August 1, 2007 - 2:57PM
Guilty ... Les Mara.
Photo: NSW Police
Former rugby league star Les Mara has pleaded guilty to involvement in a baggage-handler drug importation racket.
Mara, 54, who played first grade football with Balmain and South Sydney in the 1970s, was scheduled to stand trial this week over the conspiracy.
But he pleaded guilty today before Sydney District Court judge Deborah Sweeney to conspiracy to import a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug.
Police said Mara was one of the key figures in the scheme, which planned to use airport baggage handlers to smuggle cocaine into Australia.
The syndicate allegedly imported 10 kilograms of cocaine from South America in 2004 and buried it in bushland near Wahroonga, in Sydney's north.
It was intending to import a further 20 kilograms from Argentina in May 2005 with the co-operation of some baggage handlers at Sydney airport, but abandoned the plan after discovering listening devices in the homes of some of those involved.
Mara evaded authorities for 18 months before his arrest on the NSW South Coast last November, after spending time in Rio De Janeiro and Ireland.
The second man accused of heading the syndicate, Michael Hurley, died of cancer in a Sydney hospital in January, less than a month before his scheduled trial.
Judge Sweeney remanded Mara in custody for sentence in the same court on September 21.