Case 17 - Major drug syndicate paid workers in gold
An investigation into a well-organised and resourced drug syndicate identified a former bank manager as the head of the operation. The suspect was involved in financing and facilitating the multi-million dollar cannabis and amphetamines operation and was linked to several well-known criminals.
The suspect is alleged to have laundered the proceeds from the drugs through the purchase and sale of gold, the purchase of cattle, and through gambling.
Authorities believe the suspect used the illicit cash from the drugs sales to purchase gold from prospectors at a premium price, and then sold the gold to unrelated businesses and declared the proceeds to be legitimate revenue.
Another key player in the syndicate was initially paid to turn a blind eye to its activities; however, he later became a drug courier and scout for the operation. Following his arrest he led police to a large quantity of gold nuggets and AUD161,000 cash hidden by the syndicate.
Those involved in the operation were well rewarded and some received bonuses of drugs and gold. One worker was paid a total of AUD250,000 in cash, drugs and gold during the four harvesting seasons he was involved in the operation.
Syndicate chiefs were paid more than AUD300,000 each harvest, as well as gold bullion. A drug mule was reportedly paid up to AUD40,000 to travel to Amsterdam to find the perfect variety of marijuana for the growing operation.
Commonwealth proceeds of crime action was taken against the offenders and resulted in the restraint of over AUD4 million worth of assets, including rural properties, cattle, machinery, AUD220,000 cash and a large quantity of gold.
The law enforcement operation led to the arrest of a number of syndicate members, who were subsequently charged and sentenced to as many as 10 years imprisonment.