A MULTIMILLION-dollar drug syndicate centred on Wangaratta used gangster-style violence to incite fear, the Melbourne County Court heard yesterday.
It lured young people with the promise of money and a luxury lifestyle.
Aaron Shane Dalton, 32, headed the methamphetamine and ecstasy syndicate that had tentacles reaching across the North East and into southern NSW.
Yesterday he pleaded guilty to two counts of trafficking a commercial quantity of ice and MDMA, recklessly causing serious injury, reckless conduct endangering serious injury, affray and arson.
Plea hearings before Judge Michael Bourke by Dalton and others continue today.
Four of Dalton’s associates, including his brother and ex-girlfriend, also pleaded guilty yesterday, with four others sentenced last year.
Judge Bourke said the syndicate had used fear to intimidate those outside and within its net for almost a year.
A young butcher was shot in his home.
Petrol bombs were thrown into two houses where children were sleeping.
A car was set alight, another run off a road and into a tree.
Many assaults were made as the gang sought control and to recover drug debts.
“This drug seems to bring about quite extreme acts of intimidation,
Dalton recruited young men and women from “normal” Wangaratta families who usually had no criminal record and were attracted to the promise of drugs, money and lifestyle.
Less likely to attract police attention, they were used to book luxury accommodation on Lake Hume and hotel rooms in Albury to weigh and package ice, allegedly worth millions of dollars, that was collected from Canberra and Sydney.
They were told to hire cars to take drugs to dealers in places such as Wodonga, Yarrawonga, Myrtleford, Corowa, Rutherglen, Wangaratta and Shepparton.
Others, like Muay Thai fighter Dean Griggs, 24, of Melton, were recruited as “muscle”. Griggs was jailed a minimum of two years in October.
Drugs and cash were secreted away, buried in bush or backyards, including Dalton’s grandmother’s home.
Dalton controlled his empire closely through strict rules, threats and violence on both his members and those on the periphery, including his recruits’ families.
“These people were quite prepared to go to extreme lengths to manage, develop and protect their enterprise,” Judge Bourke said.
Dalton’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca Howarth, 24, of Erina in NSW, moved to Albury to escape an abusive relationship and started dating Dalton, a man who was “as nice as anyone had ever been” to her.
The court heard Howarth did not use ice.
There was also Wangaratta man Jai Trevor Montgomery, 26, nicknamed “Peg” because of his missing limb, who wanted to be liked and reached out to find friendship.
At 18, he found a mate in Dalton, and the pair went from getting tattoos together to using drugs.
In court yesterday, his mother Leonie Montgomery described how ice had transformed her son.
“He was drug-affected, he was dirty, had picked holes in his face,” she said.
“You couldn’t speak to him because he was so erratic.”
Montgomery pleaded guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of ice and MDMA, possessing a drug of dependence and arson.
Howarth pleaded guilty to trafficking ice and MDMA.
Justin Huck Verry, 20, pleaded guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of ice and trafficking MDMA.
Joshua Dalton, 27, pleaded guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of ice, using a drug of dependence and dealing with the proceeds of crime.