Racecourse gossip held that prominent horse owner Damion Flower could not possibly fund the lavish lifestyle he lived purely on winnings – and the trackside rumours were right.
Flower had been on police radar for years before he was arrested and charged over a drug ring which smuggled cocaine with a street value of more than $68million into the country.
The 48-year-old’s links to criminal networks dating back decades were well known and the secret drug baron was effectively hiding in plain sight.
Flower had grown up surfing at Bronte and associated with members of the Bra Boys gang from nearby Maroubra after finishing his studies at Waverley College in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.
Thoroughbred owner Damion Flower has pleaded guilty to importing cocaine. His unexplained wealth led to rumours around the nation’s race tracks but until Monday he had denied being a drug dealer. Flower is pictured with wife Camilla
Flower owned horses with high-profile Sydneysiders including businessman John Singleton (right), broadcaster Alan Jones and rugby league great Phil Gould (left), none of whom knew anything about his other business. Flower is pictured next to businesswoman Katie Page
When Flower was finally arrested at his home in Sydney’s Moorebank in May 2019 police found more than $1million cash.They have also seized properties, prize money, cars and a boat
A car crash in 1989 put an end to any chance of a surfing career and a decade later he began work as a baggage handler at Sydney Airport.
Police believe in the four years that Flower worked part-time at the airport he made contacts with criminal groups including one headed by cocaine king Michael Hurley, according to The Telegraph.
It was also there he first met fellow baggage handler John Mafiti and 19 years later the pair would be arrested over the cocaine ring which could see them both spending the rest of their lives in jail.
Hurley and former first grade rugby league player Les Mara, Bondi surfer Shane Hatfield and others had been arrested in 2005 and jailed over an earlier importation operation which used corrupt baggage handlers.
Mara was sentenced to a minimum 13 years for his role, Hatfield got 14 and Hurley died of cancer while in custody in 2007 while awaiting trial.
Before Hurley and his mates were arrested Flower had already bought shares in his first successful horse, the stallion Clangalang, which won the Australian Derby in 2003.
Flower had grown up surfing at Bronte and associated with members of the Bra Boys gang from nearby Maroubra after finishing his studies at Waverley College in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. He is pictured at the barrier draw for the 2005 Golden Slipper
The following year he purchased a yearling he named Snitzel which won seven of its 15 starts and went on to become a hugely successful sire.
He sold Snitzel but retained a 2.5 per cent share which continued to be extremely lucrative with the horse commanding $220,000 a service.
Flower spent a fortune on yearlings bought at the Inglis and Magic Millions sales where he rubbed shoulders with racing’s elite power brokers.
He owned thoroughbreds with high-profile Sydneysiders including businessman John Singleton, broadcaster Alan Jones and rugby league great Phil Gould, none of whom knew anything about his other business.
With former Ansett flight attendant wife Camilla by his side, he turned Platinum Park near Hawskesbury Racecourse into one of the most prestigious stables in the country.
Police believe in the four years that Flower worked part-time as a baggage handler he made contacts with criminal groups included one headed by cocaine king Michael Hurley (left). Hurley and Les Mara (right) smuggled drugs into Sydney Airport using baggage handlers
There is no suggestion Mrs Flower knew of her husband’s drug dealing and she has not faced any charges.
Flower paid $2.4million for a barrier slot for four instalments of The Everest when the new event was announced in 2017 as the richest race on turf in the world.
While Flower’s stable expanded his purchases seemed not to make much of a dent in his pocket. His real estate portfolio grew to include homes in Sydney’s Moorebank, Melbourne and the Gold Coast.
When police finally swooped on his ill-gotten gains they seized those properties, as well as prize money, cars and a speed boat.
Flower had become one of Sydney’s best-known figures on the racing scene but law enforcement agencies were aware of where the money was really coming from.
With wife Camilla by his side, Flower turned Platinum Park near Hawskesbury Racecourse into one of the most prestigious stables in the country. There is no suggestion Mrs Flower (above) knew of her husband’s drug dealing and she has not faced any charges
In March 2019 police got a tip off about Flower having collected a duffel bag containing 19kg of cocaine flown to Sydney on QF64 from South Africa in February 2017, The Telegraph has reported.
An investigation revealed Flower had been in contact with John Mafiti, who had by then been a baggage handler for 17 years, 33 times on the day of that importation.
The joint operation by Australian Federal Police, NSW detectives and Australian Border Force used CCTV and telephone records to also put Flower at the airport.
State and federal police used phone taps and listening devices to record Flower’s conversations and he was put under intense physical surveillance.
When Flower was finally arrested at the Moorebank house in May 2019 police found more than $1million cash, the New South Wales District Court has heard.
In 2004 Flower purchased a yearling he named Snitzel which won seven of its 15 starts and went on to become a hugely successful sire. He sold Snitzel but retained a 2.5 per cent share which continued to be extremely lucrative with the horse commanding $220,000 a service
It is not known when Flower first began using his airport contacts to bring cocaine in from South Africa but he pleaded guilty on Monday to importing a commercial quantity of a border controlled drug between June 2016 and May 2019.
He also pleaded guilty to one count of dealing with the proceeds of crime.
Mafiti last year admitted helping Flower import 228kg of cocaine during the same period. Police found more than $4.4million in cash in two Kennards self-storage units leased by Mafiti and $1.7million in his home.
Flower, who initially pleaded not guilty, had been due top face trial in February but struck a plea deal with prosecutors through barrister James Tevallion and solicitor Ben Archbold.
He is due to be sentenced along with Mafiti in September and has been hit was a $7.5million unexplained wealth order.
Flower, who has already spent almost two years in custody, faces a maximum sentence of life behind bars.