A Canadian Instagrammer who tried to smuggle millions of dollars worth of cocaine into Australia during an exotic, made-for-social-media ocean voyage has been convicted and sentenced to eight years behind bars.
Melina Roberge, 24, entered a guilty plea Wednesday to smuggling 95 kilos (209 pounds) of the drug into Australia in 2016, following a weeks-long cruise that she and an accomplice documented on social media.
In the summer of 2016, Roberge and Isabelle Lagace had turned their Instagram accounts into online travel journals, posting glamorous photos and boasting about their intercontinental adventures aboard the MS Sea Princess, a cruise ship that docked in 17 ports in 11 countries before it finally stopped in the Sydney Harbor.
The pair captured their first photo bomb, in New York's Times Square, and their first Irish coffee in Cobh, a seaport town in Ireland. They showed off their tans on a Bermuda beach, where one of them wrote in a caption: “Gone to a place very peaceful • leave a message after the tone.”
They rode recreational vehicles over the desert sand.
They got tribal tattoos.
They made friends.
Then, they got arrested.
Roberge — who became known as “Cocaine Babe” in headlines — will serve at least four years and nine months of her eight-year sentence, without eligibility for parole; she eventually will be deported to her home country, according to the Associated Press.
“She was seduced by lifestyle and the opportunity to post glamorous Instagram photos from around the world,” Judge Kate Traill said in New South Wales state District Court, the AP reported.
“She wanted to be the envy of others. I doubt she is now.”
Roberge's Instagram account disappeared after her arrest.
But before the drug bust, she had written: “Traveling is one thing. But traveling with an open mind, ready to taste everything, see everything, learn everything and get yourself out of your comfort zone … is probably the best therapy and lesson ever. I used to be afraid to get out of my little town and now I feel like I don't want to see that little town anymore cause it's beautiful out there and it's sooo worth it.”
Upon arrival in Australia, border agents searched the ship, discovering 35 kilograms in the women's cabin and 60 kilograms a cabin belonging to Andre Tamin, a wealthy Canadian man in his mid-60s whom Roberge described as her “sugar daddy,” according to the AP. (His name has also been spelled Tamine in local news reports.)
The women were packing so much cocaine in their suitcases that, the Australian Border Force said, they “did not have much room for clean underwear or spare toothbrushes.”
Tamin and the two women were charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, authorities said at the time.
The AP reported that Lagace was sentenced to 7½ years in prison late last year; her non-parole period is 4½ years. Tamin is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Roberge told the court that she was an escort and met Tamin on the job in 2015. She said he recruited her to go on a drug-smuggling trip to Morocco the next year.
Then, she said, in June 2016, he invited her to go on the cruise.
She was told she could earn $100,000, according to News Corp Australia.
Traill, the district court judge, said Roberge's “sugar daddy” had “charmed her and spoiled her and became intimately involved with her,” according to news.com.au.
Roberge realized, she told the court, that she had put everything on the line for some selfies “in exotic locations and post them on Instagram to receive ‘likes’ and attention.”
Traill was not impressed.
“It is a very sad indictment on her relative age group in society to seem to get self worth relative to posts on Instagram,” the judge said in court, according to news.com.au. “It is sad they seek to attain such a vacuous existence where how many likes they receive are their currency. She was seduced by lifestyle and the opportunity to post glamorous Instagram photos from around the world.
“This highlights the negative influence of social media on young women.”
Before her sentencing, Roberge apologized to “the people of Australia.”
She told the court that in the time she already had spent behind bars, “I have come across people struggling with addiction,” according to the Australian news site. “I don’t want to be part of that.”