A horticulture sales manager who was unknowingly selling equipment to a large-scale cannabis operation gave evidence the accused and his associates pressured him to write a statement saying the grower was merely a translator for an unknown man.
Oai Dac Truong is on trial in the Whangārei District Court for three charges of cultivating cannabis, three charges of cannabis for supply and one charge of perverting the course of justice for his alleged involvement in a large-scale Northland operation between August 2019 and February 2020.
The Crown called sales manager for Primehort, Kaiwaka, Earnie Wearmouth to give evidence about his client Truong and laid out in detail the products Truong had purchased from his family-owned business.
Primehort is located in Kaiwaka and sells a range of horticulture supplies and garden hardware and was the sole location Truong is alleged to have been buying products from to run his operation.
Wearmouth said he knew Truong as “Andy” and could not recall how many times he had purchased from their business but was able to recall a range of transactions.
“He wanted peatmoss put into pots and we sent over around 2000 pots to the address [in Dargaville],” Wearmouth said.
Heatmoss is a growing media used as a blended product to give plants healthy roots to grow plants in.
Truong provided photo identification and an email address Wearmouth confirmed was linked to the defendant.
The price for the pots came to around $28,000 and Wearmouth recalled Truong paid in cash “$50 notes in bundles, wrapped in $20s”.
Wearmouth said on several occasions Truong would come to the yard to pick up supplies and would always be in a different car.
“Several occasions he came in rental cars, one occasion an old ute, one in a painting van. I would take notes of their licence plates, even though that’s not in my job role, something felt strange,” Wearmouth said.
Lawyer for the Crown Ally Tupuola asked whether he was aware of what “Andy” was doing. Wearmouth responded, “Initially they were told it was for blueberries.”
When police raided the Dargaville hothouses, Primehort’s labels were on pots leading police to question Wearmouth’s involvement with Truong.
Wearmouth said he sent a text to Truong advising they did not want to be involved with him anymore and will refund him money, the company bank account they were advised to refund to was under the name “YesGrow Ltd”.
On June 26, 2020, Wearmouth received a text from Truong asking him to write a letter saying he was always with another man who couldn’t speak English and finished his text off with, “I hope you tell the truth, we are not doing anything wrong here.”
The following day, Truong’s wife and another woman would show up to Primehort and pressure Wearmouth to write a letter in a recorded conversation that was played to the court.
“Really want you to confirm he was with another person, anytime he came here. The person came with him so many times, just write out that Andy came here with another person and he just happened to translate for him,” the unknown woman can be heard saying.
“It’s very hard if something happen to him, that’s what I really want to ask you. I think it’s not a big problem for you. Just confirm he came with someone else not himself,” she said.
The conversation would last more than six minutes with Wearmouth pushing back on the females that he did not want to be involved.
Lawyer for Truong, David Reece showed Wearmouth a statement he made to police early on in the investigation that “mentioned he had to talk to his boss...that statement was always made [by him]”.
“You recall three times he was with someone else and once by himself...how many times did you hear him translating to the other person?” Reece asked.
“I would not exactly say he was translating, but talking to people in another language,” Wearmouth answered.
The trial continues before Judge John McDonald.
Shannon Pitman is a Whangārei based reporter for Open Justice covering courts in the Te Tai Tokerau region. She is of Ngāpuhi/Ngātiwai/Ngāti Pūkenga descent and has worked freelance in digital media for the past five years. She joined NZME in 2023.