How I went to church and became a drug mule

Sandra Chetty spent her 40th birthday crying on the floor of a Sao Paulo prison cell – and facing a six-year jail sentence for laundering $50 000 (about R351 000) for an international drug syndicate.

Now, after spending eight months in the Penitenciaria Feminina da Capital without being convicted, Chetty is a free woman.

She is determined to tell the truth about how she was persuaded to carry cocaine into Johannesburg by members of the Yeoville church that offered her help when she was at her most desperate.

Chetty says she had no idea that the $50 000 that police at Guaralhos International Airport found wrapped in clear plastic and rolled up in shampoo bottles was in her luggage. But she is completely honest about the purpose of the trip.

“I was there to pick up and transport drugs,” she says.

After she was arrested, Chetty says her Nigerian handlers paid for her lawyer and instructed her to testify that she was carrying the money for a Sao Paulo church, run by a man she knew only as “Pastor Samuel”.

Because Sao Paulo police could not show that the money would be used to buy drugs, Chetty was freed.

Seated on a couch in her sister’s home in Brakpan, Chetty told The Star how, after two years of being unemployed, she became drawn into an international web of drug trafficking.

“I lived in Berea and I would walk to the Shoprite in Yeoville nearly every day because I had sold my car.

“One day this Nigerian guy, who I think had been watching me for a while, stopped me and started talking to me.

“He looked at the cross around my neck and asked me if I wanted to go to the Christian Pentecostal Mission International church in Louis Botha Avenue with him. He was really persuasive, and so I did start going to that church.”

The church, which has no listed phone number, is understood to be affiliated to the Pentecostal International Bible Seminary with its headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria.

Repeated email efforts to seek comment from the seminary in Nigeria about Chetty’s claims all met with failure and, when The Star visited the church’s premises earlier this week, the building was closed.

Chetty said the man who had introduced her to the church had visited “once or twice” in the months before she went to Sao Paulo. She believes that the man was using the visits, which he claimed were motivated by his desire to borrow her Christian CDs, to establish the state of her finances.

“One day he asked me if I didn’t have any food for him. I told him I was sorry, but I didn’t work and I only had enough to buy bread and some tea.

“Then he asked me to come to his house for lunch. There was a woman at the lunch who started talking about drugs and how much money she was making (trafficking drugs).

“After the woman left, my recruiter told me that he had been involved in the drug trade before but had given it up after he became a Christian. Then he said that he wanted to get back into the business a^€¦ he said I could make $5 000 for one trip and that there was a guy who I could meet if I was interested.

“I said I needed to think about it. The very next day he called me and said the guy was ready to meet me.”

Chetty said she had met with her recruiter’s contact and another professional female mule, who was arrested in Sao Paulo earlier this year.

“She told me she loved her job a^€¦ that she had made enough to buy a big house for her parents. She said the Nigerians would give her money whenever she needed it.”

Chetty was convinced. She agreed to fetch cocaine in Sao Paulo and told her unwitting family that she was going on a trip to Zambia, where she had previously run an export business.

“The Nigerians gave me some money and the name of a hotel – the Hotel Ibis in Barra Funda – and told me to call them once I had landed in Sao Paulo. They said they would then call the guys in Sao Paulo and they would take me shopping and show me around before escorting me back to the airport.

“They said they would bribe the police and the check-in lady to make sure that I got through.”

But Chetty never made it to the hotel.

“I spent 68 days in a holding cell before I was transferred to Penitenciaria Feminina da Capital.

“I was locked up in solitary confinement for a month, it was okay, because I was used to being on my own.”

Though she often tries to downplay the horrors she experienced in the jail, Chetty admits she contemplated suicide when she discovered that she faced six years in prison.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Star, via, South Africa
July 26, 2006
Karyn Maughan

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday July 26, 2006.
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