A driver's infringement in a humble Nissan Tiida on a drug-running trip helped police unravel a massive cocaine and meth syndicate.
Auckland District Court today heard the nationwide cartel funnelled eye-watering sums of cash in airline luggage, and narcotics stashed in secret car compartments.
An Auckland car importer was today jailed for his role in the criminal conspiracy.
Judge David Sharp said the Auckland entrepreneur had "a tiger by the tail" after turning from legitimate businessman into multimillion-dollar drug racket member.
Some people arrested in the police National Organised Crime Group operation still have cases before the courts, three years after covert investigations began.
Judge Sharp said the West Auckland man fell under an alleged drug boss's spell.
And soon, he was a trusted lieutenant, handling suitcases with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
The court heard the drug enterprise used modified car compartments to smuggle drugs across New Zealand.
Judge Sharp said the meth and cocaine conspiracy operated in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch before police raids in 2019.
The drug empire started falling apart after police bugged the Auckland car business and pulled over a man driving a Nissan Tiida near Taupō.
After impounding the car for what was only described in court as an infringement, cops found bags of methamphetamine weighing about 1kg each.
At about the same time, another syndicate member was taking meth from Auckland to Christchurch in a Mercedes-Benz.
Meanwhile, covert surveillance of the Auckland car importer's premised tracked the exploits of people ferrying cash and drugs for the syndicate.
After 10 months of surveillance, police carried out raids in Auckland, Canterbury and Southland in late 2019.
And when they pounced, cops found multiple quantities of cash, each enough for an Auckland home deposit.
In one man's car, $165,000 was found, at another location police found $189,000, and at another alleged syndicate member's house, $113,985 was uncovered.
But those amounts were puny compared to the fortunes flown around New Zealand before the raids.
Judge Sharp said one syndicate member flew from Christchurch to Auckland with $420,000, and another time with $640,000 in cash weighing 17.5kg.
The court heard one of the conspiracy members laundered money by turning cash into cryptocurrency.
News reports showed the 2019 police raids led to seizures of a Porsche Macan SUV, Jeep Wrangler, three Harley-Davidsons, a Ford Ranger ute, and a jet ski.
More than 150 police raided properties in New Lynn, Blockhouse Bay, Avondale, Manukau, Mt Eden, Grey Lynn, Karaka, Greenlane, Manurewa and Northcote.
Police at the time said the investigation, Operation Maddale, recovered 20kg of methamphetamine with an estimated street value exceeding $12 million.
Judge Sharp today said the car importer had no serious criminal background and was at a low point in his life, battling drug addiction himself, when he fell into the racket.
The Auckland man made little profit from his involvement, but was charged with money laundering, meth supply, and being part of an organised criminal group.
"It's a tragic counterpart of becoming involved with people who are fairly ruthless criminals," Judge Sharp added. "He had a tiger by the tail."
Judge Sharp said the car importer deserved some credit for guilty pleas, a limited criminal background, and rehabilitation efforts.
He was jailed for four years for meth supply, two years for money laundering, and one year for the crime group charge. He can serve all sentences at the same time.
"You didn't start out intending to get in as much trouble as you have," Judge Sharp said.
But he said the drug racket was a nefarious influence.
"The outcome - in relation to many people's addiction to methamphetamine - are a string of personal tragedies."