A man who headed a significant Border methamphetamine syndicate initiated to pay-off his girlfriend's drug debts has been handed an 8 1/2-year jail sentence.
Mahmoud El-Zayat must serve at least five years before becoming eligible for parole, having abandoned his plan to fight the allegations at trial.
The 47-year-old is the last of the group of five arrested by Border police on August 1, 2018, to be sentenced.
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District Court judge Sean Grant said that while expert evidence had pointed to El-Zayat's childhood experience of sexual abuse from a neighbour as intrinsically linked to a life of mental health issues, the latter was no excuse for his offending.
"It was a financially lucrative business spreading misery throughout the Albury-Wodonga community," Judge Grant said as he sentenced El-Zayat in Albury.
"If you deal in the supply of prohibited drugs you will go to jail for a very long time."
El-Zayat was facing a maximum of life behind bars over the most serious charge of knowingly taking part in the supply of a prohibited drug at not less than a large, commercial quantity, of 505 grams of methamphetamine.
The drug syndicate members - El-Zayat, his then-partner Claudette Tannous, Kylie Maree Pearce, Thomas Alfred Purtell and Alfred Maxwell Clark - initially were facing 140 charges between them on their arrest, though many of these counts were later dropped.
At the time, police said they had seized prohibited drugs - predominantly methamphetamine, but also cocaine - valued in the region of $300,000.
El-Zayat also pleaded guilty to and was sentenced on charges including that he supplied 83.39 grams of a prohibited drug being methamphetamine, that he supplied 111.6 grams of a prohibited drug, again methamphetamine, that he supplied a prohibited drug on an ongoing basis, that he knowingly took part in supplying a prohibited drug and that he took part in a criminal group.
El-Zayat had experienced a deprived childhood. He was born in the Lebanese capital of Tripoli, but at the age of three his family fled the then war-torn country for Australia.
As a boy, El-Zayat's father made him work long hours at night in a Brunswick restaurant washing dishes, significantly curtailing his schooling.
He was relentlessly bullied by other children for being illiterate and for, amongst other things, "looking different". He also witnessed his father regularly bashing his mother.
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El-Zayat, too, was the subject of domestic violence from his father and for three years, from the age of 11, was sexually abused by a neighbour known only as "Uncle Bob".
By 13, he was using cannabis and within three years had moved on to methamphetamine, heroin and ecstasy.
Because of his illiteracy, the only job he could get was in a nearby pizza parlour, remaining there for 20 years until buying a franchise in 1998.
This was short-lived. The pizza parlour was destroyed in a fire that claimed a life and El-Zayat was charged with arson causing death, though was later found not guilty.
He lost $200,000 as a result of the failed franchise.
Judge Grant noted how El-Zayat had struggled greatly with the death of his father in 2016.
It was around this time that he met Tannous, who was a heavy user of ice and cannabis. They later had a child together, adding to the six he had with his second wife.
"She eventually became his drug mule," Judge Grant said of Tannous, in order to pay a $35,000 debt to her dealers.
One night the front door of their Melbourne home was kicked in; El-Zayat was bashed "and a gun was discharged".
He was told he was now responsible for the debt.
To make money drug dealing, plus in fear for their lives, they moved to Wodonga, but soon came under notice of police.
The pair were arrested, that July, at the Sanctuary Park Motel and police seized a home-made gun, methamphetamine with a street value of $120,000, cocaine, marijuana, $2000 cash and deal bags.
Worse was to come. El-Zayat's second wife's car was targeted as an implied threat to him and Tannous, then his son was told to relay a message - the lives of El-Zayat and his family were under threat.
And the debt was now $80,000. He had to pay-up within two weeks or sell drugs to settle the sum.
"I accept on balance that the offender traded in drugs because of the threats ... to him and family," Judge Grant said.
This, however, was only while the debt was still outstanding.
On three occasions El-Zayat sold methamphetamine in Albury to an undercover police officer, each time pocketing $17,200.
But he also agreed on another occasion to supply 168 grams of ice and 28 grams of cocaine to the officer.
Cocaine held a certain significance in El-Zayat's offending, having been found with 23 grams of the drug when he and Tannous were arrested in Dean Street back in August, 2018.
"There was no reason for the offender to take the cocaine to the undercover officer because the debt had been paid off," Judge Grant said.
The court head that El-Zayat's prospects for rehabilitation were excellent and that, as he demonstrated in counselling sessions, he had insight into his offending.
"I now understand the wider implications my offending has on the community. Meth is an evil drug."
El-Zayat will be eligible for parole on October 18, 2024.