Australian DJ Jake Mastroianni was sentenced to two life prison sentences in Thailand. Photo: Facebook/Saphire Club Australian DJ Jake Mastroianni at work in Pattaya. Photo: Facebook/Saphire Club
Australian DJ Jake Mastroianni at a bar. Photo: Soundcloud
Australian DJ Jake Mastroianni. Photo: Soundcloud
Bangkok: Jake Mastroianni, an Australian DJ known in the night clubs and strip bars of Thailand’s Pattaya by his stage name Badmouth, was the victim of a critical legal error that put him behind bars for life, his lawyer says.
Mastroianni, 26, was spending time at his girlfriend’s apartment in the Thai beach city after his British friend sold ecstasy pills to a foreign man outside a nearby supermarket.
As the friend, Lance Whitmore, a 27-year-old former soldier, pulled 200 pills from his backpack, undercover police rushed to arrest him.
The buyer turned out to be acting for police in the 2014 sting operation targeting foreigners in Thailand’s “sin city”.
Dozens of police later burst into the apartment where Mastroianni was hanging out, bringing his life as a fun-loving likable DJ to a crashing end.
Police discovered 61 ecstasy pills in the apartment, leaving Mastroianni two years later in Thailand’s notorious Klong Prem prison, convicted and facing two life sentences, a punishment that lawyers say is extremely harsh, even in the country where drug traffickers can be executed.
Mastroianni is now considering whether to lodge an appeal against the verdict in a case his lawyer says contained a series of troubling events, including questionable legal advice when he was initially arrested.
Nathan Feeney, a Bangkok-based lawyer with the firm Thailandbail, who is now acting for Mastroianni, says a “critical error” was made when his client’s case was not separated from Whitmore’s.
At Pattaya’s police station officers combined the 200 pills they found in Whitmore’s possession with the 61 pills found in the apartment of Mastroianni’s girlfriend.
When forensically examined they were found to contain 27.8 grams of pure MDMA, the ecstasy substance.
Mr Feeney told Fairfax Media that no drugs were found on Mastroianni or in any of his belongings.
He pointed out that the 61 ecstasy pills were discovered in an apartment rented in the name of his Thai girlfriend who was never charged with any offence.
“Jake didn’t live in the apartment. He stayed there on and off. It was her apartment in her name,” Mr Feeney told Fairfax Media.
“That is a key point. Did Jake have possession of the pills?”
Mr Feeney said he was “mystified” why police charged Mastroianni with both possession of the drug and possession with intention to sell it when in fact it was Whitmore who was caught in the act.
Mastroianni refused to plead guilty at his trial, which led to the double life sentence, unlike Whitmore, who pleaded guilty and copped the lesser sentence of 50 years jail.
Whitmore, who was working at the time for a Thai petroleum company, told his family he was carrying the pills for a dealer and that he was tortured and kept in a police “safe house” for three days after his arrest.
Whitmore too is in Klong Prem prison, facing the prospect of being an old man when he is released.
“It’s worse than a POW camp…there are cockroaches everywhere and they feed the prisoners rotten rice and fish heads,” said his father Russell Whitmore, who had opened a bar in Pattaya, adding that his son sleeps on a concrete floor in a cell with 74 prisoners. The cell block is designed for 20.
Mastroianni and Whitmore were shackled together when they appeared in a Bangkok court last Tuesday. The judge turned down appeals against their sentences.
They now have 30 days to decide whether to lodge a further appeal or to apply for more time to consider it.
Mr Feeney said Mastroianni was looking at a prisoner transfer scheme that could see him serve some of his sentence in an Australian jail.
Prisoners who receive a life sentence in Thailand must serve eight years before being eligible for a transfer.
Mastroianni has already served two, meaning he would have to wait another six years before becoming eligible to return to Australia.
Deciding to lodge a further appeal carries further risk in a country where judges often impose harsher sentences on those who contest verdicts.
Under Thai law the amount of ecstasy Mastroianni was charged with possessing and intending to sell is in the highest bracket and carries a possible death sentence.
Mr Feeney said Mastroianni has spent time in the prison hospital for heat exhaustion or a flu-like illness but has made some friends.
He said his client has been able to cope “fairly well” so far in the prison also known as the “Bangkok Hilton”.
“Other people in his position may have gone mad – some people do,” he said.
“Jake is a smart kid. That is the thing that gets to him most – he can’t do anything with his brain. It’s really boring in there. Reading material is restricted. Visitations seem to be the only that keeps him going mentally.”