No organised crime charges for Switched On

Last updated 16:09 05/12/2012

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The owner and the general manager of the Switched On Gardener chain of hydroponic stores have been found guilty of supplying equipment for cultivating cannabis but have been acquitted of being part of an organised criminal group.

Their senior staff, who were also charged, were found not guilty of all charges.

Owner Michael Quinlan and general manager Peter Bennett were found guilty of 17 representative charges of supplying equipment or material capable of being used for the cultivation of cannabis at their stores throughout the country.

On one of the charges, relating to the Glenfield store, Quinlan was found not guilty but his companies Stoneware 91 and Hydroponics Wholesalers were found guilty.

Business manager Ricky Cochrane, distribution manager Andrew Mai and South Island manager Paul Barlow were found not guilty of all charges.

The organised criminal group charges required three or more people to be involved in the criminal enterprise and so do not hold up.

Switched on Gardener stores in Auckland, Tauranga, Hamilton, Taupo, Hastings, Upper Hutt, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch and Dunedin were all included in the indictment.

The eight-week trial heard undercover police officers targeted the stores which sold hydroponic growing equipment, fertilisers made for cannabis with names like "Budzilla", copies of cannabis-enthusiast magazine High Times and marijuana pipes.

Officers bought equipment from the stores and posed as entrepreneurs seeking to set up a similar store using supplies from Quinlan's companies.

Police swooped on the stores and their workers in April 2010, arresting over 250 people connected to the case.

Quinlan and Bennett were released on bail, in spite of Crown opposition, to sentencing in February.

Outside court counsel for Quinlan and Bennett's Paul Davison QC said the counts proven were "lesser charges and they certainly do not indicate there was an organised criminal group behind the activities of this business"

The people selling in the stores fallen into situation where they were speaking openly with customers about cannabis which he said was the result of owners being negligent rather than anything more underhanded.

"They're very disappointed, as you can imagine, they defended the charges because they believed they were not guilty," Davison said.

The judge ordered a pre-sentence report with appendices meaning the potential for a non-custodial sentence existed but Davison would not comment on that.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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