Sunday September 15 2013

– Van Hung Nguyen arrived from Vietnam in 2002 for an agricultural show in Brisbane he didn’t attend, then disappeared for nine years until he resurfaced to apply for a new business visa.
By April last year his business in Melbourne was clearly booming.
Adorning his rented house in Burnside Heights was a Rolex watch, two $1750 pairs of Tag Heuer sunglasses and Louis Vuitton dress shoes. Stashed in the kitchen was $39,900 cash.
The contents of 21 other houses in 14 north-western Melbourne suburbs that Nguyen “managed” also displayed healthy growth figures – almost 5000 mature, immature or seedling marijuana plants with a “wet” weight of 1.2 tonnes.
Of the plants, 1697 were high-quality product estimated to be worth between $1.4 million and $2.3 million if sold per kilogram, but valued up to $8.9 million in gram deals.
Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions John Champion, SC, with Michelle Zammit, told a court it was the largest number of plants identified since the introduction in 2002 of a charge of cultivating a large commercial quantity, to which Nguyen has pleaded guilty. It carries a life sentence.
In response to recent massive increases in hydroponic “crop houses”, and where syndicate-based activity was involved and organisers faced court, Mr Champion said he would seek to uplift such cases, as Nguyen’s was, from the County Court to the Supreme Court.
Nguyen, 42, was the main target of Operation Permute by the Fawkner Divisional Response Unit which traced him for eight months from August 2011, until his arrest at home surrounded by wealth.
He had been seen “going from crop house to crop house” in his “managerial role”, and buying goods that included plasma TVs and DVD players to help the “crop sitters”, 14 of whom have now been jailed, Mr Champion said.
The operation was “sophisticated and highly organised” with electrical meters bypassed, reticulated watering systems, high-powered lighting, chemicals, cultivating tools and equipment – including harvesting machines – with automated nutrient feeding systems in roof cavities.
Nguyen told police he had previously picked grapes and strawberries and repaired houses, but denied involvement. “I might have been there, but just for fun,” he said.
Although he later admitted guilt, at his first appearance before Justice Weinberg in April, the judge, Mr Champion and defence lawyer Charlie Nikakis were “surprised” to learn Nguyen had scored an IQ of 40 in tests conducted by psychologist Jeffrey Cummins.
He had assessed Nguyen because Mr Nikakis felt his client’s intelligence did not fit the Crown’s depiction of him.
“I’ve never struck an IQ of 40, I must say, or anything like it,” Justice Weinberg remarked, who felt Nguyen “would not be able to function” with such a score.
Mr Champion described it as “inexplicable” and a “mystery” and questioned whether Nguyen was fit to plead.
Given Nguyen had not only held a managerial role in a large, complex operation, but had negotiated the purchase of a $130,000 BMW, got a driver’s licence and had sent money overseas about 20 times, Mr Champion had a strong case for confusion.
In evidence, Mr Cummins said Nguyen’s true score was 70 or below which meant he was in the mildly intellectually disabled range, but thought it unlikely Nguyen had misled him.
The hearing was adjourned in April for the Crown to have him examined by a second experienced psychologist, Professor James Ogloff, who recently told Justice Weinberg he was “quite surprised” to learn from Nguyen he not only played chess, but won games.
The professor concluded that Nguyen did so poorly in testing that he was “most likely…malingering”.
Recalled to the witness box, Mr Cummins said he would be “absolutely shocked” if Nguyen played a “sensible game of chess”, but denied Mr Champion’s suggestion his first report was misleading because he had suggested his IQ was about 70.
In his plea in mitigation, Mr Nikakis said Mr Nguyen, who has no prior convictions, helped the crop sitters but in the syndicate he was “not a general…a lieutenant at best”.
Asked by Justice Weinberg about the money and items found at his house, Mr Nikakis said his client could not prove where it all came from.
Mr Champion submitted the “highly exploitative” offending was aggravated because people illegally in Australia of low-education status were targeted as crop sitters, including some who were escapees from immigration detention, and those who controlled the operation “took advantage of a number of vulnerable offenders”.
After serving whatever jail term Justice Weinberg imposes on Monday, Nguyen will be deported.
– Steve Butcher


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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