A Dunedin gang member who used $20,000 of government money to fund a gang cannabis dealing operation has lost his appeal against a four-year prison sentence.
Korrey Teeati Cook, 36, was one of four Dunedin Mongrel Mob Notorious gang members involved with the We Against Violence Trust, which received $56,000 through the Government's Whanau Ora programme between July 2011 and April last year. Cook used $20,000 of the money to buy cannabis which he and his associates were planning to sell.
But the first consignment of about 3.2kg of cannabis from the North Island was seized by police from the offenders' unattended vehicle on the Cook Strait ferry in March last year. Another 2.7kg buy of cannabis was seized in April from one of Cook's co-offenders who was bringing it to Dunedin. The police had been intercepting text and phone messages between members of the group.
Then in May, Cook tried to arrange another consignment. But he became suspicious about possible electronic interception by the police and there was no evidence that deal was completed.
He eventually pleaded guilty to an indictable charge of conspiring with others to sell cannabis, two of possessing cannabis for supply and one of dishonestly converting $20,000 from the We Against Violence Trust, of which he was a trustee.
Dunedin District Court Judge Michael Crosbie sentenced Cook to a total of four years' jail last November - concurrent terms of three years and three months on each of the cannabis-related charges, with an extra nine months for the criminal breach of trust, that sentence to be added to two years and nine months Cook was already serving on unrelated charges.
Cook challenged the sentence, counsel Sarah Saunderson-Warner submitting to the Court of Appeal that the starting point for the cannabis offending - four and a half years - was too high and the six month uplift for offending while on bail was also too high, resulting in a sentence which was manifestly excessive.
The Court of Appeal said Judge Crosbie found the cannabis offending was serious, warranting a starting point of four and a half years. He treated the criminal breach of trust as an aggravating feature for the overall offending, justifying an uplift of nine months. That meant an overall starting point of five years and three months. He added six months for Cook's prior drug and honesty convictions, and an extra six months because the offences were committed while Cook was on bail on the unrelated charges. That made a total term of six years and three months which the judge discounted by 25 per cent for the guilty pleas.
But having regard to a sense of proportionality, the judge then reduced the sentence for the cannabis offending to three years and three months, with a cumulative nine months for the criminal breach of trust, the four years to be cumulative on Cook's existing sentence.
The Court of Appeal found the most significant features in rating the seriousness of the offending, compared with other relevant cases, were the scale and relative frequency of the three actual and proposed cannabis buys; the resolve shown with significant commercial scale purchases even though the March and April consignments had been confiscated; the criminal gang context and the facilitation of the buys by a criminal breach of trust in misappropriating $20,000 from a charitable trust.
"Given those features, we are satisfied the sentencing judge was well within the appropriate range in nominating a starting point of four years and six months' imprisonment," the court said.
There could be no criticism of the contribution to the final outcome of the separate uplift for offending while on bail - particularly as Judge Crosbie had stood back and weighed the final point reached against the proportionality of all the circumstances of the offending.
The appeal was dismissed.