Toronto police are investigating Pastuk (under Pastukhov), whose story gets wilder and wilder, including a conversation with a former writer who was told of this "opportunity" for which he'd be carrying "some kind of space-age substance" that would chemically alter to make it through customs then return to "sellable" form upon landing.
Customs officials at Sydney airport detected the drugs in the excessive amount of luggage arriving from Los Angeles on American Airlines three days before Christmas 2015. The drugs-filled luggage was collected by the defendants during a stop in Las Vegas.
The mules were badgered and manipulated into carrying the drugs, although according to court documents, some did try to back out but were threatened with bodily harm, including torture.
Judge Dina Yehia said, "I am very firmly of the view that these offenders were exploited by people who were ruthless, persistent and manipulative in recruiting them."
In one account, Gardner, who was Pastuk's roommate at the time, blew off Pastuk's repeated requests to carry the drugs for him. He finally agreed when Pastuk called him "shortly before he was due to perform at a promotional event," says a Sydney Morning Herald account (there is no mention if it was a Vice event) but changed his mind the next day.
"Pastuk had already obtained his passport and he now threatened to hurt Gardner's girlfriend and family if he did not go through with it," the newspaper writes. Gardner had overheard Pastuk telling his friend about those who had been tortured and killed for assisting the authorities. He believed that Pastuk was connected to a Mexican cartel, and he had no doubt that the threat was genuine.
"But he told the court that he tried to pull out again in Las Vegas, when he was given the suitcase to take to Australia and noticed that it smelled strongly of glue. This time his contact grabbed him by the collar and pushed him against a car while holding a gun. He relented."
Senusi, who also testified in court, said he was initially just accompanying his friend on the trip but then was threatened to take place due to a criminal record. If he did not go with him, the friend said "he could not guarantee his safety, or that of his brother" and was told how others had been tortured with razor blades placed under their fingernails.
Wang said he initially agreed to get on Pastuk's good side, who promised to help his music career and was also threatened with harm when he backed out.
Gardner and Senusi were both given seven years and six months in jail with a non-parole period of four years and four months (eligible for parole in April 2020). Wang received a minimum four years and Carty a minimum three years four months.