It was the ‘fairytale’ offer that sounded too good to be true – and on Thursday it landed ex-Brisbane Bronco Jamil Hopoate in jail.
Hopoate, 27, was jailed on Thursday for his role as a courier in a mass drug importation scheme.
After being jailed for at least two years and three months by District Court Judge Sharron Norton, Hopoate hugged his daughter and her partner and waved to a large number of supporters inside Darlinghurst Courthouse in Sydney .
“See you soon” and “I love you bra” shouted his followers as he was led away by corrections officers.
The court was told that the son of rugby league bad boy John Hopoate suffered from long-term addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling and had been awarded $10,000 for his role in recovering his part of the drug shipment.
He was arrested after police intercepted a drug shipment arriving at Sydney Airport from London in May 2021.
The police replaced the drug with a fictitious substance and installed monitoring devices.
Hopoate was arrested after climbing inside a lorry tied to the massive 514kg cocaine haul – estimated by police to have a street value of $154million – in Pagewood, south Sydney, before leading the police on a brief chase.
Hopoate pleaded guilty to one count of supplying a large commercial quantity of a prohibited drug.
The court heard he collected eight 1kg blocks of the fake substance before jumping into a silver Hyundai van driven by Leanne Mafoa.
Judge Norton said Hopoate reported that he had been approached by an unknown person about the deal and at the time it sounded like a “fairy tale”.
He said he never saw the person again.
At the time, Hopoate said he needed money to fuel his gambling addiction and owed money to family and friends.
In a remorseful letter delivered to the court, Hopoate said he reflected on his actions and felt he let everyone down, especially his family.
John Hopoate, in a character reference, described Jamil as a family-oriented man who had expressed remorse and longed to turn his life around, the court heard.
Judge Norton said Hopoate’s involvement in the drug shipment was “not a minor role”.
And while he was never going to be part of street-level drug distribution, he willingly participated in the supply chain.
“His reward was $10,000 and not a percentage of the profit,” Judge Norton said.
“It was committed for financial gain, likely to be used for gambling and addiction rather than a lavish lifestyle.”
Hopoate faced a maximum sentence of life in prison and received a 25% reduction on his sentence for his early guilty plea.
He was sentenced on Thursday morning to three years and nine months in prison, with a period without parole of two years and three months.
With a sentence already served, he can be released in July 2024.
Mafoa also pleaded guilty to an after-the-fact aiding and abetting charge in supplying a prohibited drug.
She was sentenced on Thursday to an intensive 18-month restraining order.
Last year Hopoate, 27, narrowly avoided being sent to prison for domestic violence offenses against his wife.
He pleaded guilty to seven offenses, including two counts of common assault – related to domestic violence and one count of common assault.
He was sentenced to 12 months to be served in the community on an Intensive Correctional Order.
However, Hopoate earlier this year broke the terms of his ICO and served three months in prison before his sentence expired.
His parole was revoked after he failed to complete 250 hours of community service despite being called eight times by state parole authority personnel.
In 2014 Hopoate was jailed for at least a year for an unprovoked attack outside a Manly pub.
He pleaded guilty to two counts of assault causing actual bodily harm in company.
He was sentenced to 18 months in prison, with a period of one year without parole.
Hopoate played 12 games for the Brisbane Broncos before he was let go at the end of the 2020 season and failed to secure a contract with another club.