Ross Pulman was due to hand out prizes at his local tennis club on the night his life came crashing down.

As the past president of his local Rotary Club, organiser of Wednesday night tennis and owner of the local youth centre, Pulman was dedicated to helping his community.

The 70-year-old pharmacist was well-regarded and well-known in the South Auckland township of Pukekohe. Every week he would gather up donated vegetables and sell them at the local market on Saturday mornings to raise money for the youth centre.

But there was another side to him that his community is still struggling to come to grips with.

Pulman worked at the Pukekohe Unichem Pharmacy. He used to open at 6.15am - nearly two hours early - and sell restricted cold medicine to people he knew would turn it into methamphetamine, commonly known as P.

He was known as "Uncle" by the 30 pill-shoppers who would come to his pharmacy from as far away as Hamilton. He charged them $100 - over three times the normal retail price - for each box of the medicine, which contained pseudoephedrine, the main ingredient of P.

Police surveillance footage caught Pulman selling 1291 boxes of the medicine and stashing the cash out the back of the shop in a cardboard box.

One pill-shopper's evidence read in court said that Pulman sold him eight boxes of the medicine on one occasion. He also said that Pulman did not ask for identification and did not check if he was sick.

Almost three years after his arrest on the night of that tennis club prizegiving, Pulman was yesterday sentenced to five years and eight months at the High Court in Auckland, after pleading guilty to a representative charge of manufacturing methamphetamine.

Justice Edwin Wylie said despite Pulman's community work, he had been involved in a drug which did "causes significant harm to individuals and much suffering in the community".

Justice Wylie said P was often a factor in violent crime.

"You have done much for the community in the past and I trust that while you are in custody, you will reflect on the harm that your offending has caused," Justice Wylie said.

But in many ways the case remains a mystery. Pulman maintains his innocence. Speaking exclusively to the Weekend Herald last week, he said he believed he was working as part of an undercover police operation and thought he was helping police catch more people by selling the restricted medicine.

He also maintains he made no money of the purchases. "I've never taken a cent."

"I'm not prepared to give in. I want to remain tall, to tell the truth," Pulman said.

Pulman's protests of innocence were firmly rejected in July by Justice Edwin Wylie, who said; "He did not strike me as an honest witness".

Justice Wylie commented in his finding; "If Mr Pulman genuinely thought he was selling the drugs under instructions from the police, it seems to me extraordinary that he did not contact the police and discuss the situation with them.

"His explanation that he was too busy to do so - over a period of years - is in my opinion implausible."

The judge found that the Crown had not proven that Pulman had made money off the sales of the cold medicine but "it is unlikely that Mr Pulman obtained no financial benefit from the transactions".

But despite the court's finding, many people in Pukekohe admire Pulman for his work in the community and his work with the township's young people.

A woman who helps Pulman at his market stall said she was "gobsmacked" by Pulman's charge.

"I think you will find that most people in the town will stand for him" she said.

Another volunteer, who also did not want to be named, said Pulman would "do anything for anybody".

"It's the kids I feel sorry for. This is the only revenue [the youth centre] gets ... God knows what will happen if he goes inside," she said.

"But to me I'm convinced in my own mind, he did it to break the gang"

When the Weekend Herald spoke to Pulman last Saturday morning, he was working as usual at his youth centre veggie stall. Just down the road, a patched gang member tucked a pie into his mouth and market shoppers filed past, turning over the assorted celery, pumpkin and 50c heads of lettuce. This morning however Pulman will pack away the veggies for the last time.

He said he could not find anyone else to run the stall and he has been disowned by the Rotary club.

"I'm now cut off. They won't have anything to do with me. That's what really hurts," he said.

"The thing that hurts me is the young people who are missing out. No one wants to do what I do," Pulman said.

The father of three and grandfather to six said he had not had a holiday in a long time, having given them up to take groups of at-risk youth "back to mother nature". Pulman has taken up to a dozen young people down to the Tongariro Crossing or across to the Hauraki Gulf Islands of Motutapu and Rangitoto.

"They have to combine as a unit, work as a team, take their weight and share. It is a team effort.

"It's not just the life skills but it teaches them how to cope with different situations. It is marvellous what you can do with young people."

It is for this work that people like Rotarian John Rennie admire Pulman.

Rennie spoke of a "passionate" man who dedicated much of his spare time to the young people of Pukekohe. Pulman served as president of the club and went "beyond the average Rotarian", he said.

He said it is easy in hindsight to be critical of Pulman, now that he has been convicted, but people need to remember just how well respected and highly regarded Pulman was.

"It really was like a bombshell when it hit the headlines and without a doubt, nobody in Rotary or in his community would ever have thought Ross would be in court in that way," Rennie said.

Stuart Searle is another who worked alongside Pulman in Rotary.

"Something I can't accept is why anyone would want to get involved in that.

"It is so sad and unexpected and I can't believe it - along with half the town," Searle said.

He said someone with a lot of "drive and commitment" will be needed to pick up Pulman's community projects.

"I've got a lot of time for the man. I don't have any time for what he might have done but as an individual I can respect what he has done over the years for the community," he said.

Just how Pulman got involved in selling pseudoephedrine to P makers has troubled lawyers and Justice Wylie.

Crown prosecutor Bruce Northwood said "he knew what he was doing was harmful to others".

"There is no clear answer anyone can tell as to why the offender embarked on these actions but one would suppose Mr Pulman knows. The Crown submits it is best not to try and work it out. We just don't know," Northwood said.

Pulman's own lawyer, Stuart Grieve, QC said there were "incongruities and inconsistencies in the case". Grieve said Pulman was a man who had been married for 40 years, worked as a pharmacist since 1961 and was an upstanding member of his community.

"I've asked myself, along with my learned friend and [co-counsel Steve Cullen], how all this came about".

He said Pulman knew about police installing surveillance cameras at the pharmacy and yet continued to sell pseudoephedrine to pill-shoppers.

"It is inexplicable," Grieve said.

Justice Wylie disagreed: "Is it inexplicable, or is Mr Pulman looking for a way out of the situation?"

In his sentencing, Justice Wylie said: "I suspect you were naive and placed under pressure. Your offending snow-balled. You could not say no."

1291
The number of boxes of cold medicine Pulman sold to pill-shoppers.

1.1kg
The amount of P that could be manufactured from the pills sold by Pulman. (75 per cent conversion rate.)

$1.1m
Maximum estimated street value of the P made with the pills Pulman sold.
(Estimated street values based on information released by the police)