Former Vice Editor Accused of Operating Drug Smuggling Ring

By Paul Gaita 02/08/17

Vice employees allege that the man offered them $10,000 to smuggle cocaine into Australia in their suitcases. 

Man with suitcase at airport.

A journalist and former editor for Vice Media in Canada has been accused of trying to recruit co-workers into a transnational drug smuggling ring.

Yaroslav Pastukhov, 26, who wrote for Vice Canada before serving as editor of Noisey Canada, an online music site operated by Vice, was the subject of a recent report in the Toronto-based National Post, in which Vice employees stated that Pastukhov offered each of them $10,000 to smuggle cocaine from Las Vegas to Australia.

Their claims echoed accusations made by a Toronto-based electronic music artist and former roommate of Pastukhov, Jordan Gardner, who is facing life imprisonment after he was arrested in 2015 for smuggling 37 kilos of cocaine into Australia.

The Post spoke independently to three current and former Vice employees who provided detailed, firsthand accounts of their interactions with Pastukhov.

In each case, they alleged that they had been approached by Pastukhov, who offered them a chance to travel to Australia and then to Las Vegas, after which they would receive $10,000. Believing that the trips were part of a Vice assignment, they expressed initial interest or curiosity, upon which Pastukhov allegedly explained the reason for their travel. 

In a 2015 Facebook message to one intern, he allegedly wrote, "U go to Vegas with a friend, you each get two bags (4 total) and there’s stuff in the lining (undetectable) and go to Australia where those bags get picked up. 10k on return."

Each of the employees declined or did not respond to the offer, but also did not report the interaction to Vice, believing that the allegations would have a detrimental impact on their jobs. But Pastukhov's roommate, DJ and musician Jordan Gardner, allegedly accepted the deal.

According to Eidan Havas, Gardner's legal counsel in Australia, he traveled from Toronto to Las Vegas in December 2015 and picked up the bags from unnamed individuals. After seeing the shoddy methods used to conceal the cocaine in the suitcases, Gardner said he was backing out of the job, but was then threatened at gunpoint by one of the men, who said that they would harm his girlfriend and parents if he did not carry out the plan. 

When Gardner—who was traveling with three other Canadians and a U.S. citizen—arrived at Sydney International Airport, border patrol searched and found the 37 kilos concealed in 81 sealed packages in the suitcases. All five were charged with importing a commercial quantity of cocaine. Gardner and three members of the group pleaded guilty and are currently awaiting sentencing.

The arrests opened the floodgates at Vice, where a news release about the case was sent anonymously to the Vice Canada office. Staff members came forward and reported their interactions with Pastukhov to supervisors, who summoned legal counsel. 

In February 2016, Pastukhov was dismissed by Vice, which issued a statement to the Post which read, "Upon learning of these allegations in early 2016, Vice Canada took immediate and swift action to address these claims through our Human Resources department, enlisting an employment law specialist to consult throughout and engaging an outside criminal law firm to conduct an investigation on our behalf and contact the Toronto Police Service. Based on the results of the internal investigation the employee was promptly terminated on February 16th, 2016."

None of the allegations against Pastukhov have been proven in court, and no criminal charges appear to have been filed against him. When approached by the Post about the story, he declined to comment. Gardner and his co-defendants reportedly face sentencing this week.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix

Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.