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The house that drugs bought


Cannabis grower goes back to jail

JUDGE: The offending is just so serious that the only true end marker of it must be a sentence of imprisonment.

A Featherston man who ran a commercial cannabis operation so vast he was able to pay off a mortgage has been sentenced to jail.

Craig McMahon appeared for sentencing at Wellington District Court on July 8. The 56-year-old faced charges of money laundering, cultivating cannabis, possessing cannabis for supply, and electricity theft.

According to Judge Bruce Davidson’s sentencing notes, police aerial surveillance on February 10 last year detected cannabis growing on McMahon’s property.

A search of the property soon after found 113 mostly mature cannabis plants, $27,214.50 in cash, 25 cannabis ‘tinnies’ totalling 35 grams, and 264 grams of dried cannabis.

The defendant had also been diverting electricity from Nova Energy for two years, stealing $17,207.08 worth.

An examination of his bank accounts found he had laundered at least $470,000 since May 2017.

McMahon pleaded guilty and was remanded in custody for one year, until he was released on bail earlier this year.

After completing an eight-week residential treatment programme, he had been living with his mother and brother.

“Your prior convictions, which span some 28 years from 1984 to 2012, show an enduring interest in growing and dealing in cannabis. In 2013 you were sentenced to 5¾ years’ imprisonment for cannabis relating offending,” Judge Davidson said.

It was soon after being released on parole for this conviction that McMahon embarked upon his latest venture.

“Your involvement in this kind of offending has been driven primarily by a need for financial stability. There are some issues in your past that may help explain that,” the judge said.

He described the offending as “sophisticated” and “high level”, noting the “significant” profits made.

“This was planned, premeditated and ongoing.

“You managed to pay off a mortgage which had been taken out to purchase the house. Although this may be somewhat of a crude calculation, an annualised cash income of something in the order of $180,000 would represent a grossed-up pre-tax income of around a quarter of a million dollars a year or a staggering $5000 per week. That alone reveals the level of your illegal operation.”

However, Judge Davidson was not swayed by the Crown’s submission for one year’s uplift to reflect McMahon’s prior convictions, saying the defendant had already “paid the penalty” for those.

McMahon had assisted police and essentially signed his house over to the state by not disputing or challenging its forfeiture, the judge said.

At an earlier hearing, the court was told McMahon’s mother had lent him $90,000 from January 2018 to February 2020.

Despite this, her application for relief from forfeiture was declined by the judge.

“It has left you with a moral obligation to repay her a significant sum of money,” Judge Davidson told the defendant.

“I have absolutely no doubt that the appropriate starting point for the offending as a whole sits at five years’ imprisonment.”

This was increased by six months for McMahon’s previous offending, but discounted to reflect his guilty pleas, co-operation with police, consent to forfeiture order, and rehabilitative efforts.

This left an end sentence of 23 months’ imprisonment for the charges of cultivating cannabis, money laundering, and possessing cannabis for supply. McMahon was also sentenced to one years’ imprisonment for the electricity theft, to run concurrently, and ordered to pay reparation for the full amount.

Although defence lawyer Christopher Tennet submitted his client should receive community-based sentences, the judge disagreed.

“The offending is just so serious that the only true end marker of it must be a sentence of imprisonment,” the judge said.

“However, because you have been in custody for such a long time you will be released soon.”

Upon release, McMahon would be subject to standard and special release conditions for six months, including that he was not to possess, consume, or use alcohol or illegal drugs.

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