Undercover police officers paid $100,000 by Head Hunters to supply ephedrine, Class-B drug needed to manufacture methamphetamine. The drugs were later found with $10,000 in a bucket buried at the sand dunes of Papamoa beach.

A senior patched member of the Head Hunters accrued more than $1 million in unexplained cash over a three-year period - the enormous profits of a drug-dealing network he controlled in the Bay of Plenty.

Stacy Walton Dennis Paora will be sentenced in the High Court at Rotorua next week after making eleventh hour admissions on the eve of his trial, more than three years after he was arrested in December 2016.

The Tauranga man pleaded guilty to participating in an organised criminal group, 11 counts of supplying methamphetamine, four counts of possessing the Class-A drug for supply, one charge of conspiring to deal in ephedrine, and one charge of unlawful possession of a pistol.

The gun was found hidden inside the false bottom of an LPG canister in Paora's wardrobe in October 2019, along with $23,000 cash. Paora was on bail at the time.

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As well as facing an inevitable prison sentence, Paora forfeited property, cars, gold jewellery and cash seized under the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act he accrued through his drug-dealing over several years.

A reconstruction of his financial affairs by the Waikato police asset recovery unit shows Paora had access to more than $1 million in unexplained cash between January 2014 and December 2016.

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Shortly after pleading guilty to the criminal charges in February, Paora agreed to stop fighting the police asset case and handed over a house in the Bay of Plenty township of Matata, a Mercedes Benz, a Chevrolet Impala and two trucks.

A late-model Harley Davidson motorcycle he owned cannot be found. The Crown will also receive the sale proceeds of a gold bracelet and necklace, as well as two gold rings.

Large sums of cash were also seized: $15,000, the $23,000 inside the LPG bottle, and $10,000 found with ephedrine (the main ingredient needed to manufacture meth) in a bucket buried in the Papamoa beach sand dunes.

Some of the cash seized from the Head Hunters at the end of the undercover operation in December 2016. Photo / Supplied
Some of the cash seized from the Head Hunters at the end of the undercover operation in December 2016. Photo / Supplied

On top of that, the police kept $100,000, which the Head Hunter crew paid two undercover police officers for the 1kg of ephedrine.

Paora was the principal target of a covert investigation by the Bay of Plenty organised crime unit, led by Detective Sergeant John Wilson and Detective Sergeant Kevin Morshead, which started with a suspicious house fire in Whakatane in 2014.

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The house burned down a few weeks after the patched Head Hunter moved in and, after a scene examination, Paora was charged with possession of equipment and materials to manufacture methamphetamine.

The charges were thrown out by a judge for lack of evidence, but the police kept investigating and obtained High Court warrants to allow them to intercept phone conversations and plant tracking devices on vehicles.

The investigation also focused on a freight forwarding business, Priority Movers, owned and operated by the gang member's partner.

Methamphetamine in snaplock bags ready for sale. Photo / Supplied
Methamphetamine in snaplock bags ready for sale. Photo / Supplied

The police suspected the business was a cover to launder money and also move drug shipments without suspicion. Their suspicion was confirmed by Paora himself.

Two undercover police officers twice hired Priority Movers to move freight between Tauranga and Auckland, implying they were shifting illicit goods.

Intrigued by the prospect of making new criminal connections, Paora said to one officer: "This is my business but it's a front. We don't give a f*** about moving stuff but I need to know what I'm moving."

The undercover officer inferred Paora was interested in a different sort of business deal.

A few weeks later, one of Paora's underlings approached the officer to talk about supplying "kilos", which the undercover agent took to mean methamphetamine.

This led to another meeting where a second Head Hunter associate said he was authorised to make decisions, while "our boss" - Paora - was "banged up". Paora was in custody on unrelated criminal charges.

He wanted a steady supply of "precursor ephedrine" of around 1kg a month, to manufacture methamphetamine.

Through Head Hunter associates, Paora reached a deal where the undercover officers supplied 1kg of ephedrine, a Class-B controlled drug, for $100,000.

In December 2016, when the undercover operation terminated, the police found the ephedrine and $10,000 in a bucket buried in the sand dunes of Papamoa Beach.

"Make no mistake, methamphetamine is a scourge, and peddling this misery is all about organised crime and making money," Detective Senior Sergeant John Wilson said at the time of Paora's arrest.

"The damage that this drug does to our communities is immense, and operations like this one targeting those who would seek to make money from the addictions and misfortunes of others sends a clear signal that crime, in the end, does not pay."

Paora is scheduled to be sentenced in the High Court at Rotorua on Thursday. His hearing comes a few weeks ahead of father-and-son duo, Dick and Paul Tamai, who pleaded guilty to similar meth dealing in Rotorua.

The pair were earmarked to help establish a chapter of the Head Hunters in Rotorua but were also targeted in an undercover sting.