$800,000 cash stash allegedly found in accused wardrobe

The alleged head chemist of a high-tech designer drug ring had $800,000 in cash in his wardrobe when police raided, a court has heard.

The money was just part of "millions and millions" made by the group arrested in Operation Ark and who appeared in the High Court in Auckland today.

Three men, including the chemist, have name suppression.

The other accused included (with their roles in the operation): Johnny Be Good (management, one-step down from the kingpin), Stanley Leone (second-tier office manager), Grant Petersen (pill manufacturer), and Kevin Challis and Kelvin Cress (distributors).

They went on trial today, with three Crown prosecutors facing 17 defence lawyers in a trial set down for 18 weeks.

Prosecutor David Johnstone said the ring was active in Auckland for about 18 months in 2011 and 2012.

The ringleaders - Good and two of the men with name suppression - imported drugs from China in silver foil packets and had them delivered to the cosmetics company at which the chemist worked as a scientist.

The powder, mainly a drug called 4MEC that closely mimicked the class B controlled drug Methcathinone, was coloured and pressed into pills stamped with logos of recognisable brands such as Mitsubishi, Adidas and Calvin Klein.

The pills were sold to distributors for $16 or $17 each and they fetched about $40 on the street.

"The drugs were designed to copy amphetamines and MDMA," Johnstone said.

However, the law specified that if drugs were "substantially similar" to listed, controlled drugs, the analogues were just as illegal.

The group also imported party pills containing the then-legal BZP that were sold openly.

Johnstone said the ecstasy-analogue pills were never intended to be sold openly - the brand names used showed they were destined for the black market as did the covert nature of the group's dealings.
The group kept their account records in a cloud-based Google spreadsheet, they talked on internet phone provider Skype and only emailed on the secure webmail site Hushmail, Johnstone said.

When the chemist's workplace was raided he was found to have a book alongside his cosmetic texts called Uncle Fester's Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture The ringleaders, along with their Thailand-based partner Lee Vincent, made "millions and millions" off the drugs, Johnstone said.

Police restrained about $14 million worth of property and, for example, when one apartment linked to the group was searched they found $460,000 in cash.

The trial before Justice Peter Woodhouse continues tomorrow with the completion of the Crown's opening address.

Fairfax Media