22 Jul 2015

US veteran cleared of drugs charge

7:38 pm on 22 July 2015

A 74-year-old Vietnam war veteran from the United States wept in his wheelchair as he was cleared of knowingly importing 6.2 kilograms of methamphetamine into New Zealand.

Ralph Sherman Soles outside the High Court in Auckland after the jury's verdict.

Ralph Sherman Soles outside the High Court Photo: RNZ / Isabella Aldridge

Ralph Sherman Soles was today found not guilty of the charge in the High Court in Auckland.

Outside, Mr Soles told Radio New Zealand he was angry with the authorities but looking forward to getting home.

"I'm so blessed that this worked out the way it did. These 12 people finally had sense enough to make a decision," he said.

"I've got a son that's dying, he needs a heart. I've got a daughter that has a cancer problem that they just discovered."

Mr Soles' lawyer, Ross Burns, said his client could not have known he was carrying drugs because he repeatedly drew attention to himself.

Mr Burns said when Mr Soles finally got to Auckland International Airport, he asked if he could drive to Fiji.

He also argued with airport authorities about the weight of his luggage when they tried to charge him extra.

Mr Burns said Mr Soles also got confused about his travel itinerary and went through customs in Thailand when he had no reason to do that.

He said nowadays a person was lucky to go through customs without getting stripped down to the last sock, but Mr Soles went through and came out the other side.

He pointed out that this was Thailand - a country where importing drugs was highly dangerous.

But the Crown said Mr Soles was no fool.

In his closing address to the jury today, Crown prosecutor Dale Dufty pointed to evidence from Mr Soles' wife, Martha Titus, who said her husband played with internet scammers and would often string them along until they asked for money. Once that happened, he would tell them to get lost.

She told authorities that, on one occasion, Mr Soles had travelled to London for what he called a business deal. Ms Titus said Mr Soles pulled out of the deal and flew home when he became suspicious.

The deal that got Mr Soles into trouble started with a classic email scam.

The court heard that he received an email from a man calling himself Lawrence Green which promised him $1 million.

All Mr Soles had to do was travel to Africa, sign a document and then fly on to Australia - where he would sign another document and have the money transferred into his account.

But, when Mr Soles arrived in Johannesburg, there was no one to meet him.

He went to a cheap hotel where eventually a man showed up with cash, an airline ticket and an extra suitcase for Mr Soles to carry.

Mr Soles was told the case contained gifts for a woman who was smoothing the way for the money transfer to take place.

But there were no gifts inside.

Instead, there were what Mr Dufty described as stained, old, smelly clothes and an old curtain.

Hidden in the lining of the heavy case was 6.2 kilograms of methamphetamine.

Mr Burns described his client as a bumbling fool who had been duped.