Girlfriend 'groomed' into crime family

Antionetta Mannella was blinded by her love for a Melbourne underworld figure when she helped smuggle $55 million worth of drugs, her lawyer has claimed.

"She fell in love with George Marrogi and the fog descended," barrister Colin Mandy SC told the County Court.

"There must be a reason for that expression 'love is blind', and she was blinded."

The 29-year-old was inured to the notorious crime family by her friend, Mr Marrogi's sister Meshilin, he said.

When Meshilin died from COVID-19 in September 2021, Mannella stepped up and helped George Marrogi, 33, who was running his drug business from behind bars while serving a 32-year murder sentence.

"One might call it a process of grooming from years before that by Mr Marrogi and his sister," Mr Mandy said.

The couple have pleaded guilty to two drug-trafficking charges, one state and one commonwealth, and faced a pre-sentence hearing on Tuesday by videolink from prison.

Marrogi was housed at Barwon Prison for shooting Kadir Ors dead in 2016, when he enlisted Mannella to attempt to move 800 litres of Butanediol from South Australia to Victoria, the court was told.

The man who sourced the Butanediol owed Marrogi $1.5 million.

But their plan was foiled when the truck was pulled over by police in Horsham in January 2022, with only two out of four drums found to be carrying Butanediol.

They then arranged for 69kg of methamphetamine and heroin to be flown into Melbourne from Thailand in February 2022, disguised in 27 boxes of green tea and magnets. Police said the drugs were worth $55 million.

The pair communicated about their trafficking operations using a covert prison phone link that diverted to Mannella from his lawyer's office. Many of the calls were intercepted by authorities.

"Marrogi would co-ordinate activities by issuing instructions to Mannella, and others, who would then facilitate these instructions at Marrogi's behest," prosecutor Samantha Holmes said.

She said the couple used code words to discuss the trafficking, including "fish" and "kittens".

A phone call where Mannella spoke to underworld figure Tony Mokbel was also intercepted.

"Police allege that this conversation was Mannella passing a message to Marrogi, through Mokbel, informing him that the consignment had been seized by law enforcement," Ms Holmes said.

Marrogi's barrister Peter Morrissey SC said his client took full responsibility for "dragging" his girlfriend into the scheme, and he was "lonely and stuck" in a high-security prison cell during the offending.

Marrogi accepted he would receive a heavier sentence than Mannella but Mr Morrissey asked Judge Peter Rozen to make some of the sentence concurrent with his current imprisonment.

Mr Mandy argued Mannella deserved a light sentence because she was "controlled and domineered" by Marrogi.

He said prison would be "remarkably" more burdensome on Mannella as she's in solitary confinement and is only allowed to go to bible study by day and watch The Bachelor on free-to-air television by night.

Prosecutors said Mannella played a pivotal role in enabling Marrogi to run his drug business from jail.

Mannella and Marrogi will be sentenced on February 24.