A solo mother of two with no prior convictions was running a multi-million-dollar drug ring from a waterfront Auckland apartment.
Ye Cheng, 32, was the Kiwi manager of a syndicate which brought more than $5 million of precursors for the manufacture of methamphetamine over from China inside ovens, sausage-baking machines, heating equipment, air-conditioning units, toys, guitars, talcum powder packages and laundry racks.
She appeared in the Auckland District Court last week after admitting 16 charges of importing class-B drugs over eight months and was jailed for nearly a decade.
"Your role in these importations and supplies was at a high level," Judge Rob Ronayne said.
"You managed and funded the entire supply chain, so your actions were central to this drug importation operation."
The sophistication of the enterprise, the judge said, was revealed by how the drugs were concealed to get them past border control.
When Customs executed search warrants they seized a phone belonging to Cheng which provided them with all they needed to get her before the courts.
When phone data is analysed by officers they usually have to decipher text messages, often in code, to work out how a drug ring worked but Cheng's phone gave them much stronger evidence.
Judge Ronayne said photos recovered from the device showed large bundles of cash and suitcases containing huge wads of money.
Others depicted "brown and white crystal substances" on paper or photographed in plastic bags.
Between September 2014 and May 2015, Cheng was responsible for the importation of almost 41kg of ephedrine and more than 9kg of pseudoephedrine.
They were worth more than $5.2m in total, the court heard.
If successfully used as an ingredient to make P, they could have produced up to $33m of the class-A drug.
Cheng's occupation on court records is stated as "beneficiary" but she was running the New Zealand arm of the drug ring from a swanky three-bedroom waterfront apartment valued at $840,000.
The property on Quay St is listed at a "mammoth" 151sq m, offering "sparkling water views enjoyed from the kitchen, dining, living and master bedroom". "An exciting harbourside home to enjoy the fabulous lifestyle you so thoroughly deserve," the listing said.
The mother of a 12- and 13-year-old also had links to another apartment on Dockside Lane, the court heard.
Judge Ronayne jailed Cheng for nine years and eight months and told her she was lucky the sentence was only that long.
He had intended to impose a four-year minimum period of imprisonment but the Crown said that was not appropriate in the circumstances.
Cheng will now be eligible for parole at the end of 2019.