A man found in possession of more than $137 million worth of methamphetamine will spend up to 13 years and nine months in prison.

Lionel James Ruka McDonald, 42, had 137.5kg of the drug in packages in his vehicle and in a storage unit, when Rotorua police executed search warrants in Fairy Springs on August 14 and 15 last year.

Meth was worth about $1m per kg in the region, at the time of the bust.

The Rotorua District Court public gallery was full of McDonald's friends and family, including his wife, this afternoon.


Some wept when Judge Greg Hollister-Jones announced the sentence for McDonald's single charge of possessing methamphetamine for supply.

Last year he pleaded guilty to having at least 60kg of the drug.

Crown prosecutor Amanda Gordon said the 137.5kg of meth had the potential to "cause $170 million in social harm if distributed in the community".

The summary of facts said McDonald had 36.5kg of meth, made up of 62 small packages, in the car on August 14.

The packages were hidden in sports bags and a chilly bin.

Five phones and a notebook with columns and weights recorded were found in his house.

In his garage, there was a box of empty bags labelled "Chinese green tea".

The next day police searched a storage unit McDonald used and found 101 packages of methamphetamine in "Chinese green tea packaging".


They were kept in four metal lockers.

The keys for the lockers and storage unit were in the vehicle searched the night before.

Gordon said McDonald was in a supply chain for financial motive.

"He was taking it [the meth] to somewhere ... It is irrelevant whether he was delivering it to an end-user or to someone who is going on to supply."

However, she accepted McDonald was remorseful and had "done good work" in the community in the past.

She said he had an "extremely difficult upbringing" but argued that didn't cause his offending, a gambling addiction did.

Defence lawyer Andrew Schulze said McDonald was a custodian, had a $200 a day gambling addiction and was approached to join the supply chain.

"It was a naive, stupid decision to make ... and completely out of character."

Judge Hollister-Jones said McDonald was "an intelligent man, he's a manager".

"That combination of factors means that I just don't accept his [McDonald's] claims of naivety.

"It's among the top level of seizures in New Zealand."

Some of the packaged methamphetamine found in the vehicle. Photo / Supplied
Some of the packaged methamphetamine found in the vehicle. Photo / Supplied

The judge said McDonald had not provided police with information about where the methamphetamine had come from, because he feared there would be repercussions for his wife.

Judge Hollister-Jones ruled McDonald had a "packaging role" that was "significant" in the chain.

"Nobody involved in the Rotorua community as you are ... would not know the social harm caused by methamphetamine."

But he added, "with all intents and purposes Mr McDonald you have lived a blame-free life".

He said a letter of remorse from McDonald was "brief and to the point", saying he was "hurt to the core" for the harm caused, and expressed shame and embarrassment.

Judge Hollister-Jones said, "I also accept that you are going to do everything to come out of prison a better person".

He gave McDonald discounts for remorse and an early guilty plea, from a 23-year sentencing starting point.

He ordered McDonald to have a minimum non-parole period of seven years in his 13 year, nine-month sentence.

McDonald's second charge of selling the drug was withdrawn in November.

Acting Rotorua Police Area Commander Inspector Phil Taikato. Photo / File
Acting Rotorua Police Area Commander Inspector Phil Taikato. Photo / File

At the time of the bust last year, acting Rotorua police area commander Inspector Phil Taikato said it was "biggest we've had in the Bay" and a "huge amount for our small town".

Taikato said many found ways of "funding their habit" through crime, so getting it out of the community was a win all-round.

The biggest meth bust in New Zealand was in 2016 when police found 501kg of the drug in Totara North and on Ninety Mile Beach.

That haul had an estimated street value of almost $500m.

Do you need help?

Anyone affected by meth addiction is urged to seek help through the Alcohol and Drug Helpline on 0800 787797, or free text 1737 to speak with a trained counsellor.

Anyone with information about the sale and supply of illegal substances in the community should contact their local Police station, or phone Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.