DRUG BUST: Man jailed over multimillion-dollar Coffs crop
BROKE and unable to speak English, a court has heard how an international student was recruited to work for a Vietnamese crime gang as a 'low level' labourer in a multimillion-dollar Coffs Coast drug operation.
Duy Truong Tran's downward spiral into a life of crime ended with his arrest in November last year at an 11-acre property at Korora. His co-offender, Minh Do, was also arrested at the scene.
"He was not an owner or lessee of the property, his role was that of a labourer - an expendable, low-level component of the operation, living in poor conditions," Judge Jonathan Priestley said.
Police seized 1,026 cannabis plants as well as 62kg of cannabis head from the property, estimated to be worth around $3-million.
It was a highly-sophisticated and discreet set up, with the plants being discovered inside a number of hot houses or 'igloos' fixed with elaborate irrigation and artificial lighting systems.
Also on the property was a fibro cottage of which the court heard Tran had been living in "squalid" conditions over the past three months.
Tran had his mobile phone set up to play a live stream of CCTV footage from the entry of the property, allowing a quick escape if anyone approached.
Coffs/Clarence police officers had initially caught wind of illegal operations at the property a month earlier, when a member of the public reported suspicious activity.
Detectives from the state's Drug and Firearm Squad soon became involved and began surveilling Tran and Do. On November 20, they raided the property.
The court heard how Tran had attempted to run from police, but was soon arrested after an officer lunged through a row of cannabis plants and tackled him to the ground.
He was then charged with cultivating a large commercial quantity of a prohibited plant.
Tran, who had been in custody since his arrest, appeared before Judge Priestley at Coffs Harbour District Court for sentencing last week.
The 32-year-old appeared via audiovisual link from the Mid North Coast Correctional Centre.
Judge Priestley spoke of how Tran was a person of good character, but his inability to speak English had led to his downfall.
"He is a person … who by force of circumstance ended up in the situation that he didn't choose to be in, but was a combination of cultural and language deficiencies on his part," he said.
Judge Priestley said Tran had moved to Western Australia in 2012 to pursue further study but it wasn't long before he became short of funds, forcing him to drop out.
He was then employed in various positions but struggled to keep hold of a job due the language barrier. He moved to Sydney to try his luck, and it was there a friend requested he become involved in growing cannabis.
In Sydney, Tran was involved in the cultivation of cannabis at two homes in Toongabbie and Burwood which had been leased under a fake name. His DNA was later linked to both operations.
Tran was then offered to work at what he was told was a 'capsicum' farm in Coffs Harbour.
"When he got there he soon realised the capsicum was actually cannabis," Judge Priestley said.
In handing down his sentence, Judge Priestley advised Tran it was important for him to become fluent in English.
"This case is refreshing in that he doesn't come from a history of a horror story of domestic violence, drug abuse and a lack of affection," he said.
"He's from a good family with caring parents. The problem was, when he was in Australia things did not work out quite as he had hoped.
"He had difficulties finding employment in this country because he didn't speak the language, and the only thing I would say against that is that in eight years one would hope a little bit more initiative from a person of his background and education could have been found.
"Because of this, he ended up in the position he was in."
Tran was sentenced to jail for a non-parole period of 13 months.
Due to time he has already served in custody, he will be eligible for parole in December this year.
Tran's co-offender, Minh Do, was listed to be sentenced the same day however his matter was adjourned to March 15. He is currently on conditional bail.