By Vincent Morello
A Canadian former boxing champion fed a cocaine addiction for years until he was caught acting as a middleman in a Sydney drug distribution network.
Robert Della Penna, 42, was sentenced on Friday in a Sydney District Court to five years and five months in jail, with a non-parole period of three years.
The retired boxer-turned-trainer had pleaded guilty to the possession of a commercial quantity of the prohibited drug MDMA, or ecstasy, suspected to have been imported.
Della Penna competed in a world title bout in Brazil during his career, which ended around 2001, the court was told.
He began boxing at age 12 in Canada where he had a difficult upbringing, he wrote in a letter to the court.
Boxing was ‘‘an escape to all of my problems’’, the letter said.
About a year after retiring, he became addicted to cocaine and ‘‘smoking bongs’’.
Della Penna arrived in Sydney from Canada in November 2011 on a tourist visa and took a three-month lease on a unit in the inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst.
He was unaware Australian Federal Police had begun intercepting phone calls between him and a man named ‘‘Ali’’.
‘‘The offender was deeply embedded in a highly sophisticated drug distribution network for over a month,’’ Judge Mark Marien told the court.
‘‘He would have clearly known his conduct was criminal.’’
AFP officers raided his unit in January 2012 and seized six vacuum-sealed 1kg bags of MDMA, of more than 50 per cent purity.
He pleaded guilty two months later.
The phone intercepts indicated he was a ‘‘middleman’’, Judge Marien said, but Della Penna was never charged with drug importation.
The judge considered Della Penna’s early guilty plea, his assistance to police and the fact that he would be jailed far away from his 10-year-old son, his partner and his elderly parents.
With time already served, he will be eligible for parole on January 24, 2015.