Two Canadian women are accused of helping smuggle $30 million in cocaine aboard a Princess cruise ship while documenting the luxury globe-trotting vacation in provocative Instagram photos.
Isabelle Lagace, 28, and Melina Roberge, 22, were arrested in what police said was “the largest seizure in Australia of narcotics carried by passengers of a cruise ship or airliner,” according to CBC.
A third person was also arrested and identified by police as Andre Tamine, 63. It’s not yet clear how he is connected to the two women, if at all. In a news release, the Australian Border Force alleged the three were running cocaine for an “international drug syndicate.”
The women have since pleaded guilty, and Lagace was sentenced to seven years in prison. Lagace “pleaded guilty last year to assisting in the smuggling operation, saying she had done it to pay off debts. She was sentenced to seven years in prison but could be eligible for parole in 2021,” reported Newsweek. On April 18, 2018, Roberge sobbed as she was sentenced to eight years in prison.
All three are from Canada and were passengers on the cruise ship.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Three Canadians Boarded the Cruise Ship in a British Port City & Melina Says on Facebook That She’s From Montreal
According to CBC, authorities believe the three “had boarded the ship at the British port city of Southampton” and police are investigating whether they boarded with the drugs or got then in South American ports the ship visited.
The cruise ship visited Canada, the USA, Peru and New Zealand before arriving in Australia, said UK Telegraph.
Melina’s Facebook page says she is a manager at a Pandora Store in downtown Montreal. She filled her Facebook page with vacation photos, as well as photos of high heeled shoes, alcohol, an expensive watch, family dinners, and nights on the town. Many of her comments are written in French. Roberge also said on Facebook that she was single. In 2013, she wrote, “Life is a gift, if you get a chance take it, if it changes your life then let it .. Because if you never get lost then you’ll never get found.”
Some of her posts refer to family, not life on the town, though: “This week I’m mom of service! The Mother is gone on vacation and I’ll take care of my little brother is 10 years old for 7 days. Big games of hockey for him at the end of the week, me who has to get up at 6 am to be at the arena at 7, do the lunch every morning for his school, doing the washing, the menage, Do the dinners etc! I empathize with all the mom and in particular with mine (which by the way is sitting my butt in the sand at the moment) and I thank her for doing everything she does for her children!”
La Presse quoted a family friend of Roberge as saying, “The family is devastated.” The newspaper said Roberge had worked at a jewelry store.
Neither Lagace nor Tamine are on her list of more than 1,000 Facebook friends. The Toronto Star says it’s not even clear whether Tamine allegedly was working with the two women or not.
He appears to have only a Facebook page without a public photo.
2. The Drugs Were Found Inside Luggage in the Passengers’ Cruise Ship Cabins, Police Say
According to the Border Force press release, “On Sunday 28 August, ABF officers boarded the vessel when it berthed in Sydney Harbour, and with the assistance of detector dogs, searched a number of passenger cabins on the ship. During this search, approximately 95 kilograms of cocaine was located, packed in suitcases.”
The Toronto Star says authorities weren’t there by accident but “an exchange of information among…the Canadian Border Service Agency and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security led them to focus on this specific ship.” The Australian Border Force press release says authorities only searched a number of the ship’s compartments.
New York Magazine says the women were traveling on the “luxury” cruise ship MS Sea Princess for two months. The magazine says all three people arrested were from Quebec.
3. Both Women Posted Many Photos of the Luxury Trip on Instagram, Including Wearing Bikinis
Roberge’s Instagram page says: “Currently traveling.” The women’s Instagram pages show them in exotic locales, wearing bikinis, sipping from a coconut, in cocktail dresses, riding on an ATV, and enjoying tropical destinations.
Six days before the arrest, Roberge posted a self-described “jungle selfie.” They also took photographs of themselves in Times Square on the jaunt around the globe.
Far from staying low profile, they flaunted the trip on social media.
Lagace also posted photos from the vacation. Her pictures show her in exotic locales around the world, including Cuba, Ecuador, New York City and Colombia. She said in one that it was a “world cruise.” On another photo, she wrote, “Eat, beach, sleep, repeat” to which a commenter has now responded, “eat, beach, yard time, repeat, #prison.”
On another photo, Roberge wrote, “coconut water detox.” She also recently posted photos in Peru. The Sydney Morning Herald wrote, “The holiday photos look like two young women on a dream trip cruising around the world, not two alleged drug mules working for an international drug syndicate.”
4. The Three Canadians Were Charged With Allegedly Trying to Import Drugs Into Australia & Could Face Life Prison Terms
Roberge, Lagace, and the older man are facing life imprisonment, according to the press release from the Australia Border Force.
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, all three were charged with allegedly trying to import drugs into Australia.
The Australian Border Force posted this photo of some of the drugs on Facebook:
“With 95 kilograms of cocaine stuffed into their suitcases, these three Canadian nationals did not have much room for clean underwear or spare toothbrushes,” the Australian Border Force alleged on Facebook. “Following an international joint operation targeting drug smuggling syndicates, our detector dogs boarded a cruise ship in Sydney and sniffed out the narcotics. The huge haul represents a record for drugs seized off a cruise vessel coming into Australia.”
The Border Force says the investigation is ongoing and other arrests could occur.
5. Lagace Worked at a Cafe in Quebec & Police Allege the Women Were Working For a Crime Syndicate
The UK Telegraph said Lagace “is understood to have worked at the Bureau de Poste café in Quebec.”
The Australian Border Force wrote, “ABF Assistant Commissioner, Strategic Border Command, Clive Murray said that this was yet another example of international cooperation leading to significant results in the fight against international drug syndicates.”
The Force quoted Murray as saying: “These syndicates should be on notice that the Australian Border Force is aware of all of the different ways they attempt to smuggle drugs into our country and we are working with a range of international agencies to stop them.”
The press release said the three were scheduled to appear in court on August 29 for allegedly importing a commercial quantity of cocaine.
On Instagram, Roberge talks about leaving the small Canadian town where she is from.
The trip cost more than $14,000, said UK Telegraph. That’s £11,000.