British Columbia

How a Vancouver real estate agent became an Australian drug mule

At the height of Vancouver's housing boom, Patryk Gwardys was clearing $150,000 a year as a real estate agent. So how did he wind up in an Australian prison after admitting to flying from Vancouver to Sydney with a belly full of cocaine?

Patryk Gwardys was arrested with a belly full of cocaine after a flight from Vancouver to Sydney in 2016

Former Vancouver real estate agent Patryk Gwardys is now serving a six-year sentence for attempting to smuggle drugs into Australia in his stomach. (Patryk Gwardys website)

At the height of Vancouver's housing boom in 2016, Patryk Gwardys was clearing $150,000 a year as a real estate agent.

He had a website full of listings and a profile on LinkedIn. Then he decided to take a trip to Australia.

Nearly three years later, Gwardys' recorded voice still answers his cell phone number, but the mailbox is full. His real estate licence lapsed weeks after what turned out to be a one-way trip to the land down under. For all intents and purposes, he vanished.

The answer to the mystery of his disappearance was explained last month by an Australian criminal appeal court. It apparently emerged over five days at a Sydney hospital after Gwardys refused an airport body scan.

"Between 2 and 7 December 2016, (Gwardys) passed 98 latex covered pellets, each of which were approximately three centimetres long and one centimetre wide and weighed about four grams," the ruling reads.

"In total, the pellets contained 477.7 grams of cocaine."

'Too late to withdraw'

The appeal court judges in New South Wales, Australia, rejected Gwardys' bid to appeal a six-year sentence for drug trafficking.

The ruling details a downward spiral that began after the collapse of the 39-year-old's marriage.

Patryk Gwardys claimed he fell into a cocaine habit after his marriage fell apart. He claimed his dealers asked him to carry drugs on a flight to Sydney. (CBC)

"The offender described the break-up as traumatic and said that his behaviour changed," the ruling said. "He worked only about one day a week, ignoring his clients and his work in general. He was drinking on a daily basis and then started using cocaine on a regular basis at the cost of about $100 a day, He said that he was in debt."

Gwardys claimed that individuals "who had sold him drugs in the past" offered him $20,000 and four ounces of cocaine to smuggle cocaine to Australia. He said he agreed because he owed them money.

"(He) told the sentencing judge that as the date of his departure drew closer he started to have second thoughts about undertaking a trip carrying drugs, but that when he approached those who had engaged him they told him that it was too late to withdraw," the judgement says.

"(He) said that it was about this time he was threatened."

They used to call them 'mules'

Gwardys flew from Vancouver to Sydney on Dec. 1, 2016. He was selected for a random inspection and his carry-on luggage turned up a trace of cocaine.

"A frisk search returned no results and the offender refused to consent to a body scan," the appeal court ruling said.

"The Australian Federal Police conveyed the offender to St. George Hospital where he consented to a CT scan of his abdomen. The CT scan revealed multiple foreign objects concealed therein. He was then arrested."

Patryk Gwardys consented to a CT scan like the one shown in this file photo, after he was taken to hospital by the Australian Federal Police. (Philippe Merle/AFP/Getty Images)

Gwardys claimed he didn't know how many pellets of cocaine he had ingested. He believed the drugs were protected by a wax layer as well as a latex covering. The judges pointed out that he had swallowed more than 200 times the amount that might be sold on the street.

The police found that Gardys had visited Australia 10 times since April 2008. He claimed he was visiting family and friends and that he had never brought drugs into the country before.

"Anyone who agrees to carry drugs within his person takes a great personal risk, not only of being detected with the drugs but also to his health and safety should the drugs leach into his body," the Australian judges wrote.

"In times gone by they were referred to, in cases like this, as 'mules' and they were considered at the bottom of the supply chain, given the risks that they were asked by others to take."

Depressed behind bars

According to the Real Estate Council of B.C., Gwardys was licensed as an agent from July 2009 until Dec. 29, 2016, by which time he was already incarcerated in an Australian prison.

A psychologist told the court Gwardys was depressed.

"Associated with this depression are symptoms of anxiety, particularly associated to the threat that he feels within the prison environment," the court document reads.

"He is, to some extent, relatively socially isolated as a result."

Gwardys is eligible for parole in 2020. He will likely be deported to Canada shortly thereafter.

About the Author

Jason Proctor

@proctor_jason

Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and mental health issues in the justice system extensively.

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