The final chapter in New Zealand's biggest drug seizure has closed with two characters nicknamed 'Blaze' and 'Marvel' handed long prison terms.

More than 500kg of methamphetamine was smuggled from a 'mothership' off the coast of Ninety Mile Beach, in the Far North, and nearly slipped through the grasp of police.

The huge haul discovered in June 2016 was worth somewhere between $130 million and $150m, if sold by the kilogram price of $250,000 and $300,000.

Despite the crucial mistake of the criminal network trying to bring the methamphetamine ashore in the surf of a west coast beach, as well as some bad luck, the record breaking haul was only stopped by the suspicions of locals and the quick thinking of a young cop.

Advertisement
The staggering meth seizure in the Far North. Photo / File
The staggering meth seizure in the Far North. Photo / File

After first investigating the discovery of an abandoned boat on Ninety Mile Beach in the morning, then arresting two members of the drug conspiracy in the afternoon, Constable Thomas Nankivell spotted a campervan while driving home at the end of his shift.

The campervan was wanted in connection to the abandoned boat and Nankivell followed the vehicle along State Highway 10 for 40 minutes until backup arrived.

Selaima Fakaosilea appeared for sentencing at Whangarei High Court. Photo / Mike Scott
Selaima Fakaosilea appeared for sentencing at Whangarei High Court. Photo / Mike Scott

Inside the campervan was more than 440kg of the Class-A drug, while another 60kg was buried in the sand dunes of Ninety Mile Beach.

The 19-year-old driver of the van, Louie, soon told police the full story. Within five days, Operation Frontia had made seven arrests.

'Thugga', whose real name was Jeremiah Iusitini. 'Mack', or Malachi Tuilotolava. 'Gravel' was Amoki Fonua. 'Marvel' was Stevie Cullen. Tall Guy was Ulakai Fakaosilea. Ka Yip Wan, a Hong Kong national on holiday in New Zealand. And Louie, whose real name cannot be revealed because his identity is suppressed.

He became a key witness for the Crown.

The investigation into the importation was wrapped up quickly, but senior detectives within the National Organised Crime Group knew there would be a wider network and infrastructure still in place.

A second investigation, codenamed Operation Virunga, started with a wire tap on the telephone communications of a woman called Blaze.

Advertisement

She was revealed to be Selaima Fakaosilea, the sister of Ulakai "Tall Guy" Fakaosilea who had been deported from Australia.

Stevie Cullen's sentencing today brings the curtain down on the country's largest drug importation. Photo / NZME
Stevie Cullen's sentencing today brings the curtain down on the country's largest drug importation. Photo / NZME

Operation Virunga soon discovered the network was still in business and making millions of dollars, despite the setback in Northland.

The covert surveillance paid immediate dividends. Selaima Fakaosilea was caught redhanded supplying 14.9kg meth and 1.9kg of cocaine to Adrian Le'Ca, a patched member of the Bandidos from the Thailand chapter.

In just three weeks, Selaima Fakaosilea was seen handing over suitcases holding $3.5 million in cash to be laundered overseas.

Stevie Norua Cullen during sentencing at the High Court in Whāngarei. Photo / Mike Scott
Stevie Norua Cullen during sentencing at the High Court in Whāngarei. Photo / Mike Scott

The evidence gathered by the National Organised Crime Group was overwhelming. Louie was the first to plead guilty and received a lenient sentence of 12 years. Most of the others soon followed suit and were handed sentences prison sentences of between 9 and 25 years.

Only Selaima Fakaosilea and Stevie Cullen took the case to trial on the importation charges.

Selaima admitted her role in the money laundering and distribution of meth across the country, and was jailed for 14 years and 6 months. But she denied any role in the importation.

Today, Cullen and Fakaosilea were sentenced by Justice Christine Gordon to 27 and 12 years 6 months in prison respectively, bringing the curtain down on the country's largest drug importation.

Both Fakaosilea and Stevie Cullen were convicted of importing methamphetamine and participating in an organised criminal group after five weeks of evidence in the High Court at Whangarei.

Cullen was described as the syndicate's "logistics man" who "held the fort" in Northland, arranging accommodation and dealing with locals to help launch the boats to retrieve the methamphetamine from the ship offshore.

While Selaima Fakaosilea was not physically present in Northland during the importation, Crown prosecutor Richard Annandale said she had to "roll her sleeves up" when things went wrong.

"She was deeply embedded in this criminal organisation. She kept herself at arm's length, directing associates and family members, to avoid detection."

The sentence for Fakaosilea will be added to the 14 year six month sentence for her earlier offending- a total of 27 years.

Cullen will serve a minimum of nine years before being eligible for parole, while Fakaosilea will be behind bars for at least 7 years.

In sentencing the pair, Justice Gordon quoted the evidence of Detective Sergeant Mike Beal, the officer in charge, who said the discovery of 501kg of methamphetamine was a "momentous event" in New Zealand.

"This would have inflicted enormous social and economic cost on the community," the judge said.

OPERATION FRONTIA

Ka Yip Wan - 23 years

Amoki Matoto Fonua - 22 years

Jeremiah Iusitini - 25 years 7 months

Ulakai Fakaosilea - 22 years 9 months

Malachi Tuilotolava - 24 years

Stevie Norua Cullen - 27 years

Selaima Fakaosilea - 12 years 6 months (added on top of 14 years 6 months for Operation Virunga)

'Louie' - 12 years

OPERATION VIRUNGA

Callan Hughes - 15 years

Selaima Fakaosilea -14 years 6 months

Kane McArley - 9 years