By Kirra Grimes
SOUTH Gippsland Shire Councillor Jeremy Rich has faced court on multiple drugs charges, including trafficking, following a police raid on his family’s Walkerville property last week.
Cr Rich was one of three men arrested at the Walkerville Road property, Marapana Farm, last Monday morning, April 15, after a police search allegedly located 21.5 kilograms of dried cannabis, an outdoor crop of eight cannabis plants weighing an estimated total upwards of 20 kilograms, white powder, blue pills, syringes containing dark viscous liquid, a .22 rifle and over 100 rounds of .22 ammunition, a double-edged knife and an unregistered shotgun.
After giving police a ‘no comment’ interview, Rich spent the night in custody at Wonthaggi before his appearance at the Latrobe Valley Magistrates Court last Tuesday, April 16.
He was released on bail later that afternoon, under the conditions that he resides at a static address in Armadale, reports to Malvern police station three times a week, does not contact his co-accused, surrenders his passport, does not attend any international departure points, does not attend Marapana Farm (located at 2075 Walkerville Road) unless in the company of police, and does not contact any witnesses except police informant Detective Acting Sergeant Michael O’Neil of Bass Coast Criminal Investigation Unit (CIU).
On exiting the Morwell court complex with his lawyer Cecily Hollingworth late last Tuesday afternoon, Rich told media he had “no comment at this stage” but that there would be “some interesting things to come in future”.
He will return to court on July 11, facing charges including trafficking a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence, which carries a maximum sentence of 25 years imprisonment. He also faces drug cultivation, possession, and firearms charges.
Of the other two men arrested in connection to the alleged drug offences, one, 50-year-old Simon Cox of Brunswick, was released on summons last Monday, April 15, to face a minor possession charge at the Korumburra Magistrates Court on Thursday, June 20.
Mr Cox told police he had nothing to do with growing or packaging commercial quantities of cannabis but admitted to the “couple of grams” of dried cannabis allegedly found in his possession at the time of his arrest. Police said they were satisfied Cox was “just a friend” of Rich’s and not involved in any cultivation or trafficking activities.
The other man arrested last Monday, a 34-year-old Bentleigh East man, surname Vukovic (first name unknown), has not made an application for bail and remains in police custody. He will return to court on July 11, facing charges including possessing and trafficking a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence.
Throughout the hearing, prosecutors repeatedly stated the case against Rich was “in its infancy” and still subject to an active investigation.
Bass Coast CIU Detective Acting Sergeant Michael O’Neil said he “expected the case to get stronger” as police carried out testing including fingerprint analysis, and examined Rich’s phone records.
“There’s a lot of testing that needs to be done. There’s a lot of enquiries that need to be made… there are a number of avenues to be investigated,” he said.
Ms Hollingworth suggested police had more work to do in establishing that a commercial quantity of cannabis (over 25 kilograms) had been found on the property, with her questioning of Det Act Sgt O’Neil revealing police were yet to employ the expertise of a botanist, and that they had used guesswork in arriving at the 41.5 kilogram total of cannabis (dried and growing) allegedly found on the property.
Det Act Sgt O’Neil admitted that only the dried cannabis had been weighed on scales.
The eight cannabis plants allegedly found growing on the property had not been weighed on scales, Det Act Sgt O’Neil said, but “felt like” they weighed around 3-4kgs each when he’d lifted them up.
A botanist would be contacted within the week, he said.
Although discussions during Jeremy Rich’s bail application hearing in Morwell last Tuesday, April 16, centred on an alleged cannabis cultivation and trafficking operation, court documents obtained by the Sentinel-Times reveal the South Gippsland Shire Councillor is also alleged to have been trafficking ecstasy.
Rich’s charge sheets reveal he was allegedly in possession of ecstasy, hash oil and cocaine at the time of his arrest at Walkerville on Monday, April 15.
The full list of charges against the 45-year-old are as follows:
• Cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis.
• Cultivating a non-commercial quantity of cannabis.
• Trafficking a commercial quantity of cannabis.
• Possessing cannabis.
• Possessing hash oil.
• Possessing cocaine.
• Possessing ecstasy.
• Trafficking ecstasy.
• Possessing a .22 rifle without a licence.
• Possessing a shotgun without a licence.