Elisa Salatino, 40, was found guilty of smuggling cocaine into Australia
Australian customs agents uncovered five kilograms of cocaine in one of her bags
The drugs were worth $1.1 million and were found in a false bottom of her bag
Elisa Salatino [photo], is facing a life sentence for smuggling cocaine into Australia in Feb 2017
An Italian special education teacher who smuggled $1.1 million worth of cocaine into Melbourne may have been targeted as a drug mule because she is such a ‘nice person’, lawyers say.
Elisa Salatino is facing a potential life prison sentence after customs officers found 5.3kg of the drug in a hidden compartment of her bag when she arrived at Melbourne Airport from Rome on February 12, 2017.
The suitcase had been fitted with a false bottom made out of a piece of plywood, the Australian Federal Police allege they discovered during an x-ray.
She was not alone on that plane that, having left Rome and passing through Dubai, was transporting pure cocaine to Australia. Elisa Salatino, the Fasanese teacher arrested on Sunday 12 February at the Melbourne airport, with a million dollars worth of drugs in the suitcase, had traveled at least with another person.
The 40-year-old from Bari in southern Italy is a primary school teacher who specialises in helping children with disabilities.
Salatino is proficient in sign language, reads braille and has taught disabled kids in Italy for more than a decade.
She’s now doing it tough as the only native Italian-speaking woman in Victoria’s prison system, her lawyer says.
‘She’s extremely isolated,’ lawyer Michael McGrath told the County Court on Monday.
‘There are no other prisoners who speak her native tongue.
‘There’s only a handful of books in the library in Italian and there only so many times she can read them.’
Salatino was found guilty by a jury of the federal offence of importing a commercial quantity of cocaine and. She is now awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutor John Dickie said Salatino’s background and good character may have drawn drug smugglers to choose her as a courier in the hope she wouldn’t be caught.
‘Demonstrations of wanting to help others and being a nice person would’ve been attractive to people who would want to import drugs into Australia,’ he said.
Salatino’s background and good character may have drawn drug smugglers to choose her as a courier in the hope she wouldn’t be caught. – Prosecutor
Salatino suffered from depression and had endured relationship troubles with her former partner in Italy, and these difficulties were linked to her criminal lapse, her lawyer said.
She did not organise the smuggling plot, nor did she know exactly how much cocaine she was carrying, but she received a free flight and possibly some cash, the court was told.
Mr Dickie said Salatino may have been ‘naive’ but a strong sentence was needed to ensure other would-be smugglers were deterred from doing the same.
‘That’s because of the ease with which this offence can be committed and the difficulty of detecting it,’ Mr Dickie said.
Convicted: Salatino [photo L-R], is due to be sentenced by Judge Irene Lawson on August 30
Australian Border Force officials allegedly uncovered the drug hidden in one of her bags with a false bottom made out of a piece of plywood.
Salatino has appeared in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on May 22 to face charges with a maximum sentence of life in prison
One of Salatino’s close friends described the teacher as a ‘bright’ and ‘ethically correct’ person who’d never been in trouble with the law before.
‘She is an exceptional woman,’ the friend said in a letter, read to court by an interpreter.
‘Anyone who gets to meet her is always affected by her positivity.’.
However, Facebook post from one day before her arrest shows a smiling Salatino with the accompanying message: ‘Happy Weekend.’
According to Italian media, Salatino works as a special education teacher in the province of Brindisi. She apparently told her brother claimed she was flying to Melbourne for a refresher course as part of her teaching.
The maximum penalty for importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug is life in prison.
Salatino is due to be sentenced by Judge Irene Lawson on August 30.