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THE wedding date was set, the dress bought, the stretch Hummer hired … until police spoiled the party.
Leanne Walker, 49, the mother of the bride, was arrested and accused of being the head of a major drug syndicate in Victoria's south-west.
The bride-to-be, Jamie-Lee Hurle, 21, was said to regularly travel from Warrnambool to Melbourne to meet the syndicate's drug suppliers.
Mother and daughter spent six weeks in custody after being charged with serious drug offences before being released on bail on Wednesday. Police say the pair's arrest highlights a trend involving increasing numbers of women allegedly taking part in the drug trade.
The latest Victoria Police figures show there were 663 women drug dealers caught in Victoria in 2006-07, compared with 3293 men. This was 29 fewer than in the previous year, but while statistics for 2007-08 have yet to be released, police say they are concerned by the recent spate of cases involving women arrested for drug dealing.
A woman, 24, from Kyabram, was charged on Wednesday with dealing and possessing cannabis after a nine-month police operation targeting the trafficking of amphetamines, ecstasy and cannabis in Kyabram and Shepparton.
In another case last Wednesday week, four women aged 57, 41, 34 and 26, were charged with drug trafficking at Horsham and Invermay following a nine-month investigation into a large cannabis trafficking operation.
The women's arrests followed a separate case on the same day when four people were charged, including a 37-year-old Hampton Park woman, following a three-month investigation into the cultivation of cannabis in the south-eastern suburbs. The woman was charged with cultivating and trafficking cannabis.
And a Lysterfield South woman was one of seven arrested last week after police seized almost $1.4 million in cash from a Dandenong South storage facility as part of a four-month investigation targeting heroin trafficking. The woman, 47, was charged with trafficking heroin and possessing a prohibited weapon.
Asked about the issue of women drug dealers, one senior Victoria Police officer, who did not want to be named, said historically men took the blame if police uncovered an operation, but this was no longer the case.
"We're a lot more equal these days, and women are a lot more entrepreneurial," the officer told The Sunday Age.
"Women are getting more involved in the actual physical distribution of drugs."
In one of the few in-depth case studies of women drug dealers in Australia, 60 women at Victoria's Fairlea Prison were interviewed in 2001 with researchers finding that all the inmates had mixed in family and social circles where drugs were readily available. These women were lured by the size of the profits from drug dealing compared with legitimate work or welfare. And as they became dependent on drugs, they often became increasingly dependent on the income from selling drugs.
In the Warrnambool case, Walker, of Mailors Flat, was one of 15, including four other women, charged with drug offences.
The Warrnambool Magistrates Court heard Ms Walker was allegedly the leader of a drug syndicate and had bought about $250,000 worth of amphetamines and ecstasy from Melbourne suppliers.
She was accused of using her three daughters, two of their boyfriends and other associates to distribute the drugs.
Walker allegedly used money from selling drugs to help fund her eldest daughter's wedding. The court heard Walker had given Jamie-Lee Hurle $7000, bought a wedding cake and bridesmaids' dresses, and paid $5600 for a stretch Hummer to come from Melbourne for the October 4 nuptials.
Hurle's wedding dress was later seized by police under proceeds-of-crime legislation.
In other cases last month:
A mother of a two-year-old girl was arrested in Delahey and charged with growing more than 100 cannabis plants at home. The woman's daughter was taken into the care of the Department of Human Services.
Three women were arrested after police seized heroin and cannabis from two Cranbourne houses.