Designer drug ring trial starts

Ten men accused of involvement in a lucrative Auckland designer drugs ring that pressed illegal pills decorated with rip-off corporate logos have gone on trial.

Arrested in police drug bust Operation Ark, the 10 are said to have been part of the importing and supplying of pills designed to have the same effect as methamphetamine or ecstasy, in what was a profitable multi-million dollar business.

The men face between two and 53 charges each involving class B and C drugs.

Opening what is scheduled to be an 18-week trial in the High Court at Auckland, Crown prosecutor David Johnstone yesterday told the jury that over an 18-month period in 2010 and 2011, the ring imported powders hidden in packages bound for a cosmetics business.

The powders were then taken to a warehouse where they were pressed into pills that bore corporate emblems like Adidas', the Rolling Stones lips and car logos.

"The manufacturers used the drug powders that had been imported [and] mixed in other things like colouring, dyes and binding agents to form the pills properly," Mr Johnstone said.

The coloured pills were then distributed through "unofficial and secret channels".

Secrecy also surrounded discussions between members of the ring. On the phone they would avoid directly mentioning pills and they would use Skype to talk and a secret email system called Hush Mail.

The accounts were kept on a Google drive, rather than any one computer, Mr Johnstone said.

The Crown says the pills amount to "analogue controlled drugs", which are illegal.

Mr Johnstone said the man in charge was gambling on the fact they had taken enough steps to keep their enterprise secret and that the case would be difficult to prove because of the scientific evidence required to show the pills were illegal.

The man, whose name is suppressed, took the risks because of the massive amounts of money involved.

Mr Johnstone will continue opening the Crown case today before defence lawyers make opening statements.


Who is who, according to the Crown?

*The leaders
Man with name suppression, facing 53 charges, "The big boss"
Man with name suppression, facing 53 charges
Johnny Be Good, facing 52 charges

The Crown says these men made millions and millions of dollars, which they shared.

* The office worker
Stanley Marshall Alphonsus Leone, facing 51 charges. Alleged to have worked from a North Shore office where sales were discussed

* The delivery man
Matthew Giordani, facing 47 charges. Police found pills at his house when it was searched. He denies any knowledge of them.

* The scientist
Name suppressed, facing 52 charges. Earned $100,000 a year through his work at the cosmetics company, the Crown alleges. Police found $800,000 cash in cardboard boxes in his warehouse, and more cash was found at his office.

* The manufacturers
George Jeffrey Reed, facing nine charges
Grant Oswald Petersen, facing 20 charges

Police found a pull press at a commercial unit owned by Petersen. He says his activity was legal.

* The distributors
Kevin Sean Challis, facing four charges
Kelvin Sonny Cress, facing two charges.


 

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