A former Olympic boxer was caught with more than 200kg of drugs in Hamilton after a tip-off from Australian law enforcement.
Adam Tony Forsyth, 41, and Sean Leslie Cooney, 51, were arrested in September 2019 with the massive haul of methamphetamine while under surveillance by the police National Organised Crime Group.
Cooney had flown from Sydney and was greeted by Forsyth at the Auckland International Airport. Also waiting for Cooney were undercover police officers as a result of intelligence from the Western Australian police force.
The duo was followed to an address in Rotorua where they were seen loading boxes into a trailer, then drove to another address in Hamilton.
Overnight, detectives in Operation Ali executed a search warrant and discovered 216kg of meth – at the time, the second-largest cache of the Class-A drug discovered inside New Zealand.
Both men pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine for supply and were sentenced in the Hamilton District Court on Wednesday.
“They weren’t going to the Agrodome,” said Crown Solicitor Jacinda Hamilton of the pair’s trip to Rotorua, in reference to the town’s tourist attraction. “This was drug dealing on a grand scale.”
Born in New Zealand, Forsyth represented Australia at the 2004 Olympics in Athens as a heavyweight boxer. He was supported in court by his parents and a large number of wider family members, although Cooney – who is an Australian national – was alone.
The court heard that Forsyth suffered a traumatic brain injury from an assault in 2017 which impaired his memory and decision-making. This impulsiveness led to the drug offending and lessened Forsyth’s culpability, said defence lawyer Jasper Rhodes, who asked Judge Philip Crayton to take the brain injury into account as a mitigating factor in sentencing.
This was challenged by Hamilton. The Crown prosecutor said Forsyth’s own explanation was that he believed the cardboard boxes were filled with legitimate car parts – not methamphetamine – rather than making a poor decision.
While there was no doubt Forsyth had suffered a traumatic brain injury which affected his judgment, Judge Crayton said the evidence showed Forsyth was able to acquire electronic scales, use an encrypted phone, and carry out a reconnaissance mission.
The brain injury also made Forsyth more susceptible to further head injuries if he was assaulted inside prison, said the judge. The potential “catastrophic consequences” means Corrections have to manage his safety carefully, possibly through segregation, and the judge said the isolation would make Forsyth’s time in prison more difficult.
For these reasons, Forsyth was given a 20 percent reduction on his sentence. He also received a 25 percent discount for pleading guilty.
This led to a final sentence of 12 years and five months in prison.
“There is no doubt from everything that is said about you, sitting here today facing these charges has been a dramatic fall from your life of achievement and sporting excellence,” Judge Crayton said.
Troubled upbringing, meth addiction
The court heard that his co-offender Cooney had a dysfunctional childhood in Australia and an addiction to methamphetamine which was so extreme it led to psychotic episodes.
While acknowledging Cooney’s troubled background, Judge Crayton said it was difficult to see how those difficulties led to his decision to become involved in a significant trans-national drug importation.
“I’m left with the only conclusion I can draw. Your involvement was because of the most obvious of reasons… the financial gain you could get,” the judge said.
Cooney also received a 25 percent discount for pleading guilty and was sentenced to 15 years and 6 months in prison.
Operation Ali, led by Detective Sergeant Steve Matheson, discovered that the 216kg of methamphetamine was packaged in an identical fashion to another large cache of meth – 193kg – which had been found several months earlier in an Auckland apartment.
Five men – including Forsyth and Cooney – were charged with possession of methamphetamine for supply in connection to the two massive stashes.
But detectives in Operation Essex, which found the 193kg, continued investigating how the drugs were imported, and traced the separate caches back to a single shipment into Whakatāne.
This investigation led to Anthony Charles Netzler, ninjutsu master and former bodyguard for various celebrities, pleading guilty to importing a Class-A drug. He was sentenced to 15 years and seven months in prison.
The 53-year-old Netzler had flown to Bangkok in December 2018 to meet with senior members of a criminal syndicate from the United Kingdom.
A plan was hatched, and in April 2019, Netzler travelled by boat to pick up 500kg of meth from a catamaran at a rendezvous point in the middle of the sea.
He was the “trusted broker” in New Zealand for the international criminal syndicate behind the importation, according to Justice Melanie Harland who sentenced Netzler.
“A spectacular fall from grace,” the judge said.
* This story was first published on the New Zealand Herald website.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz