A Bay of Plenty man has been jailed for more than 12 years for importing 500kg of meth with an estimated street value of up to $150 million.
Charles Scott Care, 49, of Oropi, was sentenced in Rotorua High Court yesterday after he earlier pleaded guilty to a charge of importing 500kg of meth into New Zealand.
The charge relates to the importation of the drug with an estimated street value of between $130m and $150m on April 16, 2019.
The largest P-importation into the country was in June 2016 involving 501kg of P smuggled from a "mothership" off the coast of Ninety Mile Beach, in the Far North.
Most of the drugs, in that case, were found in a campervan which was linked to an abandoned boat and another 60kg was buried in the sand dunes on Ninety Mile Beach. The discovery led to 11 people receiving sentences of between nine and 27 years' prison.
Yesterday, the court in Rotorua heard that Care and an associate travelled to Bangkok in December 2018 where they met other associates and made arrangements for a future drug consignment to New Zealand.
Care, owner-operator of Charlies Fishing Charters business, was recruited by an associate to be part of the operation and he agreed to use his charter vessel, Kyla J, to collect the consignment which was to be picked up offshore.
On April 10, 2019 Care was advised by the associate a vessel with a drug shipment was approaching New Zealand and preparations were made to go out to meet it.
Four days later, Care, then living in Whakatāne, bought groceries from New World and torches and batteries from Mitre 10 in preparation for their journey.
Around midday, he and two associates left Whakatāne onboard the Kyla J and they travelled about 100 nautical miles out to sea to the area known as the Rumbles.
Care's charter boat rendezvoused with an unidentified catamaran and the trio took possession of 500kg of methamphetamine and the catamaran headed north.
Care, skippering the Kyla J and the others on board, arrived on April 16 at the Whakatāne marina where one of the other men loaded the bags of drugs into a van.
The drugs were subsequently stored and/or distributed by others involved in the operation.
The court also heard more than 410kg of the meth was subsequently recovered by police at Auckland and Hamilton addresses between July 31 and September 18 last year.
Care was arrested in February this year and during a search of his Oropi home, police seized two travel bags identical to those found in an Auckland apartment, along with nearly 200kg of the drugs on July 31, 2019.
Prior to his arrest, Care received between $600,000 and $700,000 for his assistance in providing the boat and helping bring the drug consignment back to shore.
Crown solicitor Anna Pollett submitted to Justice Paul Davison QC, that the appropriate starting point for Care's sentence was 30 years' prison given the quantity of the drugs and Care's key role in the importation.
Pollett said Care was clearly motivated by the large financial gain he would receive,
and there was no evidence he was pressured or coerced to be part of the operation.
She said the Crown accepted Care deserved some credit for his expressed remorse and 25 per cent discount for his guilty plea, plus a discount for some personal factors.
Pollett told Justice Davison that the Crown did not seek a minimum non-parole period but opposed the continuation of name suppression for Care.
Care's lawyer Bill Nabney argued the Crown's starting point was too high, as while his client took part in earlier planning talks, he'd had no part in the actual distribution of the drugs.
Nabney said Care was extremely remorseful and genuinely regretted his decision.
He quickly began to regard the payments he received as "dirty money".
Apart from spending some of the cash on personal expenses, a motorbike and giving some to family, Care invested $500,000 into a company in Whakatāne and "walked away".
Nabney said Care was now acutely aware of the significant effects of his offending on his family and the harm this drug does in the community.
Nabney urged Justice Davison to grant permanent name suppression to his client because of the impact publication would continue to have on Care's daughter and his personal safety.
Justice Davison declined the request.
Justice Davison said in the interest of parity with other defendants already sentenced including those in the Northland 501kg importation case, a starting point for sentence for Care of 32 years' prison was warranted.
"Clearly, Mr Care, your offending was motivated by greed and you received significant financial gain for your willingness to participate in this huge importation," he said.
"And while I have read your letter of expressed remorse, it is primarily grounded in your regret for the situation you now find yourself in and the damage you caused to your family, particularly your daughter, rather than the extensive harm these drugs cause in our communities," he said.
Justice Davison said he rejected Nabney's submission that Care played a lesser role.
"I'm satisfied Mr Care you played a significant and crucial role in the success of this drug operation as without your vessel and your off-shore maritime skills this importation could not have happened."
Justice Davison sentenced Care to 12 years, nine months' prison, with a minimum non-parole period of eight years, after credits for his guilty plea, remorse and personal factors.
The judge said it was important to send a "clear and unequivocal" deterrent message to Care and others in the community that this type of offending would not be tolerated.
Two other men have also earlier been sentenced for their roles in the distribution side of the operation. One has been jailed for 11 years, six months and the other nine years, seven months, the judge said.