Melina Roberge was part of a Canadian female duo accused of smuggling millions of dollars in cocaine aboard a Princess cruise ship destined for Australia while chronicling the luxurious globe-trotting vacation in seductive Instagram photos.
Roberge, then 22, and Isabelle Lagace, then 28, were arrested to international fanfare in what police said was “the largest seizure in Australia of narcotics carried by passengers of a cruise ship or airliner,” according to CBC. Some sites give Melina’s name as Melina Roberce. (You can see more of the women’s photos here.)
Andre Tamine, 63, was named as an alleged accomplice. In a news release, the Australian Border Force alleged the three were running cocaine for an “international drug syndicate.” Tamine also hails from Canada, and he, Roberge, and Lagace were passengers on the cruise ship. On April 18, 2018, Roberge sobbed as she was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Melina Roberge Has Now Pleaded Guilty to the Drug Smuggling
Now 24-years-old, Melina Roberge entered a guilty plea in the smuggling operation in February 2018, as did Tamine. The Evening Standard reports that she will be sentenced later in 2018 and had initially denied the claims.
Lagace was the first of the trio to plead guilty, and she has already been sentenced in the matter. She “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.
According to CBC, authorities alleged that 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.
2. Both Women Were Dubbed ‘Cocaine Babes’ in the International Media & Melina Managed a Pandora Store
According to Fox News, the women earned the name “cocaine babes,” particularly in British and Australian news media, because of their good looks.
Melina’s Facebook page said at the time of her arrest that she was a manager at a Pandora Store in downtown Montreal. She filled her Facebook page with vacation pictures, 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.”
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 were on her list of more than 1,000 Facebook friends.
Lagace has made a living in the past as “a former porn star and model,” reported The Sun. According to UK Daily Mail, “One of the detained women, Isabelle Lagacé, has a secret past as a full frontal porn model.”
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. Roberge Posted Many Photos of the Luxury Trip on Instagram, Including Wearing a Bikini
Roberge and Lagace both posted numerous glamorous photos from the vacation. Their pictures show them in exotic locales around the world, with Lagace’s pictures including Cuba, Ecuador, New York City and Colombia. Isabelle said in one picture 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.”
Roberge’s Instagram page said at the time of her arrest: “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, generally appearing to have the time of their lives.
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, both women flaunted the trip on social media
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. Lagace Expressed Regret in Court for Her Role in the Smuggling
Roberge, Lagace, and Tamine were 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.”
When it came time to address the court, Isabelle Lagace expressed regret for her role as a drug mule. She called it a “dirty, filthy trade,” according to Nine.com.au. “Lagace claims she’d previously borrowed $20,000 from unnamed people and began to receive threats before she was given an ultimatum,” the television station reported.
Lagace called it an “error in judgment” to the court and said, “It pains me to know that my defining years of womanhood will be spent in prison halfway around the world,” according to the television station. She will likely be released in 2021 because of time serviced, according to Nine.com.
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.” She was also reported by British and Australian outlets to have worked as a porn model.
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 accused of allegedly importing a commercial quantity of cocaine.
The trip cost more than $14,000, said UK Telegraph. That’s £11,000.