An Auckland insurance firm was used by one of its managers as a safe house for a drug importing scheme that aimed to use the "respectable business" as cover from police.
James Bell, 44, appeared in the High Court at Auckland this morning for sentencing on six counts of importing methamphetamine and gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), and one count of possession of cannabis.
Bell was arrested as part of Operation Spar, an undercover Customs operation and police sting that revealed an Auckland insurance company was being used as "safe address" and "cover" to assist the importation of drugs into New Zealand.
Bell, while working as a manager at Newmarket-based insurance firm Fidelity Life Assurance Company Ltd, imported 323g of meth and 1.9L of GBL.
The court heard how the operation was using the insurance company, which also has offices around the country, as the destination for the drug packages.
The drugs were simply handed to the receptionist, the court heard.
Bell was the "catcher" and responsible for collecting the drugs after arrival.
"You thought delivery to a respectable business address would provide good cover," Justice Ailsa Duffy said.
Fidelity Life is a New Zealand owned firm and the third largest life insurance company in the country.
In a statement to the Herald the company said: "Fidelity Life was shocked and disappointed to learn of the offending by former employee James Bell."
"His employment was terminated in April 2016 as a result of the charges laid against him.
"We co-operated fully with the police throughout their investigation. Fidelity Life is an innocent party in this unfortunate matter and no other staff were implicated."
Bell, who according to his LinkedIn profile had been working at Fidelity Life for more than 10 years, moved to Auckland in 2010 but began using meth in 2007, the court heard.
He claimed his addiction was a result of working long hours and the need to "keep alert".
Justice Duffy said Bell "managed well and achieved a lot despite [his] addiction".
Bell's lawyer Annabel Ives said her client, despite his drug addiction, had remained a functioning member of society.
"He didn't realise the depth to which the extent of his addiction had sunk into his life."
Bell, dressed in a blue striped shirt, also addressed the court to "not ask for leniency, but more to express the regret and remorse for the crimes I've committed".
He acknowledged the harm his offending had caused his family and the community.
"I just hope my family, my friends and loved ones can forgive me for becoming, unwittingly, victims of my crime."
Bell said while he has been incarcerated awaiting his sentencing he has been helping fellow inmates with literacy and numeracy skills.
The public gallery was filled with friends and associates of Bell. It is understood the manager's family live in the South Island.
Bell also has a historic dishonesty matter from about 20 years ago, the court heard.
Justice Duffy sentenced Bell to six years and 10 months' jail for importing meth, two years concurrently for importing GBL, and convicted and discharged him for possession of cannabis.
The Herald understands four others involved in the drug scheme will be sentenced this month.