.

Jamie Hudson Mendez, 44, was caught with 2.5kg of highly-pure cocaine lined inside five puffer jackets in her luggage at Christchurch International Airport last September.

Authorities claimed the illegal Class-A drug had a street value of around $875,000.

At Christchurch District Court today, Mendez, from Phoenix, Arizona, who earlier pleaded guilty to an importation charge, was jailed for six years and nine months.


The court heard that in September last year, she flew out of Arizona and holidayed in Africa for 12 days.

A ticket to New Zealand was purchased in Bolivia, South America, six days before she jetted out of Ethiopia.

She transited through Singapore before landing at Christchurch International Airport on September 23 with one checked-in medium-sized suitcase and a backpack in hand luggage with her personal items.

One of the puffer jackets that had cocaine concealed in the lining. Photo / Customs
One of the puffer jackets that had cocaine concealed in the lining. Photo / Customs

Her suitcase was x-rayed and Customs officers flagged inconsistencies on their screen.

And when they investigated further, they found around 2.5kg of cocaine had been lined inside the five jackets.

Text messages found on Mendez's phone showed she had negotiated $15,000 as payment for the drugs run.

But today it was clear she will never see money for her efforts – just a long stint behind bars.

The garment's lining. Photo / Customs
The garment's lining. Photo / Customs

Defence counsel Pip Hall QC said she was a disabled person – who suffers from regular epileptic seizures, high blood pressure, asthma, chronic back pain, and arthritic knees that require operations - who was vulnerable to threats and coercion of a drug syndicate who organised the importation.


A video recording of the murder of a woman she believed to be her sister-in-law was sent to intimidate her into transporting the drugs into New Zealand, Hall said.

Mendez now suffers flashbacks from the video footage and shows signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), for which she is receiving counselling, the court heard.

Chris White, prosecutor for NZ Customs, said although there was no evidence that she ever received any money for her smuggling, it was perhaps only because she was caught at the border.

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The court also heard that Mendez has prior form for global drug running.

In May 2018, she arrived in Paris on a flight from Johannesburg, South Africa carrying more than 2kg of heroin in her baggage.

She was jailed in France for 13 months before she was released on June 17 last year and shipped back to the United States.


Judge Stephen O'Driscoll said her previous conviction in France was an aggravating feature of the case.

But he also pointed to the video that "purports to show the murder of your sister-in-law" and which her lawyer suggested is evidence of pressure and coercion put on her to engage in the drug smuggling.

The judge told Mendez that two convictions in two countries involving the importation of drugs would now mean that "every law enforcement agency in the world will now have you on their radar".