A heroin courier who was considered a "soldier" for the self-styled "Queen of Richmond" has been jailed for 10½ years for her integral role in an international drug-importing syndicate.
On three occasions in October 2018, Thi Thuy Tam Tran swapped cash for one-kilogram packets of heroin with Zailee Zainal in a toilet cubicle in the Oaks on Collins hotel in central Melbourne, after the latter smuggled the drug in her underwear into Australia from Malaysia as a flight attendant.
One of the packages of drugs intercepted by Border Force.
The two women were acting under the instructions of Michelle Ngoc Tran, the Melbourne head of the syndicate who paid $155,000 for each one-kilogram "ticket" of heroin and sold them to buyers for $195,000.
Prosecutors say that Michelle Tran referred to herself as “the Queen of Richmond” and that under her reign, the syndicate imported 6.6 kilograms of heroin, with a street value of up to $8 million, into Melbourne between October 2018 and January last year.
Thi Tran – also known as Lina – was Michelle Tran's friend and was jailed on Friday after pleading guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of heroin. The 49-year-old must serve seven years before she is eligible for parole.
"She referred to herself as the queen and to you as her soldier," County Court judge Michael Cahill told Thi Tran.
How it worked
- “Mr Hanoi” alerts Michelle Ngoc Tran (Melbourne head of the syndicate known as “The Queen”) of upcoming flights to Australia.
- Code words are used to refer to various cities in Australia to indicate where the heroin would arrive.
- Mr Hanoi, in Malaysia, and other overseas associates liaise with cabin crew members.
- Cabin crew members would import “tickets” of heroin – each weighing approximately one kilogram – into Australia smuggled in their underwear.
- Tran arranges for her couriers to meet the crew member once they have arrived in Australia to complete the importation.
- Transactions would usually occur in the toilets of the hotel where the crew member was staying.
- Tran would arrange for her couriers to collect the drugs and pay the crew member in cash to return to Mr Hanoi. Crew members would return to Malaysia within 10 hours.
Michelle Tran did not involve herself directly in the exchanges, Judge Cahill said, as she preferred to keep a distance from the drugs and cash even though she took about half the $40,000 profit on each "ticket". The remainder of the profit was divvied among her underlings.
Prosecutors believe Thi Tran was given $3000 for each of the transactions she was involved in, and Judge Cahill said her claim to police she was only paid $50 "defies belief". He accepted her guilty plea indicated some remorse but found she was evasive when questioned by police and tried to minimise her involvement.
Judge Cahill found her role was an integral one and the wholesale value of the drugs she personally handled would have had a street value of up to $2.4 million.
"You were a runner for a sophisticated trans-national drug business," he said.
"As the queen's trusted aide you had an important position in the hierarchy."
Thi Tran, a former heroin addict, had reasonable prospects for rehabilitation and would find prison onerous while she could not be visited by her young daughter and other family members, the court heard.
She is the third member of the syndicate jailed this week. Zainal was jailed for 9½ years and courier Beng Lee Goh was jailed for six years.
Michelle Tran has pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of heroin and trafficking a commercial quantity and is due to face a plea hearing next week.
The key players
MICHELLE NGOC TRAN, 49. Also known as Lily, Ngoc, “The Queen” or “The Queen of Richmond”. Melbourne-based head of an international syndicate involved in the importation of heroin in Australia. Drove a red 2016 Mini Cooper sedan.
MR HANOI. Drug supplier to “The Queen”, based in Malaysia. Contact between the two was facilitated by men known as Johnny and “The Manager” who were both based overseas.
KHA TIEN NGO, 57. Also went by the name of Danny and Brother Hung. Drove a white Porsche Macan wagon. Was of significant standing within the Melbourne-based arm of the syndicate.
ZAILEE HANA BINTI ZAINAL, 40. Malaysian national who at the time of her arrest was a member of Malindo Air cabin crew. Also went by the names Joanna and Mary. Carried out about 20 drug importations before her arrest in January last year.
THI THUY TAM TRAN, 49. Also known as Lina and Tam. Came to Australia in 1992 and was a friend of The Queen. Worked as a courier, collecting drugs from crew members in hotel bathrooms and paying them in cash.
BENG LEE GOH, 44. Malaysian national who also was known as Raymond and used the name Tommy during offending, guilty of trafficking heroin.
THUY THANH THI TRAN, 57 and son KHOI PHAN, 28. Thi Tran, also known as Phung or Sister Phung, helped to source methamphetamine which she gave to her son to sell to Ngo.
A 45-year-old Malaysian national who was a member of the Malindo Air cabin crew left Australia last in December, 2018 and has not returned.
A 38-year-old woman known as Princess has not yet been charged and is currently in custody in WA for unrelated matters.
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