Driver had $5.2 million hidden in truck

·1-min read

A South Australian courier who was caught with $5.2 million concealed in his truck was unaware he was smuggling the cash into Victoria, a Melbourne court has been told.

Police stopped and searched 49-year-old Michele Donato's van in South Melbourne on the evening of December 29, 2020.

He owned up to having 4.7 grams of cocaine near his driver's seat and was arrested.

Officers then searched the rear of his vehicle and found a false wall concealing 11 boxes with more than $5.2 million cash inside.

Donato knew he was transporting something illegal across the SA border but he was not aware it was the millions of dollars of cash, his lawyer Colin Mandy SC told the County Court on Tuesday.

The 49-year-old had been in the grips of a cocaine addiction and was helping associates so he could receive the drug at cost price, Mr Mandy said.

Donato did not tell the court who those associates were, but pleaded guilty to possessing the property suspected to be the proceeds of crime and possessing cocaine.

Since his arrest, Donato has sought counselling, stopped using drugs, and reconnected with his family and work, Mr Mandy told the court.

The defence lawyer submitted that a community corrections order would help Donato continue his rehabilitation, and deter him and others from committing similar offences.

But Donato should be sentenced to some jail time because he knowingly concealed illegal items in his van, prosecutor Peter Pickering told the court.

The case was adjourned so Donato could be assessed for a corrections order.

He is due to be sentenced in the Melbourne County Court later this month.

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