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How a New York-based model was recruited to smuggle $3.7M worth of cocaine by an ex-Vice Canada editor

Less than three weeks before Nathaniel Carty’s arrest at an airport in Australia with $3.7-million worth of cocaine hidden in his luggage, the 22-year-old Brooklyn-based model was at a Vice Media party in Toronto, where he was allegedly drawn into a remarkable conspiracy.

Talking with Vice Canada’s music editor Yaroslav Pastukhov, best known by his pen name Slava Pastuk, Carty said he mentioned he had always wanted to visit Australia.

According to evidence presented in February to an Australian court, Pastukhov’s response was emphatic: “I can make that happen.”

Text messages found on Carty’s phone after he was arrested show a message sent the next day from Pastukhov’s number. “Do you really wanna go to Australia for free,” it said.

“Hell yeah,” was Carty’s response.

Nate was the sweetest kid in the world…. He is so smart. How could he have thought smuggling drugs would work?

Carty’s recent sentencing hearing shed new light on allegations revealed by the National Post that Pastukhov used his position at Vice Media to try to draw young journalists and artists into a large-scale transnational drug smuggling enterprise. In the wake of the Post’s investigation, Toronto police launched an investigation. Vice fired Pastukhov last year and, after the Post’s story, the company reactivated an internal probe.

Carty’s allegation brings to eight the number of people, including four current or former Vice employees, claiming that while Pastukhov was an editor at Vice he offered them money to take luggage with illicit cargo in the lining from Las Vegas to Sydney, Australia.

Pastukhov has not been charged and the allegations against him have not been proven in court. He declined to comment for the Post’s original story and could not be reached for comment on the new allegations. A cellphone number he used earlier is no longer in service, and he has not responded to the Post’s emails.

On the morning of Feb. 9, Carty sat impassively in the dock of a cluttered courtroom before Judge Dina Yahia in the New South Wales District Court. He had been arrested before leaving Sydney airport on Dec. 22, 2015, along with four Canadians, including Gardner. Together they carried 37 kilograms of cocaine in 81 tightly sealed packages, hidden in the lining of eight checked bags. The street value, prosecutors said, exceeded $20 million.

All five have pleaded guilty to importing a commercial quantity of cocaine into Australia, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Carty was the first of the five to appear for sentencing

Some of the evidence at the hearing was placed under a publication ban, and the Post’s reporter was ejected from the courtroom at several points to keep some evidence secret.

Carty’s family has faced threats, the court heard. It’s a common thread in the case: court heard the brother of one of the accused, who lives in Canada, moved to another city after receiving a death threat. Eidan Havas, the lawyer for another of the five accused, Jordan Gardner, previously told the Post that Gardner had a gun pressed to his head when he tried to back out of the deal while in Las Vegas.

Carty’s mother flew to Sydney for the hearing for a chance to explain his actions to the judge in the hope that he would avoid receiving the maximum penalty, but the hearing adjourned for the day before she could take the stand.

She declined to comment on the case.

His friends, however, openly wonder how he could find himself in such a predicament.

“Nate was the sweetest kid in the world,” one told the Post. “He is so smart. How could he have thought smuggling drugs would work?”

* * *

Carty had friends and family in Canada and visited Toronto often. He had first met Pastukhov at a party in the summer of 2015, according to several of Carty’s friends, and a few times he stayed at Pastukhov’s apartment, where he met and also befriended Gardner, who at the time was Pastukhov’s roommate.

Carty was convinced to take Pastukhov up on his alleged offer after being told a similar trip had been carried off before without a hitch, according to a friend of Carty’s who asked not to be named out of concern for their safety.

“Nate was inspired by one of his friends,” another New York-based friend told the National Post. “Because (one of his friends) did it and didn’t get caught, he figured he would do it.”

Text messages seized from Carty’s phone, presented as evidence to the court, show messages from Pastukhov’s number pushing Carty to accept his alleged offer, and to have a friend — also carrying suitcases — join him. (The text messages discuss a trip and arrange a voice call to discuss but do not specifically mention drugs.)

Pastukhov told Carty to send him a photo of his passport, which he did, and to recruit a young woman to go with him, court heard. He was told to also send a photo of his companion’s passport, as soon as possible.

“I can’t find any girl that wanna go,” Carty said in a text message on Dec. 7. (All messages in this story are reproduced verbatim.)

“Try harder bro,” was the reply from Pastukhov’s number. “Don’t tell her about the work.”

“Of course not,” Carty replied. He received encouragement in response: “You can do it fam.”

A day later, Carty suggested a male traveling companion, a mutual friend of his and Pastukhov’s. Carty sent a photo of the young man’s passport to a different person with a different cellphone number, according to the texts.

The next message from Pastukhov’s number asked Carty if he “wanna visit the Vice office in Aus?” Carty said he did.

“I’ll set it up,” Pastukhov replied.

“Also u get ur guap when ur in Toronto from me,” came the next message from Pastukhov’s number, using a slang term for a pile of money. Later, on Dec. 9, a text asked, “Any chance I can give u 3400 Canadian each? That’s what 2500 USD converts to and it saves me a lie at the bank.” Carty was fine with that.

Carty’s traveling companion, however, backed out of the arrangement, apparently when the gravity of the situation sank in. Pastukhov then hastily arranged for Gardner to take his place, court heard.

Havas previously told the Post that Gardner blames Pastukhov for badgering him into making the trip with Carty shortly before their departure.

Friends of Carty’s said Carty was having second thoughts.

“A few days before the trip, people that are close to Nate — even his mom — was saying his energy was off,” a close friend of Carty’s said in an interview. “He called over a few close friends he had before he left and it was a weird vibe from what my other homies told me.”

On Dec. 18, Carty texted Gardner the address of the hotel they would be staying at in Las Vegas.

For the trip, Carty and Gardner met in New York and flew via Philadelphia to Las Vegas, where they stayed at the MGM Grand, a hotel and casino on the Strip.

In Vegas, it was not only Gardner who tried to back out of the trip to Australia when they met the men who arrived at their hotel with the drug-laden luggage they were to take. Carty wanted out as well, a friend told the Post.

“I’m pretty sure they threatened his family. ‘If you don’t take the trip, people are gonna hurt your family,’ he was told by some of the guys in Vegas,” his friend said. He had, after all, sent Pastukhov his passport information.

According to his social media accounts, however, Carty at least appeared to be in good spirits.

A post shared by Nate Dáme Fuego (@nate.carty) on Dec 20, 2015 at 12:15pm PST

He posted a six-second Vine video recorded outside the Showcase Mall, next door to his hotel, on Dec. 19. The video shows a discarded escort ad on the sidewalk with the joking caption “your daughter.”

The day before Carty and Gardner left for Sydney, Carty posted a photo of himself on Instagram. Tall and lean, he strikes a model’s pose in front of indoor palm trees in an MGM Grand atrium.

He included a caption: “See you tomorrow Australia.”

Carty hasn’t managed to see much of his destination.

* * *

Carty and Gardner arrived in Australia on an American Airlines flight from Los Angeles, touching down at Sydney airport at 7:50 a.m. on Dec. 22, 2015. Also on board were Robert Wang, 24, Porscha Wade, 20, and Kutiba Senusi, 23, all Canadians. Each brought with them suitcases in which cocaine was hidden.

At the airport, Carty collected two Samsonite suitcases and a backpack and headed to customs with his U.S. passport.

As the suitcases passed through an x-ray machine, however, anomalies were spotted and officers searched the bags: eight packages were found concealed in one suitcase and five in the other. A subsequent analysis determined the packages contained 4.7 kilos of pure cocaine.

Along with Gardner, Wang and Senusi, Carty pleaded guilty early in the court process. Wade originally pleaded not guilty, then changed her plea at a February court appearance.

On Feb. 9, she appeared by a video link from the Silverwater Remand Centre. Looking calm, she quietly and politely answered the judge’s questions and entered her plea of guilty.

She, like Carty and the rest, is waiting to learn how long they will remain in prison.

A post shared by Nate Dáme Fuego (@nate.carty) on Aug 12, 2016 at 5:06am PDT

Carty’s family continues to support him as he bides his time. His family have visited him a handful of times in the last year, friends said. And a friend of his, living in Melbourne who he was set to visit if he had not been arrested, has visited him regularly in prison. She brings messages of support from his friends to cheer him up.

“He’s doing well,” she observed after one trip in recent months.

Though he’s in custody, Carty’s profile as a model has continued to grow based on photo and video shoots completed before his arrest.

In March 2016, he was featured in a basketball-themed commercial for Puma sneakers and, in December 2016, one of Carty’s portfolio images was used in Coca Cola ads at Australian train stations. The streetwear fashion brand Profound Aesthetic continues to feature his work, and Carty appeared in an editorial fashion spread in the April 2016 issue of U.S. magazine Seventeen.

New York’s Red Model Management called Carty’s current predicament a “tough situation” but continues to represent him and offer images to clients from Carty’s vibrant photo portfolio. (Carty once described his style as “old skool swag with new school etiquette.”)

“He was an incredibly nice kid,” agency founder and owner Neil Mautone told the Post. “A beautiful and gifted young talent, a promising up-and-coming model in the industry.”

Carty has no previous criminal record in Australia or Canada, court heard.

Carty’s lawyer, Dennis Miralis, declined to discuss the case.

Similarly, Vice Canada had little to say about new allegations about Pastukhov. In a statement to the Post, Vice Canada’s head of communications Chris Ball said: “As this is now a matter before the police, we would have no further comment on outside allegations in order to respect the integrity of any ongoing police investigation.”

Carty’s sentencing is scheduled to resume in June.

National Post