Cannabis grower jailed after cops find 1676 plants on Ambrose farm
UNTIL this week, Adrian Cornelis Flikweert had no criminal history whatsoever.
The 66-year-old will now spend 15 months behind bars after police discovered a massive cannabis production operation on his Ambrose farm.
Flikweert was sentenced in the Gladstone District Court on Monday after pleading guilty to trafficking in dangerous drugs, producing a dangerous drug in excess of 500g, and possessing dangerous drugs in excess of 500g.
His operation was discovered in December 2016 when Gladstone and Mount Larcom police executed a search warrant at he and his brother Lionel's adjoining properties.
After searching his brother's house and finding nothing, police soon spotted the two men and Flikweert's wife Babylyn emerging from nearby bushland.
Officers on trail bikes then spotted a black irrigation pipe and followed it deep into the bush.
It led them to one of the largest drug production operations in the region's history.
Flikweert was growing two cannabis crops, one six rows wide and about 40m in length, and the other seven rows wide and 40 to 50 metres in length.
There were 1676 plants in total, irrigated by a 20,000L water tank.
Next to the two plots was a drying area covered in camouflage netting, which contained five large bags of cannabis, drying cannabis leaves, soil-testing kits, gardening tools and a generator.
With the addition of more cannabis found inside Flikweert's home, police ended up confiscating a total of 17.83kg of the drug, along with $5060 in cash.
When questioned, Flikweert made full admissions to police about the business model and scale of the operation, and admitted to having sold two previous seasonal crops over the previous two-and-a-half years, for a gross profit of around $75,000 each.
Though he did not give up the names of his customers, he admitted to employing his brother Lionel, who was convicted in August, to help him out by trimming buds for an hourly rate.
Flikweert's wife Babylyn was also aware of the operation, though the court was told she was new to the country and he had told her cannabis was legal to grow in Australia.
Both she and Lionel were present in the gallery on Monday, with Babylyn wiping away tears as her husband sat in the dock.
Appearing for the defence, barrister Tom Polley told the court Flikweert had started growing cannabis after going through a tumultuous period in his life just a few years prior.
This included the breakdown of a previous marriage, the collapse of his transportation business and a stroke, which saw him spend a week in hospital.
Unable to find work so he could make ends meet, and having already sold one property to keep the other alive, Flikweert turned to a friend he knew had grown cannabis in the past.
The friend taught him how to grow the plant and put him in contact with a seed supplier so he could start his own operation.
Mr Polley tendered six character references for his client, painting a picture of a hard-working man who had fallen on tough times.
He asked Judge Michael Shanahan to impose a sentence of five years or less, with a "heavy discount" at the bottom of the sentence.
Crown prosecutor Tiffany Lawrence submitted a sentence of between five and six years would be more appropriate, pointing to the scale of the operation and the lengths to which Flikweert had gone to conceal it from police.
She also said he had appeared to "take pride" in the plants when police initially found them, asking officers how they compared to other plants they might have seen.
But she acknowledged the defendant's age, lack of criminal history and full admissions to police worked in his favour.
Judge Shanahan agreed, pointing out if Flikweert had not been so frank with police about his previous crops it was unlikely he would have been charged with trafficking at all.
Judge Shanahan said it was clear Flikweert had been in financial need and was a hard worker, but he had also made a significant amount of money out of the operation and there needed to be consequences.
Citing a need for general deterrence in the community, he sentenced Flikweert to five years in prison for the trafficking charge, three years for production and two years for drug possession.
He set all three sentences to be served concurrently and suspended after 15 months.
As the court was dismissed, Flikweert stood up in the dock and moved to say goodbye to his family.
He was reminded by a court officer he was now in custody and would soon be transferred to Capricornia Correctional Centre.