Sunday, March 10, 2013

Estate agents charged over multi-million-dollar drug crop

Two Australian estate agents involved in a multi-million-dollar drug ring used rental properties they were managing to grow thousands of marijuana plants as part of an elaborate drug syndicate, it has been alleged. Barry Plant Real Estate agents Chris Lio and Con Constantinou, both 52, were arrested and charged last week after police raided more than a dozen houses managed by the men in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

Police allege the syndicate splurged more than $660,000 to set up the houses as elaborate drug labs where more than 2000 plants were uncovered, with another 1000 expected to be seized. Some of the houses are believed to have been extensively damaged, with Barry Plant bosses now working with clients to inspect properties, assess damage and begin repairs. The two men, directors at Barry Plant Real Estate's Epping office, were charged with several drug-related offences following raids on the houses.

Police said six others, including five believed to be Vietnamese illegal immigrants, were also charged. Police will allege the foreign nationals were employed as sitters to cultivate the crops. The massive haul came as officers searched 16 properties in Thomastown, South Morang, Wollert, Epping and Mernda and expected to execute up to six more warrants. The houses, all Barry Plant rental properties, were rented out to the alleged drug-growers since last November. Officers were seen confiscating industrial-size exhaust fans and powerful hydroponic lamps at an alleged grow house in Wollert.

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Inspector Richard Read said while it was a significant haul, police expected to uncover more plants during future raids. "This is a syndicate of addresses we have been dealing with; we have executed warrant after warrant and they are linked," Insp Read said. We are talking in excess of 20 addresses all full of marijuana plants, it is a reasonably large amount but I believe that it would only scratch the surface, there are many more out there." Barry Plant Real Estate CEO Mike McCarthy said the group, which manages 26,000 properties across 82 offices, had been left shocked by the arrests. "Other property owners need to understand this is an isolated incident," Mr McCarthy said.

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