Woman who turned to drugs after 13 Tongan family members killed in Australia, receives suspended sentence

By Courier Mail, edited and abridged by Kaniva News

A Tongan female drug trafficker in Australia has been sentenced to five years jail, wholly suspended, and a conviction was recorded. She was not further punished for other offences.

Barrister Joseph Briggs told the court Mele Lineti Cross had a passion and talent for music, which would lead to a scholarship at Griffith University.

Mele Lineti Sanipepa Cross, 29, pleaded guilty and was convicted of four offences, including drug trafficking and theft.

The police operation which led to the arrest of Mele Cross at her Mundubbera home on September 9, 2021 was the result of a tragic story.

In her sentencing on February 14, 2023, the Bundaberg Supreme Court heard that Mele Cross was on a university scholarship but the loss of her two brothers years earlier haunted her.

Tragedy was to hit once more when her 11 family members perished in Queensland’s most horrific house fire tragedy in 2011.

A bright and gifted young girl with huge academic potential, her life spiralled after a series of blows and life challenges, the Australian’s Courier Mail reported.

Mele Cross turned to drugs and became enslaved by them, until she was eventually convicted of drug trafficking and received the suspended sentence.

At the time of her arrest Mele Cross allegedly had more than 40 customers across the Burnett.

Police found digital scales, a glass pipe, clip seal bags, a mobile phone and a reportedly stolen rental car at her home.

She was arrested, charged with 147 offences, including 139 counts of supplying dangerous drugs and one count of trafficking dangerous drugs in what police alleged was a highly developed drug “syndicate”.

For the trafficking, she was sentenced to five years jail, wholly suspended, and a conviction was recorded.

Two of her associates were also arrested as part of Operation Konopie.

Just some of the firearms, ammunition, cash and drug supplies obtained by police during Operation Konopie.

SHE CLAIMED MORE THAN $60K FROM CENTRELINK

In the 18 month period between June 2020 and August 2021, Cross supplied cannabis and more than 60 grams of meth to her customers, making more than $100,000 while also feeding her own drug habits.

Police revealed she was well aware of the business she was conducting, and made efforts to avoid police during her regular trips to Brisbane and other areas to obtain drugs for her clients, and even employed others to drive her around to make sales.

Text messages between Cross and her husband revealed she accepted any payment for her wares, including a revolver and an AK-style rifle in exchange for meth.

Mele Lineti Sanipepa Cross

Cross told her husband in the text exchange “I haven’t done this before, but it’s no different to any other thing anyone does for money”.

Cross’ husband was not charged with any crime in relation to the investigation and no allegations of wrongdoing are made in respect of him.

In her February 2023 Supreme Court appearance the court heard she claimed more than $60,000 from Centrelink as a single parent while sharing her family home with her working husband.

BROTHERS KILLED IN HIT AND RUN TRAGEDY

Barrister Joseph Briggs told the court of the shattering personal history that had contributed to her drug dependency and subsequent dealing.

She had been born and raised in Australia under Tongan immigrant parents, who were said to be hardworking and caring.

Raised and schooled in Greenslopes as the youngest of five, Mr Briggs told the court Cross had shown “academic promise” from a young age.

She experienced her first taste of tragedy when she was 11 years old, when her two oldest brothers were killed in a hit and run, which remains unsolved to this day.

As a result of the family tragedy, Cross was sent to live with her extended family in New South Wales in the hopes she could put the distress of her loss behind her.

Barrister Joseph Briggs told the court Mele Lineti Cross had a passion and talent for music, which would lead to a scholarship at Griffith University.

By Year 10 she had returned to Slacks Creek Brisbane, where she lived with a number of family members and was a “gifted” musician. Her musical talents were so extensive she gained enrolment at Mabel Park High School, known at the time for its musical programs.

In August of 2011, after graduating from high school while still living with her extended family in Slacks Creek, Mr Briggs told the court Cross had decided to spend the night away from her family home.

She would return to find that home a ruin, burnt to the ground in one of the most horrific house fire tragedies the state had ever seen.

Flowers and tributes at the scene of the house fire, Wagensveldt Street, Slacks Creek, where 11 members of the family of Mele Lineti Sanipepa Cross died in 2011.

All 11 members of her family, many of whom were children, lost their lives to the tragedy that was ultimately not ruled suspicious.

Mr Briggs told the court Cross experienced an intense period of “survivors guilt” and after she entered Griffith University on a scholarship, she began experimenting with drugs to cope with the loss of her family.

That experimentation grew steadily into the addiction that would come to define her and destroy her life.

Since March 2021, there have been more than 4000 drug offences recorded across the Wide Bay Burnett, just a fraction of the 120,000 plus recorded across the state.

A 2020 report revealed that one Australian dies every four hours from a drug related death or overdose.

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