Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Downfall of colourful drug kingpin

Gary Read has lived the high life, and now awaits sentencing after pleading guilty to Class A drug charges.

Gary Read had a mansion in Thailand, three houses in Tauranga and an art collection worth $100,000. Photo / Supplied
Gary Read had a mansion in Thailand, three houses in Tauranga and an art collection worth $100,000. Photo / Supplied

Being a drug kingpin is a dangerous business, so Gary Read knew when to take a threat seriously.

He rang a friend to ask if his "toys are handy" and told another that he has to "walk around tooled up".

This is code for carrying a firearm, and detectives covertly listening to the conversations were now in a delicate situation.

If Read shot someone, the police could be criticised for not acting earlier. But moving in too soon would blow the cover of the long-running investigation.

The dispute was not about drugs or money - Read had plenty of both - but sex. The Tauranga-based 45-year-old had been sleeping with a number of different women and the husband of one had found out.

He rang Read on his wife's cellphone and "it was not a friendly conversation", according to a police summary of the case.

The threat came to nothing; Read didn't need to use the firearm until a heated encounter with the angry boyfriend of a second girl.

The businessman arranged to pick her up at her home in Tauranga but was confronted by two drunken men while sitting in his car outside.

It was a set-up. Her partner and his mate tried to "roll him" for any drugs or cash he had with him. Unfortunately for the enterprising duo, Read pulled out his pistol and fired shots as they fled.

Last week on the eve of his trial Read pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a pistol, importing pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine-related charges.

The party-pill king smuggled drugs from Thailand, where he owns a $1.5 million mansion, to cook up millions of dollars worth of P.

Read is the director of NZ Party Pills Ltd and internet Sales Ltd, a company which specialised in online sales of herbal supplements to boost sex drive and weight loss, as well as legal highs such as Tripping Weed and Bong It.

The potent hallucinogenic in these is derived from the salvia divinorum plant, a natural source, and sidesteps the Government's recent crackdown on synthetic cannabis alternatives.

But it was Read's enterprise in Class A drugs which brought him to the attention of the Organised and Financial Crime Agency of NZ.

He became a target in Taskforce Argon because of his close association with the Hells Angels and Filthy Few motorcycle clubs, and evidence showed he was part of an international drug smuggling network.

Hundreds of thousands of pseudoephedrine pills were shifted from Africa to Thailand, where the tablets were crushed into paste and hidden inside cosmetics jars.

The packages were posted to New Zealand to family and friends in Auckland, Waihi, Tauranga and Hamilton who acted as "catchers".

The pseudoephedrine was picked up by Read or an associate before being converted into methamphetamine. The finished product would then be returned to Read in ounces worth up to $15,000 each before being distributed among his network.

He admitted organising for 77 packages of pseudoephedrine to be smuggled into New Zealand between June 2009 and September 2011, a total of 32kg.

The drug was upgraded from a Class C to Class B several weeks before his arrest, when armed police raided his house in Judea while he was opening a 1.8kg package.

Police estimate between 16kg and 24kg of P could be manufactured from the 32kg total.

At $700 a gram, it would have been worth up to $17 million at street level.

A breakthrough in the case was when Read was picked up on traffic cameras acting suspiciously in a garden near the intersection of 15th Ave and Cameron Rd in Tauranga.

Police later found a plastic container buried in the undergrowth with seven ounce bags of methamphetamine inside.

The smuggling operation was a family business. His brother Brian was also convicted of importing pseudoephedrine after a short trial, while his daughter Kahsharn, 25, pleaded guilty to pseudoephedrine and methamphetamine charges.

The police are now looking to confiscate the wealth that Read accumulated through his empire, including his Thailand mansion and bank accounts. Three homes in Tauranga and several cars have already been frozen by a court order, as well as an art collection worth $100,000.

He will be sentenced at the High Court at Auckland on June 17.

- NZ Herald

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