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

Drug-case cash may cost mum home

Lee Vincent.
Lee Vincent.

An elderly woman who let her son keep a total of $11 million of alleged drug money in her lounge has lost a legal battle which could see her home seized.

Dianne Ashby, 70, described herself as the "jam in the sandwich" between the police and her son, Lee Vincent, after officers traced boxes of cash, allegedly from the profits of a designer drug ring, to her Takapuna home.

The High Court ruled the property be restrained under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act - the first step in seizing belongings alleged to be the proceeds of crime.

Wine-carton-sized boxes filled with bundles of $20, $50 and $100 notes totalling $11 million were stored in her lounge between September 2010 and November 2011.

Police say the money came from the sale of pills containing a substance "substantially similar" to Ecstasy which were therefore Class B and C drugs, while lawyers for the drug-ring accused say they were legal party pills.

Twenty-two people were arrested in a police operation. Mr Vincent, who lives in a luxury resort in Thailand, was not among them.

However, restraining orders were granted to freeze his assets, including the profits from a property he sold on the North Shore, money held on his behalf in a company, two Thai bank accounts and an apartment in Thailand.

Mrs Ashby collected about $184,000 during the time in which $11 million was moved in and out of her home - which led the police to also seek seizure of her home.

The court hearing on whether her home will be forfeited is yet to occur, but Mrs Ashby failed to have the original restraining orders quashed. The panel of three Appeal Court judges said they saw "nothing of substance" in the matters raised by her legal team, according to their judgment released this week.

Detectives found a spreadsheet listing financial transactions in the home of a wealthy businessman arrested in the investigation, which they believed showed $11 million in cash was delivered between September 2010 and November 2011 to the home of Mrs Ashby.

Taped shut, the boxes of money were stored behind a chair in Mrs Ashby's semi-detached home, police said. The money was collected by couriers who took it to Hong Kong, where it was deposited into the bank accounts of three companies beneficially owned by Mr Vincent.

Mrs Ashby told the High Court last year that she had been reassured by her son the money was from sales of legal party pills. The court heard she had worked as a bank teller and conceded under cross-examination that money from the pill sales was handled in a "weird and unconventional" manner.

Justice John Priestley said she was "wilfully blind".

"She was a woman with a banking background. She well knew that it was highly unusual for any business to deal in this manner with its cash sales and revenue. Why not bank it? She never asked."

- NZ Herald

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