Two New Zealanders caught in Romania during a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) sting on alleged drug trafficking by the Hells Angels motorcycle gang are now on the run from United States law enforcement.
Marc Patrick Johnson and Murray Michael Matthews, both New Zealand citizens, were arrested by Romanian police in November 2020 along with the president of the Bucharest chapter of the Hells Angels, Marius Lazar.
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 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.
Lazar was handed over by Romanian authorities in January, while McKelvy is still fighting the extradition order in a hearing in the High Court next month.
However, authorities are tight-lipped about Johnson and Matthews.
The pair were kept in custody following their initial arrest. But the Herald understands both were later granted bail by the Romanian courts, and then absconded from the country.
Their whereabouts is unknown.
A spokeswoman for the US Department of Justice confirmed Lazar was due to stand trial in Texas this month.
However, she declined to comment on the extradition of Johnson and Matthews and did not respond to further questions.
A spokesman for the New Zealand Police also said he was unable to comment.
“We would consider any investigative requests – however we have not received any such requests to date.”
The twist in the case comes shortly before lawyers for Miles McKelvy, led by Ron Mansfield KC, will seek to overturn the decision of a District Court judge to grant his extradition to the United States.
The Herald asked Judge Peter Winter to release a copy of his extradition ruling but has yet to receive a response, although the High Court has confirmed an appeal hearing will take place next month.
At a hearing in August last year, lawyers acting on behalf of the US Government laid out the prosecution case to convince Judge Winter to send the 65-year-old McKelvy to stand trial in a federal court.
McKelvy is charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States, conspiracy to export cocaine out of the United States and conspiracy to manufacture cocaine knowing it was likely to be imported into the United States.
The scheme allegedly started in May 2020 when a person in New Zealand contacted a man whom he believed to be a large-scale drug trafficker operating out of the United States.
In reality, the supposed trafficker was an undercover DEA agent.
Communicating via encrypted messaging app Wickr, the two made plans to smuggle 100kg of cocaine into New Zealand and a $50,000 deposit was transferred into a US bank account secretly controlled by the DEA.
Murray Matthews, a Hells Angel member in New Zealand, was then introduced to the undercover agent and he travelled to Romania - accompanied by Marc Johnson, a convicted meth cook - in July 2020 to meet the DEA agent in person.
The alleged plan was for the cocaine to be shipped from Peru to Beaumont in Texas, then onwards to Romania and New Zealand.
It is alleged the men agreed after the meeting to increase the size of the illicit shipment to 400kg, and three more payments were made into the DEA bank account of about US$629,000 ($1.044m) in total.
It’s around that time that McKelvy became actively involved in the scheme, authorities have alleged.
His alleged role was to receive the cocaine when it arrived in New Zealand by container ship.
In communications by Wickr and video call, the undercover DEA agent was able to get McKelvy to confirm his identity and his role within the group, authorities allege.
At one point the agent asked McKelvy directly if he was aware the plan involved importing 400kg of cocaine.
“Yes, I’m very clear but this will work if we get the paperwork bang on,” McKelvy allegedly replied.
- Additional reporting Craig Kapitan
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.