Timaru man jailed for role in methamphetamine operation


A Timaru man who claimed he was just a “middle man” in a methamphetamine ring has been jailed for 21 months.

Rikki Te Rongopatahi​ Austin, 41, appeared via audiovisual link before Judge Joanna Maze for sentencing in the Timaru District Court on Friday.

In December, Austin pleaded guilty to joint charge of manufacturing methamphetamine with two others, attempting to pervert the course of justice, offering to supply methamphetamine (representative charge), offering to supply methamphetamine with one other person, supplying methamphetamine, supplying methamphetamine with another person, possession of cannabis and methamphetamine utensils and possession of a cannabis plant.

On Friday, defence counsel Tim Jackson told Judge Maze there should be a significant sentence discount for cultural factors, in particular that of deprivation in his upbringing and a series of “catastrophic events”.

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“He was exposed to poverty, alcohol and drug abuse and violence in the home,” Jackson told Judge Maze.

“The Court should recognise the defendant’s offending was intertwined with drug addiction.”

Jackson said he had attempted to access rehabilitative services for Austin, but at this stage nothing had been approved.

Operation Gipsy, which targeted the manufacture, supply and sale of methamphetamine in South Canterbury, ended in late June with the arrest of 13 people – Austin was one of them.

According to the police summary, during communication interceptions from June 4, 2021 to June 30, 2021, “police identified regular communication to and from the targets’ cellphones with a wide range of people which confirmed their involvement in the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamine in South Canterbury”.

On May 28, 2021, Austin, along with Shanla Aitken and Joshua Orchard, began conversing with each other via text message and phone calls about manufacturing methamphetamine.

Due to a delay in production, animosity began to develop towards Orchard.

On May 31, 2021, Austin messaged Orchard and said he was taking too long to manufacture the methamphetamine, and he would come and get it from him and do it himself.

On June 4, Austin and Aitken sent text messages to each other “discussing that the methamphetamine needed to be washed as it had been damaged by fire”.

Aitken advised him that the methamphetamine tasted strongly of ephedrine, which is used to manufacture methamphetamine and is a by-product of poor methamphetamine production.

On June 7, 2021, she sent another text message to Austin “to arrange to show him the production”.

The pair discussed repairing the methamphetamine, and Austin called Orchard.

“They had a heated discussion regarding the methamphetamine damaged in a fire,” the summary says.

“The three defendants had a clear objective of obtaining material benefits from the manufacture of methamphetamine and each of the defendants had roles that advanced the interests of their group.”

On June 26, Austin supplied an associate with two grams of methamphetamine.

Between May 17, 2021 and June 27, 2021 Austin offered to supply methamphetamine to Aitken five times.

Together with Aitken, Austin supplied an unknown quantity of methamphetamine to a contact on June 5, 2021.

On June 30, 2021, police executed a search warrant at the motel, in Timaru, where Austin was residing. A search of the address located a methamphetamine pipe under the bed, as well as a cannabis bong and one gram of cannabis in the kitchen.

“In explanation, the defendant stated the drugs and utensils located in the motel room were his,” the summary says.

“The defendant stated he did supply methamphetamine, and described himself as the ‘middle man’ and can get small amounts of methamphetamine around town to supply to support his own addiction. In regard to the manufacture of methamphetamine, the defendant denied any involvement.”

Jackson said Austin had expressed serious remorse, and noted the main victims were his family, in particular his son.

“He has openly admitted he’s an addict and wants treatment. Mr Austin has good insight to that,” Jackson told Judge Maze.

“He really is ready to start again.”

In sentencing Austin, Judge Maze said the likelihood of him reoffending was “medium to high” unless he got therapeutic intervention.

“He acknowledges his addiction to methamphetamine could leave him subject to serious relapse,” Judge Maze said.

“His remarks during pre-sentencing showed insight of full responsibility.”

Judge Maze said Austin’s cultural report “details traumatic harm at an impressionable stage of his development”.

“It has led directly to seeking gang involvement,” Judge Maze said.

“It has led to a culture of normalisation of drug and alcohol abuse. He gravitated towards groups with shared past adversity.”

Judge Maze noted Austin has had an enforced period of abstinence while in custody.

In sentencing Austin to 21 months’ imprisonment, Judge Maze gave leave to apply for home detention.



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