24 Aug 2017

Record sentences for horse-head cocaine pair

7:27 pm on 24 August 2017

It had all the makings of a movie.

A diamante-encrusted horse head stuffed with 35kg of cocaine, and people with nicknames like "the Godfather", "the Artist" and "the Technician".

Today it became all too real for Agustin Suarez-Juarez and Ronald Cook Senior, who were jailed for 19 years 9 months, and 17 years 9 months respectively.

From left: Agustin Suarez-Juarez and Ronald Cook Snr on trial at the High Court in Auckland accused of importing cocaine and possession of cocaine for supply.

Agustin Suarez-Juarez, left, and Ronald Cook Snr at the High Court in Auckland in May. Photo: RNZ / Edward Gay

The pair were involved in the country's largest-ever importation of cocaine and today received New Zealand's longest sentences for cocaine supply.

Father of six Ronald Cook Snr had just spent his life savings on a family home in Hawai'i, but it was run-down and needed a new roof.

Justice Katz said the $50,000 he was promised by Agustin Suarez-Juarez to help with a cocaine deal on the other side of the Pacific was very attractive.

A man known as "The Godfather" in Mexico seems to have been the mastermind behind the plan.

Thirty five 1-kg packages of cocaine were hidden by "the Artist" inside the horse-head statue.

Justice Katz said the 330kg bronze head from Mexico was intercepted by Customs in New Zealand.

The 400kg sculpture of a diamante-encrusted horse head had been freighted into New Zealand from Mexico.

The 400kg sculpture of a diamante-encrusted horse head had been freighted into New Zealand from Mexico. Photo: SUPPLIED

"They discovered the concealed cocaine and replaced 34 of the packages [with] flour," Justice Katz said.

The 35th package had a wire in it - allowing Customs to track the whereabouts of the drugs that police estimated have a street value of up to $14m.

Cook and Suarez-Juarez arrived in the country and organised for the head to be moved to a house in Te Atatu but left the country a short time later in an effort to make sure they were not being watched.

A month later they were back to claim their prize.

"Covert recording devices in the garage recorded their attempts to cut through the base of the horse-head sculpture," the judge said.

Known as "the Technician", Cook took more than an hour using an angle grinder and a crow bar to break into the head. They had a buyer named "Suzuki" lined up.

They met with a man named Henry Anchondo, who wanted to buy 5kg, at a central Auckland hotel.

Once inside the hotel room, Anchondo queried one of the packages - it happened to be the one with the tracking device inside. When he cut it open, he spotted the wire.

"Not surprisingly, all three men panicked at that point," the judge said.

"Mr Suarez-Juarez asked Mr Anchondo to take the other four packages with him but he refused to do so. Mr Anchondo departed the room quickly and left the hotel."

RNZ understands Anchondo is still at large.

Cook and Suarez-Juarez also fled. They returned to the Te Atatu home, dumped the packages and headed to the airport.

They had a flight booked to Los Angeles, but were arrested in the departure lounge.

Prosecutor David Stevens said the Crown had thought of asking for life sentences for the pair, but recognised there were players further up the tree.

Cook's lawyer Sam Wimsett said his client would be deported as soon as he had finished his sentence and posed no future risk to New Zealand.

"The reality is that at his age, the sentence to be imposed is going to be significant, in terms of his available years to spend with children and grand children," Mr Wimsett said.

Suarez-Juarez's lawyer Peter Kaye asked for a discount because his client would be serving his sentence in a foreign country away from friends and family, and he spoke little English.

In sentencing, Justice Katz said Suarez-Juarez was more culpable as he would have received a share of the profits. There was also evidence he had travelled to and from Colombia.

She took time off Cook Senior's sentence for his previous good character and Suarez-Juarez for serving his sentence in a foreign country where he didn't speak the language.