Ex-surgeon duped into being €100k drug mule

An eminent US surgeon suffering from early-onset dementia who fell victim to a phishing scam which culminated in him bringing €100,000 of cocaine into Dublin Airport will be sentenced next week.

Carlos Cruz Soriano, aged 76, began responding to phishing emails after becoming isolated and depressed following his retirement from a “glittering career”, Dublin Circuit Criminal Court was told. The scammers told him a long-lost relative had died and he was due to inherit $2.3m.

They gained Soriano’s trust over a number of years, including sending him on a ‘dry run’ to Hong Kong, before flying him to Columbia, where he was given the paperwork for his inheritance as well as a ‘gift’ in a red bag for Irish banking officials who would facilitate the transfer of funds.

Soriano, of Cove Circle, Riverview, Florida, pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine valued at €107,000 inside the red bag in the arrivals hall at Dublin Airport on September 1, 2015. He has no previous convictions and has been in custody here since his arrest.

Judge Melanie Greally said Soriano’s isolation and the deterioration in his mental health had contributed to him being susceptible to manipulation by “sinister forces”. She said she accepted he did not appreciate the serious nature of his conduct.

She noted that, rather than availing of other options, he had chosen to plead guilty at an early stage.

Judge Greally indicated that she would impose a five-year sentence, which she would fully suspend on condition that he leave the country.

She adjourned the case until next week for finalisation to allow arrangements be put in place for his return to the US.

Sergeant Fergal Finnegan told Pieter Le Vert, prosecuting, that immigration officials had concerns about Soriano on his arrival in Dublin, as he had no return ticket to the US and only $300.

Soriano, who had travelled to Ireland from Bogota via Panama and Paris, told customs officials that a red bag he was carrying contained a gift for banking officials which would facilitate the transfer of a $2.3m inheritance from a long-lost relative he had never heard of until recently.

He was very co-operative with the officials and agreed to allow them x-ray and examine the bag. It was found to contain 1.86kg of cocaine in three packets.

Sgt Finnegan said gardaí were initially sceptical that Soriano could have fallen for the scam but, as interviews went on, they became aware that there were underlying issues.

Gardaí found documentation that Soriano had printed out about other phishing scams. He said that he knew they were scams but he was lonely and would respond to them for “a little bit of fun”. Sgt Finnegan said that, despite this, he remained adamant that the inheritance was still due to be claimed.

Soriano told gardaí he had become isolated and very lonely at home after martial and family problems arose when he lost money on a previous occasion to a Nigerian phishing scam.

Sgt Finnegan agreed with Caroline Biggs, defending, that Soriano had a “glittering” surgical career over the course of 40 years but had become very lonely after his retirement. The communication with the email scammers had become his only contact with the outside world.

He agreed with Ms Biggs that Soriano had become excited when it was explained to him he was going to prison as he thought he would be around people and have a chance to make friends.

Ms Biggs told the court Soriano had an “eminent career” as a surgeon

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