20 Jul 2015

US man denies importing methamphetamine

7:34 pm on 20 July 2015

A 74-year-old American man, who was found by Customs at the Auckland International Airport to have 6.2kg of a class A drug hidden in his suitcase, has denied a charge of importing methamphetamine.

Ralph Sherman Soles is on trial at the High Court in Auckland.

The US Vietnam vet told customs investigators he was emailed out of the blue and wired money before being sent tickets for a round trip from his home in Florida to Africa and Australia.

But, like all scams, there was a catch.

Mr Soles told authorities that, when he landed in Johannesberg, he was asked to deliver a suitcase to a woman in Fiji.

In a recorded interview with customs officials, Mr Soles said he got a phone call when he arrived in his Johannesberg hotel.

He said it was from a man calling himself Franklyn Green, the same man who organised the trip.

Mr Soles said the man asked him to bring a suitcase for a woman in Suva and that doing so would make the woman very happy.

But, later that night, he said he lay awake in bed wondering why the suitcase was so heavy.

He said in the morning he opened it up, thinking he'd find cash inside: instead, there were some crumpled clothes and an old curtain.

Mr Soles said the shell of the case appeared to have been made of wood and he believed it was just a heavy case.

He told Customs he thought he was only doing a favour for someone.

The Crown said Mr Soles' story was unbelievable.

Crown Prosecutor Dale Dufty said Mr Soles knew it was a scam but he wanted to get something out of it.

He said Mr Soles either knew there were drugs inside or he was wilfully blind and didn't ask questions because he didn't want the answers.

Defence lawyer Ross Burns told the jurors he would not be spending his time beating his chest or thumping on the table because the defence largely agreed with the prosecution case - except on the point that Soles knew about the drugs.

He said every day there were stories about people being duped in get-rich schemes. He referenced the old song "No Fool Like An Old Fool", and said his client was naïve.

The court also heard from the man's wife, Martha Titus, whose evidence was read because she lives in Florida.

She said her husband had a string of businesses but none of them were hugely successful and he had filed for bankruptcy.

Ms Titus said Mr Soles had served in the US army for 17 years and was shot in the stomach during a rescue mission while serving in Vietnam.

She also said her husband often got emails, and would play them until they asked him for money before telling them to get lost.

She said her husband, who she called Rusty, had also been using her credit cards, and she had since filed for bankruptcy. She said Mr Soles owed her $65,000.