Jared Savage

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

Mother gives up $11m drug property

A woman who faced losing her home after letting her son keep a total of $11 million of alleged drug money in her lounge has abandoned the property to join him overseas.

But she left investigators a helpful message describing where the keys were hidden, paid all her utility bills, left the instructions for the washing machine and described several problems with the home that the new owner could fix.

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

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

The Weekend Herald can reveal that Mrs Ashby, described as "wilfully blind" by one judge, has left the property to join her son at his luxury apartment in Thailand.

Emails held on the court file show she forfeited her home of 30 years, which has now been sold to a neighbour at a market price, because Mr Vincent was no longer able to afford the mortgage payments.

However, Mrs Ashby sent a helpful email for the Official Assignee to help with the sale. She left detailed instructions for where she put the house keys, turned off the power and hot water, paid all the utility bills - including 10 weeks for lawnmowing - and left the washing machine manual.

Mrs Ashby also described problems with the home that needed to be fixed, such as doors that do not open, a leak, and new railing for the deck as "the nails are rusting out".

She was also apologetic that "due to my age and state of health" she was unable to cope with removing all the furniture and having the house cleaned.

Mrs Ashby is now living with her son in the Cove apartment complex in Pattaya, Thailand.

Mr Vincent is named in court documents alleging he organised the importing of powder that was pressed into pills by a designer drug syndicate in Auckland. In February last year police were granted restraining orders under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to freeze assets belonging to Mr Vincent.

These included the proceeds from a property he sold in the North Shore, money held on his behalf in a company, two Thai bank accounts and an apartment in Thailand. It is understood the apartment is in The Cove beachside complex in Pattaya.

Mrs Ashby told the High Court last year that she had been reassured by her son that the money was from sales of legal party pills. She would be "gobsmacked" if the money kept at her house amounted to $11 million, but did not dispute that she was given $184,000.

The court heard evidence of wine carton-sized boxes filled with bundles of $20, $50 and $100 notes.

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

The court was told that in the home of a wealthy businessman arrested in the investigation, detectives found a spreadsheet listing financial transactions. The detectives believed the paperwork 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 banked, and the bank statements were sent back to Mrs Ashby.

"On occasions, one of the deliverers would open a carton and give Mrs Ashby bank notes in bundles," the court heard. The court was told she used the money for medical and pharmaceutical expenses - but it was her use of the money that led police to seek seizure of her home.

The court heard that 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 wrote in his judgment that Mrs Ashby was "wilfully blind".

"For 14 months, and on a regular basis, Mrs Ashby was content to allow cartons and boxes of bundled cash to be stored in her lounge," he wrote. "The same boxes were regularly collected and taken away by strangers ... 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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