Gang drug ring routed

JONATHON HOWE, JIMMY ELLINGHAM AND JESSICA SUTTON
Last updated 13:00 11/02/2011
Gang bust press conference
JOB WELL DONE: Police are also investigating a Palmerston North finance company, Detective Inspector Chris Bensemann, left, said after raids on criminal gang strongholds. Looking on at a press conference was Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson.

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Police have cracked down on a major gang-run drug ring that distributed methamphetamine around New Zealand from a Palmerston North base for the past 12 months.

About 150 police officers from throughout the North Island arrested 30 men and women connected to drug operations in Palmerston North, Feilding, Levin, Foxton, Otaki, Whanganui, Murupara, Hamilton, Auckland and Northland.

Thirteen people were arrested in Palmerston North, and nine were arrested in the greater Manawatu area. A clandestine P lab was also discovered in Palmerston North.

Police expected to make more arrests in the next few days.

Twenty-nine vehicles, including BMWs, Mercedes and Harley Davidson motorcycles, more than $120,000 in cash, firearms, gang patches, cannabis and methamphetamine were seized in the raids, which were the result of a seven-month-long covert operation.

Police named the Rebels Motorcycle Club as one of the gangs involved in the drug trade, although other gangs had been co-operating with them.

Detective Inspector Chris Bensemann, who leads the investigation, refused to name the other gangs.

"I don't want to give the other gangs the kudos of naming them. We wanted to point out that the Rebels are involved in this.

"They are new to New Zealand. We saw this on the horizon that they wanted to come here and make money out of the criminal business.

"I'd be optimistic to say that it was the end of the Rebels in New Zealand, but we've certainly struck a blow to their bow."

The Manawatu Standard reported last week that Rebels gang members had been spotted in Palmerston North, and that authorities were prepared to crack down on any illegal activities they were involved in.

Police are also investigating an unnamed Palmerston North finance company allegedly connected to the drug ring.

"That has been the subject of a money-laundering investigation and there will be ongoing investigations in respect of that," Mr Bensemann said.

A significant amount of money had been seized from the business but Mr Bensemann described the use of the front as more "opportunistic" than "sophisticated".

Child Youth and Family helped with children who were found at two of the raided Palmerston North homes. Screaming children could be heard on a video of the bust released by police.

Inter-gang co-operation had increased in the past five to 10 years, due mainly to the methamphetamine trade, Mr Bensemann said.

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"Prior to that you would see a lot of rivalry between the gangs that are now co-operating. They're putting aside their differences to conduct business."

One of the largest seizures came on January 14, when police uncovered 14 ounces of methamphetamine valued at more than $500,000.

Mr Bensemann hoped a strong message had been sent to the Rebels and other gangs.

"Their presence won't be tolerated. We're not going to accept that they're just going to float over here and patch people willy nilly.

"They are peddling misery in our communities, feeding addiction and forcing children to live lives exposed to toxic chemicals."

Central District area commander Superintendent Russell Gibson said a severe blow had been dealt to gangs, methamphetamine and organised crime in New Zealand.

"This operation has not been just about drug-dealing. It's been about supply of precursors for the manufacture of meth, the actual manufacture of methamphetamine, as well as the franchising of distribution areas in the lower part of the North Island."

Police Minister Judith Collins said she was proud of the work done by the officers during the operation.

"The Government said to police, `Go after organised crime and go after methamphetamine', and they are delivering. They're delivering exactly what the people of New Zealand want."

Many Manawatu residents were surprised to see armed police officers storming their neighbours' homes yesterday.

A Feilding man, who did not want his name published, said he was shocked to see a house on South St East being raided shortly after 6am.

"I heard banging and shouting and dogs barking. I went to open the gate and there were armed offenders guys there, so I went back inside very quickly. I was a bit scared to take the rubbish out."

He said the raided house was covered by shrubs and trees but he would have never suspected anything untoward was happening there. "There was the odd person coming and going but nothing to make you suspect anything."

A house on Featherston St in Palmerston North was also raided about 6am yesterday.

IN COURT

The following people, who were arrested in the police sting, appeared before two justices of the peace at Palmerston North District Court yesterday:

Palmerston North tattoo artist Herre van Niekerken, 37, is facing one count each of possession of methamphetamine for the purpose of supply, conspiring with others to supply methamphetamine, and engaging in money-laundering transactions.

Feilding's Nathan Jon Bush, 37, is on one count each of money- laundering transactions, conspiring with others to supply methamphetamine, and participating with others in an organised criminal group with the objective of benefiting from drug-dealing offences.

Palmerston North's Stephanie Jane Carroll, 44, unemployed, is facing a count of conspiring with others to supply methamphetamine.

Foxton's Jack Maketania Whakatihi, 46, is facing a count of conspiring with others to supply methamphetamine.

Foxton's Garth Timokina Thompson, 37, unemployed, is facing a count of conspiring with others to supply methamphetamine.

They were all remanded in custody and will reappear in court on Tuesday next week.

- Manawatu Standard

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