According to Canada’s National Post, a former editor with Vice Media used his position at the high-octane media outlet to recruit young journalists and artists into a “transnational cocaine-smuggling ring.”
Current and former Vice employees alleged to the Post that 26-year-old Yaroslav Pastukhov, a.k.a. Slava Pastuk, personally tried to recruit them as drug couriers during his time as music editor for Noisey, offering a fee of $10,000 to smuggle cocaine hidden in the lining of suitcases. They all said they declined the offer.
Pastukhov’s one-time roommate, an up-and-coming DJ and electronic music artist named Jordan Gardner, was arrested along with four others on Dec. 22, 2015 in Sydney, Australia when cocaine valued at approximately 5 million US dollars was discovered in luggage belonging to the group. Gardner’s lawyer, friends and family all claim that he says Pastukhov badgered him into making the trip, and that when he and some of his travel companions tried to back out of the deal in Las Vegas, they were threatened with a gun. Gardner is currently in an Australian prison awaiting sentencing for what the Australian Federal Police describe as the work of a “transnational crime syndicate.”
In an interview with the Post, Gardner’s lawyer, Eidan Havas, claimed Pastukhov is part of a massive scheme headed by a Mexican drug cartel. “They’re finding young Canadians, or young individuals who for all intents and purposes don’t have any criminal histories and are productive members of their community, and manipulating them into making the wrong choice,” Havas said. “They got [Gardner] to a situation where they pulled a gun to his head, they knew where his family lived. The family received death threats. They put him in a position where he couldn’t return.”
According a friend of Gardner’s, the night before he left Toronto for Las Vegas he told her he had cold feet about the trip, but didn’t feel safe backing out because he had been warned that “something could happen to” his loved ones if he didn’t go through with it. Gardner arrived in Las Vegas in December 2015, where, Havas told the Post, he picked up the suitcases to take to Australia. Hamas said, “[Gardner was] told certain things about the packaging and how it’s tamper-proof and this and that. So then Jordan gets the bags and the first thing, he tells me, is you can literally smell the glue from the bag”—meaning the alterations to the luggage to conceal the cocaine were obvious.
Hamas continued: “And [Gardner’s] just like, ‘You guys are a bunch of liars, this isn’t what I was told. I don’t want to do this any more.’ At that stage, one of the men pulled out a gun, held it to his head and said words to the effect of, ‘If you don’t do this, we’re gonna get your girlfriend and your parents, we know where they live.’”
On Dec. 22, Gardner and the four others he was traveling with landed in Sydney. A search of their luggage by border control revealed 37 kilograms of cocaine in 81 tightly sealed packages hidden in the lining of eight checked bags, according to police.
Gardner and Nathanial Carty, a 22-year-old New York-based model, were immediately charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine. That afternoon, their traveling companions—Canadians Porscha Wade, 20, Robert Wang, 24, and Kutiba Senusi, 23—were also charged. All but Wade pleaded guilty. Her trial is set for September 2017.
When news of the arrests reached Toronto, several young Vice journalists say they realized they had been targeted for recruitment as possible couriers. Each told the Post the approach came from Pastukhov. Many of them asked that their names not be published because of “a fear of repercussions from friends and former colleagues and a negative impact on their career.”
The allegations in the National Post article have not been proven in court, and no criminal charges have been pressed against Pastukhov. However, Vice Canada ended its relationship with him last year after concerns were raised with management about some of his actions. Jordan Pearson, who currently writes for Vice’s tech site Motherboard, and Matt Braga, a former Vice Canada editor, both told the Canadian newspaper that they had heard staff members discussing Pastukhov’s alleged drug-running and recruitment efforts. When contacted for comment by the Post, Pastukhov repeatedly declined to address the allegations.
Gardner and his co-accused await sentencing in Australia, set for this week. The maximum penalty for smuggling a commercial quantity of cocaine into Australia is life imprisonment.
Havas said Gardner wants to help others avoid the same fate: “I don’t fucking bullshit: these guys do not deserve what’s about to happen to them. He wants other people to know that he made a mistake and do not make the same mistake he made.
“He’s thrown away a large portion of his life. He’s been in jail while his album has been released, by Èbony. All these opportunities have gone to waste,” said Havas, adding: “Go buy the rap album.”