Crophouse grower’s Covid relapse


By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A relapsed ex-drug addict oversaw a Pakenham growhouse after financial pressures during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Victorian County Court has heard.

Hung Van Nguyen, 43, from Keysborough, pleaded guilty to cultivating a commercial crop of 172 cannabis plants at a home in Greenway Drive Pakenham.

He also pleaded guilty to possessing suspected proceeds of crime in $17,620 cash in his pants and his car’s glovebox.

As part of Operation Sapphire, police discovered Nguyen at the “sophisticated” hydroponic set-up during a pre-dawn raid on 3 September 2020.

They seized 163 kilograms of plants with a further 8.5 kilos of cannabis found in coco-peat bags and 2.5 kilos mixed with unidentifiable plant matter.

Nguyen was in the front room with an inflatable mattress, hydroponic-light heat shields, and a light timer to give the appearance that the home was occupied.

The “virtually unhabitable” house had a large hole in the wall for an electrical bypass into the mains power supply, and another hole for access to the garage.

Temporary walls were installed to create extra grow rooms.

In sentencing, Judge Howard Mason noted Nguyen’s “subjectively very serious” offending. The grow house was capable of producing “significant” quantities of cannabis.

There was no evidence Nguyen established the operation but he played an important role by his presence, including crop maintenance.

Judge Mason noted Nguyen’s “extensive” criminal record connected to his drug addiction between 1997 and 2008.

Before his recent “unfortunate relapse”, Nguyen had been offence free for 12 years. He had had “commendable success” overcoming his addiction.

He worked long hours as a delivery driver, supporting and caring for his partner and four children.

Nguyen’s relapse coincided with a family bereavement and financial pressure during Covid-19.

He’d lost overtime hours, his job was under threat and his health deteriorated, Judge Mason noted.

In a reference, his employer stated the charges were “out of character” for the “trustworthy” and “hard-working” worker.

Judge Mason noted Nguyen faced mandatory jail for commercial cultivation.

He jailed Nguyen for up to three-and-a-half years, including 209 days in pre-sentence remand.

He will be eligible for parole after two years.

Nguyen and two other men were charged after police raids on four properties in Noble Park, Pakenham, Springvale and Springvale South on 3 September.

One of the co-accused Duy Khanh Phuong, 31, faced Melbourne Magistrates’ Court at a committal mention hearing on 1 April in relation to three alleged properties.

Pending DNA analysis, Phuong faced charges of cultivating and trafficking a commercial amount of cannabis in Pakenham and Springvale South.

He was also charged with growing cannabis at Noble Park, possessing suspected proceeds of crime and three counts of stealing electricity.

Phuong was remanded in custody until a further committal mention on 25 May.