Police watched a methamphetamine supplier in action for more than a week via a covert camera installed at his storage unit before they pounced - catching him with $1.5 million in drug money.
Brian Paul Cutler was jailed on Friday in the High Court at Auckland and details of his offending and how police discovered it and took action were outlined for the first time.
Cutler, a 47-year-old Australian had earlier pleaded guilty to five charges relating to possessing and supplying what the court described as "relatively large" quantities of methamphetamine.
He admitted four charges of possession of meth for supply and one of supplying the class-A controlled drug.
Cutler is the first person to be sentenced since the release of a Court of Appeal decision which set new guidelines around sentencing for methamphetamine dealing.
The landmark decision means meth dealers who can prove their own addiction caused their drug offending could have their sentences cut by 30 per cent.
But Justice Ian Gault said Cutler was not significantly affected by addiction and the ruling had little bearing on his case.
He said Cutler arrived in New Zealand from Australia in September 2017 and within two months he had became a "person of interest" to the National Organised Crime Group and the New Zealand Customs Service.
Throughout December 2017 and early January 2018, Customs examined a large number of courier consignments originating from Malaysia addressed to different business entities at a Henderson address.
At the address was a factory unit Cutler rented and resided in.
Justice Gault said each of the consignments contained identical cylinder or engine parts.
The consignments were received and signed for by Cutler but did not contain methamphetamine.
"However, between 16 January and 3 February 2018, Customs intercepted and examined four very similar packages addressed to Cutler.
"Each of these four packages contained approximately 2.5kg of methamphetamine. All of the packages were subsequently delivered to and signed for by Mr Cutler at his address.
On January 23, 2018, police and Customs executed a covert search warrant at a different storage unit in Henderson Cutler had hired.
They found the first consignment, which had not been opened, and seven empty cylinders or engine parts.
"Police installed a covert camera in the corridor of the storage facility," revealed Justice Gault.
"The camera had a good view of the unit, such that when the unit was accessed there was good imagery of items placed and removed from the unit.
"The camera observed Mr Cutler on various dates placing and removing packages from the unit, and removing suitcases containing empty cylinders.
"After midnight on 5 February 2018 police also separately observed Mr Cutler removing packages believed to contain methamphetamine from the unit, and then driving to another address in Onehunga.
"He left that address a short time later. He visited that address again on 7 February 2018."
On February 8 police executed a further covert search warrant at Cutler's storage unit and discovered all four packages were missing.
"In their place were bags containing approximately $1.15 million in cash," Justice Gault outlined.
"When spoken to by police, Mr Cutler denied any knowledge of the methamphetamine, but acknowledged receiving a variety of packages at the address."
He later admitted the offending.
Justice Gault said while in New Zealand Cutler was "otherwise unemployed".
He had no criminal convictions here or overseas.
The court heard that Cutler spent the majority of his career working on oil rigs in Australia and New Zealand and earned "good money".
But he lost his job in 2015 after failing a drug test.
Cutler claimed that he got involved with the drug supply when he first arrived in New Zealand.
He said he was approached by unspecified people who told him "he had to do this" and went along with it, fearing reprisal for his family in Australia.
"He said to the report writer that he did not know what was in the packages as he had never opened them, and for all he knew they could have contained rice," Justice Gault stated.
"But he did suspect, given the circumstances, that it was more than just rice."
Cutler admitted that he was a "functioning drug user".
The court heard he started using at the age of 14 and has tried everything except heroin.
"He has never been to any form of rehabilitation and says he has simply stopped when he needs to," said Justice Gault.
"The report writer assesses Mr Cutler as having a high risk of continuing substance abuse.
"The report writer identified the key contributing factors to Mr Cutler's offending as being self-entitlement, those he associates with, poor problem-solving skills and substance use.
"Considering these factors, the report writer assesses him as being at medium risk of offending in the same manner, and that he poses a high risk of harm to others."
A number of character references were provided to the court as part of sentencing.
Two were from Cutler's mother and sister.
He also had several references from prison staff at Mount Eden Correctional Facility where Cutler has been while on remand awaiting sentencing.
Justice Gault said the staff were familiar with Cutler's work in the prison as a cleaner and painter.
"They say that Mr Cutler has a good attitude, high work ethic, and is very respectful and reliable," he said.
"He has been placed in positions of high trust in the team and is a positive role model to other prisoners.
"They comment that he understands what he has done and is remorseful.
"I note that such references from Corrections staff are relatively rare in my experience, and I commend Mr Cutler for his positive behaviour."
Cutler also wrote a letter to the court explaining his drug issues.
"He is truly ashamed of the effect his offending has on the many he doesn't know and on his loved ones ... that he is trying to use his time in prison positively through contributing to the community by being a model prisoner to show other prisoners that a life involved with drugs is no life at all, and that it will lead only to hurt and loss," said Justice Gault.
"He says he realises that drugs will take everything from you in the end, and he is thankful that he has only lost his freedom and not his life."
Justice Gault accepted Cutler was "genuinely remorseful for his offending".
Crown prosecutor Robin McCoubrey said Cutler's role in the drug supply was "between significant and leading".
He argued the enterprise was "plainly commercial and large scale" and that Cutler took a direct and principal role in the distribution of the drugs.
He said that was evident from his organisation of storage units, his hands- on approach, and the fact that the cash was located in one of his storage units.
Accordingly, the Crown submitted that Cutler's role ought to be viewed as the leading, if not the sole, offender in the New Zealand end of the enterprise.
Defence lawyer Ron Mansfield argued that Cutler's role should fall in between "lesser and significant".
He characterised Cutler's role as a "catcher", being purely logistical in nature.
Mansfield said Cutler was responsible for the receipt and distribution of the packages, but he acted solely on the instructions of those higher in the organisation and did not have influence over them.
He said Cutler received a fixed fee for his services, and did not take a portion of the profit and that he was put in a position where he could easily be apprehended and was thus "expendable".
"He performed something more than a limited role, in that he was not merely a courier or mule," said Justice Gault.
"But I do not consider the summary of facts establishes that he performed more than a logistical function, that is, receiving the packages, storing them, distributing them to others, then storing cash, all on the direction of others.
"I am not prepared to infer he had a management role or determined where to distribute the packages.
"I am not prepared to infer he had a leading role in the operation, or that he had influence over people higher in the enterprise."
Justice Gault said he also could not infer that Cutler was receiving the cash for himself and that it was his own operation, nor that he received a cut of the profits.
"There was a financial motive, but the quantum of his fee is unknown," he said.
"While Mr Cutler said he has been a drug user, there is no evidence that that played a significant role in this offending."
Justice Gault said Cutler "must have had some awareness of the scale of the operation" given he handled a significant amount of cash.
"Which must have given him some clue as to the value of his activities," he said.
"One does not secrete rice in cylinders or engine parts, nor receive $1.15 million for this quantity of rice.
"Overall, I find Mr Cutler was likely an important distributor of a significant quantity of methamphetamine but was a lower level member of the enterprise whose responsibilities were operational only."
He considered that Cutler's lack of a criminal history and behaviour in prison, together with the support of his family, increased the prospect of him being able to turn a corner and become a productive member of society again.
He sentenced Cutler to seven years and two months in prison on all charges.