Dark web drug smuggler narrowly avoids jail

Timothy Fearn was sentenced at the Christchurch District Court for his role in a dark web drug...
Timothy Fearn was sentenced at the Christchurch District Court for his role in a dark web drug smuggling operation. Photo: NZH
The leader of a dark web underground drug smuggling ring has narrowly avoided a stint behind bars.

Timothy Robert Fearn, 33, imported packages of methamphetamine and ecstasy into New Zealand from the United States and the Netherlands under false names and addresses over several months in 2016.

He earlier admitted two charges of importing the class A drug meth and the class B drug ecstasy (MDMA) and selling them to a tight circle of friends, and for his own use.

A judge sentenced him to 11 months' home detention on Wednesday, after he also admitted other dishonesty and driving charges, saying he had come "within a whisker" of going to jail.

Christchurch District Court heard that New Zealand Customs operate a mail screening service at the International Mail Centre at Auckland Airport, which check international postal articles and fast freight courier items.

Fearn – and two others who have already received home detention sentences – were caught in Operation Skillet importing the drugs between May 3, 2016 and September 1, 2016.

The summary of facts says the drug parcels in this case were similar to imports encountered in previous drug operations where the drugs had been ordered over the internet using dark web underground websites.

"These dark websites allow a person to order a wide variety of illegal items via the internet, in this case class A and B drugs," the Crown summary says.

"These orders are sent internationally to an address and name supplied by the importer who has ordered the goods."

Goods are also increasingly being paid for using the digital currency, Bitcoin.

"It is common for the importer of these goods to use false or fictitious names but to use addresses that they have some sort of control over so they can retrieve the items when it arrives," the court heard.

Parcels intercepted at the International Mail Centre which contained a total of 27g of methamphetamine and 3.6g of ecstasy were sent to various Christchurch addresses.

When police caught up with Fearn, he denied being involved in the online ordering of drugs but said he had given money to another man to help pay for them.

He said he would use some of the drugs himself and sell the rest.

Judge Raoul Neave said while there were sales of unknown quantities on a few occasions, he accepted it was mostly for personal use.

The judge said while Fearn appeared to be the leader of the operation, it was small and "relatively insignificant".

Fearn told a pre-sentence report writer that he accepted his behaviour was "foolish", which the judge said was "putting it mildly".

Judge Neave sentenced him to 11months' home detention at a West Coast address but warned if he slipped up again in the near future, he would be heading to prison.



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