Coke smuggling footballer to make bid for freedom

 

At the pubs in Pyrmont and Glebe, everyone's talking about the expected release from prison next week of former Balmain and Blues rugby league star turned drug smuggler, Les Mara.

Mara made bigger headlines as a crook than a footballer when he was arrested over his role in the famous "baggage handling" importation of cocaine back in 2004.

When the plot was uncovered it was the first time baggage handlers had been exposed as a possible source of importing drugs.

Not long after, Schapelle Corby was jailed in Bali with conspiracy theorists saying it was dodgy airport workers who put the drugs in her bodyboard bag.

After 13 years in the clink, Mara - known as a fitness fanatic who could also drink a bit - has his first chance at being released next Friday.

Leslie Robert Mara was jailed for his role in conspiring to import cocaine from South America.
Leslie Robert Mara was jailed for his role in conspiring to import cocaine from South America.

Having been charged by the Federal Police, it is up to the Commonwealth Attorney-General's Department to decide if they will oppose parole or give him a seven-year discount and let him walk.

Unfortunately the Feds, unlike the NSW State Parole Board, keep those details secret.

Operation Mocha which brought Mara undone began when a NSW Crime Commission informant said he could help catch a syndicate led by one of Sydney's great criminal masterminds, Michael Hurley, who was using Qantas baggage handlers to import cocaine from South America.

His childhood mate and sidekick Les Mara was also up to his neck in the operation.

Another was Bondi surfer Shayne Hatfield who was famously photographed wearing a balaclava with $11 million cash in the background.

Shayne Hatfield poses with a huge pile of cash. The photo was found when police raided his home and arrested him.
Shayne Hatfield poses with a huge pile of cash. The photo was found when police raided his home and arrested him.

But as the cops descended on those involved, arresting Hatfield and a dozen others, Mara and Hurley were nowhere to be seen.

The pair had somehow been tipped off and were on the run.

As two of Sydney's most liked crooks in criminal circles, they had plenty of friends helping them hide.

Even cops who knew them said they were pretty good blokes who just didn't like working for a living.

There was a worldwide manhunt for the pair. Rumours were that Hurley, ill with cancer, had gone to Thailand for plastic surgery to change his appearance.

After an 18-month hunt, Les Mara was arrested by Australian Federal Police officers on the NSW South Coast. Picture: South Coast Register
After an 18-month hunt, Les Mara was arrested by Australian Federal Police officers on the NSW South Coast. Picture: South Coast Register

Mara likewise was either with him or in South America, depending which pub you were getting your information from.

Nine months later Hurley was arrested at a mate's place in Glebe having never left the city. He died before facing trial.

Mara spent another nine months evading the cops before he was caught on the South Coast, not South America using the name Alan Ross.

Mara was sentenced to 20 years jail, with a non-parole period of 13 years. He will be eligible for parole on November 29, 2019.

Les Mara (front) in 1975 during a Balmain v Canterbury match at Belmore Oval in Sydney.
Les Mara (front) in 1975 during a Balmain v Canterbury match at Belmore Oval in Sydney.