A crop sitter who tended to 19,085 cannabis plants at a Dandry property is in custody awaiting his sentence in Dubbo District Court.
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Lim Wai Lun, 35, appeared in court via audio-visual link from Macquarie Correctional Centre on March 23 this year. Through a state provided interpreter, he confirmed he was pleading guilty to cultivating a large commercial quantity of a prohibited plant.
Lun and three other co-offenders were arrested on January 18, 2022, after a special team from the NSW Drug and Firearm squad investigated the large-scale cultivation.
He is to be sentenced along with the other co-offenders on the same day in May. Two other co-accused arrested at the same time pleaded not guilty and have been listed for trial in Sydney District Court later this year.
Court documents reveal the cultivation was carried out at a 951 hectare isolated rural property off the Newell Highway and 28 kilometres from Coonabarbran.
The property consisted of 23 commercial sized, plastic-covered, dome-shaped greenhouses for growing cannabis plants except one which was used as a drying room.
The cannabis plants were all in pots and of varying height and were grouped in the greenhouses according to their maturity. Each of them were filled with potted cannabis plants running the entire length of the greenhouse.
Police said each greenhouse had electric powered extraction fans. Some greenhouses had suspended artificial lights inside "to encourage growth."
According to court papers, a shipping container had been converted to into a seedling room, with water tanks drawing water from two dams nearby.
Water tanks were filled with nutrient solution that enhanced the growth of cannabis plants. Electric wiring linked the structures to large diesel generators on the property.
Police said a separate shipping container was dedicated to the drying and packaging of harvested cannabis. It was set up with fans, industrial sealers, suspended drying racks, vacuum seal bags, a tub with decomposing cannabis waste, large commercial vacuum sealer machines, stacked cardboard boxes and a resealable bag filled with cannabis bud.
The property also stored cannabis cultivation equipment and supplies for ongoing use. Supplied included bamboo sticks for larger plants, tubs of liquid nutrients or fertiliser, roles of wire mesh, pallets of black plastic pots, rolls of irrigation, piping, and jiffy pods used for seedlings. The area also housed pallets of Nutrifield "Coco Mega blocks", and large quantities of large moving boxes for transporting packaged cannabis.
Across the property, there were a number of "dump sites" where empty 25 litre liquid nutrient bottles were dumped.
Two containers were also converted into living quarters for the greenhouse workers with six bunk beds in each. This is where the three other offenders lived, their DNA was also found on toothbrushes in a bathroom next to the container. A kitchen with food supplies was also found. It contained produce, rice, and cooking equipment. Police said this reflected the workers' "ongoing residence" at the property.
Police said one of the containers had a bedroom with a double bed in which Lim Wai Lun had been living. His wallet, ID and $1685 in cash was found in the room. Officer's also found receipts for hardware fuel, a case of beer, a bag of cannabis, and cigarettes.
Court documents state the Crown was not able to exclude that there was a second person in the room with the double bed.
The container had a second room with bunk beds, two were made up with bedding and "several" were unused.
Police said a squad called Strikeforce Harthouse began covert surveillance of the cultivation in December 2021, including aerial surveillance. Over a period of weeks, they observed "a number of workers" performing various tasks and tending to the cultivation area starting 7am in the morning.
Surveillance on December 30, 2021, showed cannabis plants growing inside the greenhouses. Police also photographed people wearing hi-visibility work wear walking in and out of the greenhouses.
On January 6, 2022, police took photos of people carrying "a tray of cannabis seedlings" towards a greenhouse, operating a crank to wind up the greenhouse walls, driving utility vehicles around cultivation area carrying bottles of nutrients, and driving a Pantech truck.
The squad's surveillance showed similar activities like winding up greenhouse walls, using vehicles, and filling of water tanks by workers on January 17, 2022, as well.
Court documents state the following day, an hour before the police made arrests, surveillance showed a number of "Asian males" left the living quarters closest to the greenhouse shortly before a diesel generator started.
One of them walked into a greenhouse and wound up the walls to let light and heat in. Other males walked in and out, while a male and female came from another shipping container further from the greenhouses in a ute. The man checked the power source for the water pump and then both of them drove to the area used for drying the cannabis.
At 8am on January 18, 2022, officers formed a perimeter around the greenhouses, located the four offenders as well as the two other co-accused, all dressed in high-visibility work wear and arrested them.
The court heard Lun had been working on the property from December 1, 2021 to January 18, 2022.
Over this period, police were able to determine he had been using his phone. Phone usage data was consistent with evidence of Lun's continued residence at the cultivation and of the work performed by him.
The cultivation site had evidence of past cannabis harvest and was set up in a way that it could be used for future harvests. However, the Crown accepted it could not be established beyond reasonable doubt that the offenders were themselves working on the past harvest or that they would be responsible for future harvests at the site.
Lun's role on the property was described by police as tending to cannabis in the shipping containers as well as seedling grow rooms, where his fingerprint was found.
Photos also showed him filling water tanks with nutrients on December 30, 2021, and January 17, 20211 as well as looking after plants in the greenhouses on January 6, 2022.
At Lun's latest court appearance, Judge Karen Robinson told defence barrister Mr Roff and Crown prosecutor Ms Lees the case would not be finalised that day.
"It's not ideal to me... separating the co-offenders, [they will be sentenced] all at one time," Judge Robinson said.
Ms Lees said the maximum penalty for the offence was a 20 years in jail with a non-parole term of 10 years or 5500 penalty units. She said that Lun pleaded guilty on November 22 last year and had spent 430 days in custody as of March 23, 2023.
She added one special circumstance in Lun's case; it was his first time in custody and he could face difficulties because of "his lack of English".
Mr Roff tendered a psychological report regarding his client dated March 15, 2023. He also submitted his written submissions analysing seven other comparable cases and some six pages of judicial punishment statistics.
"Majority of the cases have far less quantities involved, this case becomes more serious because of the sheer quantity," Judge Robinson said.
Mr Roff said a line within the fact sheet suggested Lun had high status and he inferred his client was given separate accommodation because he was "just hanging around" till he got paid.
"There is no evidence to suggest that he had a higher role. The room he occupied [could] also be occupied by one other individual for example, he may have had that room because he was the first in," Mr Roff said.
"His role not being anything more than crop-sitter."
He also said Lun was not a drug user and there was no evidence to suggest he actually touched the cannabis as no drug paraphernalia had been found either.
"Where is the evidence of remorse? Besides the comment made to the psychologist that support this submission?," Judge Robinson asked the defence.
Mr Roff said remorse could be found in the fact that he had become aware in custody of what he was doing and what effect drugs can have.
"Not having said 'I'm really sorry for what I did'...considering his background generally, and the fact that he accepts he's going to serve a significant period of time in custody," the barrister said.
In her submission, Ms Lees called the cultivation a "well sophisticated set up" and agreed to Lun's role being that of a crop sitter. She also pointed out in the comparable cases submitted by the defence, the quantity of plants were "much less", about 1000 to 3000 plants.
"This matter is 19,000," she said.
Ms Lees also said the Crown accepted remorse given his initial plea of guilty, his comments to the psychologist and the fact that Lun had "taken steps" that showed prospects of rehabilitation.
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