Hawke's Bay Seafoods Ltd director Giancarlo "Joe" D'Esposito has just avoided being sent to prison for illegally buying paua despite already being aware of a major investigation of the company's operations more than five years ago.
Appearing before Judge Lawrence Hinton in Napier District Court today, D'Esposito was sentenced to 10 months' home detention and ordered to do 200 hours' community work, while the company, barely operating since selling-out last year, was fined $27,000.
D'Esposito pleaded guilty to a representative charge of buying paua for the purpose of benefit in contravention of the Fisheries Act with intent to benefit, and the company also admitted a representative charge of contravening the act.
The charges related to nine transactions in an undercover sting around but separate to a major investigation which became public with a combined agencies raid at HBSF's plant and offices at the corner of Pandora Rd and West Quay, Napier, on September 25, 2014.
The transactions were initiated by a special duties undercover officer offering black market to D'Esposito and being paid in wads of cash, firstly in a night rendezvous at the plant on September 17, 2014.
D'Esposito knew the supplier was not a licensed trader and six of the transactions took place after the September 2014 bust, D'Esposito carrying-on despite knowledge of the investigation taking place. Across the transactions continuing past mid-2015, D'Esposito paid $9180 for 457kg of minced paua, worth over $24,000 in the wholesale market.
One of the transactions took place within three weeks of the raid, despite D'Esposito having told the seller they should stop "until things go back to normal".
On September 1, 2015, the officer bought 1kg of frozen paua from the company's shop, received in a bag able to be identified as having been sold to D'Esposito in one of the transactions.
The next day more raids netted 1.8 tonnes of paua and 600 crayfish alleged to be linked to illegal fish supply, and as part of the inquiry officers seized control over a commercial fishing boat, three recreational vessels, and a dozen vehicles, including a tractor. Judge Hinton agreed with Crown prosecutor Steve Manning that it was "flagrant" disregard for the sustainability of the fish supply, the fisheries management system and the law.
D'Esposito clearly knew it was illegal, he said.
Manning believed the Crown was being fair in assessing two-and-a-half years' jail as a starting point for calculation of the sentence after considering aggravating factors, such as D'Esposito's history of fisheries breaches, and discounting for such factors as the guilty plea. But he said the Crown's standard could have been higher.
Defence counsel Paul Wicks QC suggested a starting point of 12 months' jail and an end-result of community detention, which the Judge rejected, saying the offences were too serious.
Judge Hinton was able to consider a home detention outcome when the potential prison sentence was calculated at 23 months, one month inside a threshold enabling judges to consider the home detention option.