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Yoshe Taylor met a man online. She ended up in a Cambodian prison for six years.

Queensland teacher and mother-of-two Yoshe Taylor had been single for four years when she decided to try online dating.

‘Precious Max’ was charismatic and chatty, and after meeting him in 2013 on the dating site Tagged, Yoshe quickly began talking to him regularly on messenger and email.

The 41-year-old had no idea he was part of an international drug syndicate, who were operating to lure men and women to travel to Cambodia and bring drugs back into Australia.

Here’s a clip from Yoshe’s plight on Australia Story. Post continues after video.

Video via ABC

“I was talking to him for a long time; I thought I got to know him and he seemed very nice,” Yoshe told Australian Story.

Precious Max told Yoshe he was a South-African born businessman and urged her to come visit him in Cambodia, even offering to buy her plane tickets.

Previous-Max
Precious Max. Image: Australian Story.

She was cautious and asked him to send a copy of his passport and to pay for the tickets in cash, which he did.

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Before she knew it she was on a plane on her way to Cambodia for a week.

"He picked me up and he looked just like his picture. He took me to a really nice hotel," said Yoshe. "I was really happy."

She hadn't ruled out romance but she had doubts - he lived so far away and was much younger than her.

After a wonderful holiday, Yoshe returned to Australia where she made the decision not to pursue a romantic relationship.

Yoshe and her kids
Yoshe and her two children. Image: Australian Story.

But knowing her financial situation was quite dire, Precious Max instead convinced her to work with him in a business sense, selling Cambodian arts and crafts in Brisbane.

She was asked to come over to Cambodia again and discuss the venture. She was taken to a number of meetings and the hospital for checks to make sure she was "fit for work".

At the last minute before boarding her flight home, Precious Max asked Yoshe if she'd take a bag back to Queensland to hand over to a contact of his.

"I didn't really think about it. I thought I was working for this arts and crafts store and this was my new boss and I was happy to do something helpful," she told the ABC.

On her third trip to Cambodia to settle more business details, Yoshe was asked to carry a backpack full of fabrics back to Australia. She was searched at the airport, and Cambodian authorities found 2kg of heroin sewn into the lining of the bag.

Yoshe was charged with international drug smuggling and put in a 15 metre by 5 metre cell with 99 other women.

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Yoshe was arrested and eventually sentenced to 23 years in a Cambodian prison. Image: Australian Story.

She didn't have the money for a good lawyer, and without outside help including at times no translator in court appearances, Yoshe was sentenced in 2014 to 23 years in a Cambodian prison.

"I did not want to spend 23 years away from my children. It's just causing them pain. I actually thought the death penalty was a much better idea than being in jail for 23 years,” said an emotional Yoshe.

"I remember when mum first started talking about going to Cambodia - she said she was going to meet someone who was very trustworthy and she was probably going to get a good career out of it," her daughter Kahlyla told Australian Story. 

"I never thought she'd just disappear from our lives entirely. It was pretty crazy."

Yoshe Taylor's daughter
For six years, Yoshe's children barely had contact with their mother. Image: Australian Story.
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"I stopped eating, not because I was on hunger strike. I couldn't eat, I didn't feel hungry, I didn't feel anything. I had no hope," said Yoshe.

In 2016, an appeal wasn't successful and Yoshe might have very well spent the two decades behind bars if it wasn't for the help of some Australian lawyers who stumbled on her story. Yoshe's story had barely hit Australian headlines and she'd all but been forgotten by her home country.

Barrister Moya O'Brien heard about Yoshe because she was helping another of Precious Max's victim's Kay Smith who'd been incarcerated in Australia. Kay, another woman, and a man had all had charges dropped against them in the Australian court system.

Barrister O'Brien, a colleague and his mentee Luke McMahon, who happened to be a former investigative journalist, decided to look into Yoshe Taylor.

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Yoshe was in prison for three years before a group of Australian lawyers came to her rescue. Image: Australian Story.

"I was looking for similarities," McMahon told Australian Story. He soon realised Yoshe and Kay's cases were near identical. In fact, Cambodian authorities had been using Kay's case to confirm the guilt of Yoshe. No one had updated them on the dismissal of her case.

The Australian Federal Police told Australian Story it was not its role to update international authorities about court results.

McMahon decided to fly to Cambodia to investigate further, leaving his young family behind to undertake a somewhat dangerous venture. By the time he found Yoshe, she'd been behind bars for three years.

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"The first thing that struck me was that she'd lost an amazing amount of weight, so much so she was almost unrecognisable," he said.

"I'd been three years a mushroom by that stage," she explained.

After piecing her story together and realising her innocence, McMahon and O'Brien found Yoshe an Australian lawyer who was willing to work for free. In 2018, the highest court in Cambodia ruled that there wasn't enough evidence to prove she knew the drugs were in her backpack.

In April 2019, Yoshe was finally told she was "not guilty and free" after spending a total of six years behind bars. In May, she finally landed back in Australia and was reunited with her children, who were only nine and 14 when she left.

Yoshe Taylor children
Yoshe Taylor being reunited with her children in Australia. Image: Australian Story.

Without the intervention of the group of Australian lawyers, Yoshe would still be behind bars.

"What I really want to happen is that we live normally," her daughter Kahlyla told Australian Story.

But Yoshe has a whole life to rebuild.

She doesn't have a house anymore, a job, or any money, and her children have been raised without her.

"I have heard people talk about Australians being easy to scam and I don't want us to become scared but I want us to be able to protect ourselves," she told Australian Story.

"If one person is protected because they've seen the story of myself, if it can save one other Australian. I'll be really happy."

Luke McMahon has set up a GoFundMe account to help Yoshe rebuild. You can find it here.

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