Cash stashed in AFP officer’s bag went undiscovered for a month: court

An envelope filled with cash was slipped into the backpack of an n Federal Police officer in an attempt to pay him for information, but the money was undiscovered for a month because it was stashed in a side pocket that was never used, a court has heard.

Ben Hampton, 46, has been suspended from the AFP since 2014 and has pleaded guilty to dishonestly receiving a benefit that would tend to influence a Commonwealth public official after he did not tell his superiors about the money.

The decorated officer had worked for the AFP since 1999, mostly in “close personal protection” of politicians and their families.

He also worked in intelligence, and served volatile overseas postings in East Timor and the Solomon Islands where he protected political figures in times of unrest.

But his career began to stall in 2013 when he was taken off the protection team for Tony Abbott, and in 2014 when he was knocked back for a sought-after posting at Brisbane’s G20 summit.

Hampton thought one of his supervisors had a “personal problem” with him, but when he vented to a former colleague over the phone in February 2014 he was told this might not be the issue, and he was likely under surveillance.

Four days earlier, without Hampton’s knowledge, about $7000 had been slipped into his gym bag in a white envelope. It was an unsolicited payment after Hampton searched the AFP database for Tiago Vasquez, a fictional South American drug trafficker invented as part of a sting operation, and passed on information about him.

The cash was not discovered until about February 26, Hampton said, when he arrived to train at a gym with Jayson Laing, who had put the cash in his bag, and Mr Laing asked: “How did you go with that thing.”

“I said ‘what are you on about’,” Hampton told his sentencing hearing at the District Court in Sydney on Wednesday.

Mr Laing brought over Hampton’s backpack and unzipped a side compartment, pulling out the envelope.

“I said ‘what’s it for’ or words to that effect,” Hampton said. “He said ‘it’s all good’.”

Mr Laing explained the money was for all the help Hampton had provided in the training of another man at the gym.

Hampton put the money back in his bag, and trained for about 1?? hours, but he couldn’t get the money off his mind.

“I had an uneasy feeling about it,” he told the court.

He spoke again to Mr Laing and asked what the money was really for.

“He said, ‘you really wanna know?’,” Hampton said. “He had a certain look on his face … it looked like I really didn’t wanna know.

“I said ‘you’ve put me in a bad position’. He said ‘it’s all good’. I said ‘it’s not all f—ing good, you’ve put me in a bad position’.

“He said ‘settle down mate, don’t get fired up’.”

Hampton handed the money back to Mr Laing and said their exchange had never happened.

“I didn’t want to hear about it again,” he told the court. “I didn’t want to know about it again.

“As far as I’m concerned, that should be wiped from the pages of history.”

He said he did not tell his superiors what had happened because he was fearful he would be blamed.

“I should have immediately reported it,” Hampton said. “I’m aware of that, and it’s cost me a great deal.

“Unfortunately I acted dishonestly on that occasion.”

The sentencing hearing continues before Judge Mark Williams.

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