I’ve thought long and hard about this. What I am about to say will seem harsh. Maybe even a bit cruel. Certainly it’s heartless. But I have absolutely no sympathy, whatsoever, for the plight of a young Australian woman, languishing in a Colombian jail, facing drug trafficking charges. Sorry. None.
For those who might not know about this, let me tell a little of the back story as I know it to be.
Twenty-two-year-old Adelaide woman Cassandra Sainsbury was arrested, while trying to board a flight for London, at Bogata airport in Colombia. Five point eight kilos of cocaine was later discovered, concealed inside headphones carried in her suitcase.
As you might expect, Sainsbury denied any knowledge of the drugs and claims the headphones were presents for family and friends. According to the Sainsbury version of events, she allegedly bought the headphones, for a ‘cheap’ price, from a man called Angelo or Tom. The problem for Sainsbury, one among many, is that no one has been able to identify or find this man.
According to her Colombian lawyer, Orlando Herran, Angelo or Tom is a ‘ghost’. The lawyer certainly got that right. A ghost as in Angelo or Tom doesn’t exist and never did. In fact Herran went on to say: “ there’s no evidence of his true identity.”
Herran says while he believes his client’s version of events (of course he has to say that being her lawyer) “ it is here that we have a very grave problem. …at this point we do not have any proof that she really was tricked or that this other person that she refers to exists or is guilty.”
Since her arrest, Sainsbury’s Colombian lawyer says the Australian does a lot of crying and is not coping very well with her surroundings. That is perfectly understandable. Colombian prisons are by definition hell-holes. They’re overcrowded, filthy, lacking even the basics of life. Corruption is said to be widespread in the prison system. If she is convicted, Sainsbury faces the possibility of up to 20 years imprisonment.
So is she innocent as she claims? Or is she knowingly guilty? Unfortunately, everything points to the latter. And this is where the story gets very murky. It has now been revealed that Sainsbury’s arrest resulted from a tip off to Colombian authorities by the American Drug Enforcement Agency, the DEA. What alerted the DEA was the last minute purchase of a plane ticket on Sainsbury’s behalf in Hong Kong with the destination Colombia via London. An unknown person, bought the ticket to travel to South America. Sainsbury was travelling alone and for a short period of time. In the drug enforcement business, that is known as a red flag for a potential drug mule. In other words, a person prepared to act as a drug courier. Then there were other potential clues like the cryptic social media comments she posted in the days and weeks and months leading up to her trip. In the posts she appeared to be counting down the days to a life-changing event. The now deleted January 10 post read: “ 50 days until I make the biggest move I’ve yet to do…….50 days until everything changes.”
She added the following hashtags: #newbeginnings #newyearnewme #2k17#dreamjob #bondiliving #life #change #love #50daysleft #goodthingsarecoming.
On April 8, she posted a photograph from Bogota along with the comment: “Can’t complain about an all expenses paid work trip, in which (sic) is mainly holiday very little work. It’s the simple things that are the true beauty in the world. Mother Nature has been putting on quite the show for me over here.”
It would appear Cassandra Sainsbury anticipated a windfall of sorts.
Sainsbury’s family claim she was on a working holiday to promote her personal training business — a claim which appears to be supported by Sainsbury’s Instagram posts which are riddled with fitness-related hashtags.
But her fiance Scotty Broadbridge tells a completely different story, claiming she hasn’t done any personal training work for months and her most recent job involved “helping to manage” a cleaning company.
“Although Cassie is a PT, she is not currently personal training and hasn’t been for six months. I don’t know why that was mentioned at all,” Broadbridge says.
Her fiance might not know but I am perfectly happy to speculate on why her personal training work was mentioned. It might have something to do with concocting a cover story to disguise the real reason for travelling to Colombia.
Broadbridge went on to say: “She helped manage a commercial cleaning business that had both national and international clients. Unfortunately it’s very easy for tourists to get targeted, especially in Colombia.”
So why would Sainsbury be so insanely stupid as to act as a drug mule? The answer is money. It usually is the answer, in these cases. In Adelaide, at one time, Cassandra Sainsbury ran her own gym but it collapsed with Sainsbury allegedly owing tens of thousands of dollars. In 2015, she opened Yorke’s Fitness charging an $800 a year membership but it went broke within six months. When the gym closed, Sainsbury disappeared.
“When she left town, there was rent owing on the premises,” Yorke florist Lyn Gates told a local television station. “It was a shock to me, plus the community … All of a sudden, she just took off and not paid – nicked – the rent and the equipment just disappeared.”
There does not appear to be much public sympathy for Casandra Sainsbury. Her family launched a crowdfunding campaign to help pay her legal costs. But it was shut down well short of its funding target because it was attracting a lot of negative comments.
Cassandra Sainsbury finds herself in an awful predicament whatever way you look at it. If she decides to fight the charges it will be two months for her case to be heard. It’s also unlikely she’d be given bail. If she decides to plead guilty, as her lawyer has already recommended, her potential prison sentence could be reduced substantially but it will still be many years inside a Colombian jail.
Colombian lawyer, Orlando Herrán says Sainsbury’s best chance of a reduced sentence is for her to negotiate with Colombian prosecutors in the two-month window before the start of her trial, but his immediate priority is to find a way to get her out of prison.
“She’s young and it is important that she gets out as soon as possible,” the lawyer says. “There are many examples of Colombians and foreigners who have been able to reach an agreement with prosecutors.
“If we can show she hasn’t had problems with police in Australia and no history of contact with drug traffickers, we can make a deal.”
But the Colombian authorities will be pressing Sainsbury to name names before they agree to any plea deal. And that potentially opens her up to even more danger in a prison system that doesn’t like snitches.
While I have no sympathy for her position, I take no comfort at all in seeing her suffering. But at the end of the day Cassandra Sainsbury only has herself to blame for her situation. And whatever lesson she learns from this it is going to be very, very hard and very, very long.