Kiwi crims inspired by 'Breaking Bad'

New Zealand criminals are taking inspiration from the hit TV series Breaking Bad by using campervans to cook crystal methamphetamine.

Top drug cops have confirmed gangs are going increasingly mobile to prevent their illegal drug-making operations from being detected.

During a recent bust in Auckland, as part of the major crime crackdown, Operation Genoa, detectives found a custom-made mobile speed lab that looked like an "ordinary builder's trailer", complete with a surf-ski attached to its roof.

And police have confirmed that crooks are using motorhomes and caravans to cook well away from cities and towns.

"It allows them the freedom and ability to pack their kit up, disappear to a remote location, get on with their business, pack up and return to wherever they live and carry on," said Detective Senior Sergeant Lloyd Schmid of the Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand (OFCANZ) in Auckland.

Operation Genoa uncovered a sophisticated nationwide drug ring, with police seizing more than $3 million of assets, including $2m cash, luxury cars including a Ferrari, Porsche and a Maserati, a 9-metre launch, five properties and gold bars.

Another recent OFCANZ raid as part of Operation Enzone found a pop-top caravan being used as a clan lab.

"The mobility aspect is fairly prevalent out there," Mr Schmid said.

In the award-winning six-season show, Breaking Bad characters Walter White - a chemistry teacher - and Jesse Pinkman use a motorhome as a mobile lab to drive into desert and cook crystal meth, also known as speed, P, or ice.

Last year, police in Geelong, Victoria said they were battling "the Breaking Bad syndrome", with a spike in home-made meth.

"Most ice is still imported, but we are also seeing people with the Breaking Bad syndrome, where every idiot thinks they're a chemist and can cook up their own drugs with no regard for how incredibly dangerous it is," Detective Senior Sergeant Dave McTaggart told the Geelong Advertiser.

South Island police are also aware of campervans and caravans being used as labs on wheels.

"Criminals are always trying to stay ahead of our policing strategies, and they like to be mobile," said Detective Inspector Virginia Le Bas of Christchurch Police.

In 2003, police found a sophisticated mobile lab inside what looked like a normal, white campervan.

Kenneth Wayne Welsh was jailed for 10 years for using the campervan, crammed with volatile chemicals and P recipes, at his rural Bay of Plenty home.

The cooking process produces noxious fumes from chemicals, including phosphine, that are both highly explosive and deadly if inhaled.

"I like to think of it as the old No. 8 wire technology that Kiwis are famous for - where there's a will there's a way. You shouldn't rule anything out with these characters," Mr Schmid said.

"With so much money to be made, people at all ends of the criminal spectrum are going to have a crack at it."


The real Walter Whites

* In 2003, former Napier Boys' High School science teacher Reuben John Martin was jailed for nine years for manufacturing ecstasy and methamphetamine in his Greenmeadows garage, in what was then the largest ecstasy manufacturing lab discovered in New Zealand.

* In March, UK chemistry teacher Ryszard Jakubczyk, who masterminded a plan to flood Britain's drugs market with almost pure methamphetamine, was dubbed a real-life Walter White, when he was jailed for nine years for plotted to make almost 40kgs of the drug. "It was as if they had used the plot of 'Breaking Bad' to come up with the whole idea," police said.

* US media reported their own "real life Walter White" in April when Stephen Doran, a Boston maths teacher who was diagnosed with cancer like the TV character, was jailed for three years for trafficking crystal meth.


 

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