Former prison guard behind bars

By James Ihaka

A Te Puke father of three and former prison guard who once took a prominent anti-drugs stance is now behind bars for smuggling methamphetamine, cannabis and drug utensils into jail for inmates.

Kokiri Kihirini Ronaki, 43, of Te Puke, was sentenced to two years' prison in Hamilton District Court on Tuesday after he earlier pleaded guilty to charges of possession of methamphetamine for supply, possession of cannabis for sale and possession of a glass pipe.

Ronaki's fall from grace occurred after his Waikeria Prison colleagues caught him with enough methamphetamine or P to make 13 point bags and the equivalent of four cannabis "tinnies" in his backpack when he turned up for work on July 13 last year.

The charges were laid after a Department of Corrections drug-dog handler, a prison manager and a Te Awamutu police detective stopped Ronaki and searched him as he began his early morning shift, on the suspicion that he was carrying drugs.

When Ronaki's Te Awamutu flat was searched later that same day, police found 2.3g of cannabis and two bags of methamphetamine, each containing 0.6g and 0.9g, packaged ready for supply.

Ronaki pleaded guilty to the charges on June 29, midway through his three-day trial in Hamilton District Court, after the jury heard evidence about inmates' recorded coded conversations between December 2010 and July last year about drugs they wanted brought into the prison.

At least one conversation identified Ronaki by name.

Crown prosecutor Rebecca Guthrie told Judge Glen Marshall that Ronaki's actions were a gross breach of trust that undermined the integrity of the justice system.

Ronaki's lawyer Paul Mabey QC said his client's actions were an enigma, out of character for a man who was a good father and husband, and was involved with sports groups in Te Puke.

Ronaki was also opposed to drugs and had collaborated with police on youth issues, he said.

"He has gone from the top of the mana tree to the bottom," said Mr Mabey. "The fall from grace within the Maori community for this man is probably harder than it would be for many."

Judge Marshall said he could only place a "limited amount of allowance" on a submission from Mr Mabey that Ronaki had received threats from gang members, forcing him into his predicament. "There were other avenues you could have taken, such as discussion with your superiors or the police, but you chose not to and that has led to you being in this position."

The judge said a deterrent message needed to be sent for this type of offending, which had cast suspicion on Ronaki's work colleagues.

Figures obtained by the NZ Herald under the Official Information Act show contraband offences among Corrections staff are rare.

Vincent Arbuckle, the department's general manager of organisational development, said 12 officers had been involved in criminal activity resulting in convictions between January 1, 2009 and June 30 this year. That amounted to 0.3 per cent of nearly 4000 corrections officers, senior and principal corrections officers, employed at that time. Additional reporting Sandra Conchie

- Bay of Plenty Times

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