ANH Nguyen admitted he rented a Doncaster cannabis grow-house in his own name.
For the next few months, he visited the house up to five times on his days off work, and paid rent to a real estate agent.
Some of his DNA was found on a toothbrush inside the home, the County Court of Victoria was told. One of the constantly barking dogs in the yard was registered in his name.
He admitted he knew the house was being used to grow cannabis.
Yet the Director of Public Prosecutions conceded it couldn’t prove Nguyen had been physically tending the 86-plant crop.
The 30-year-old Cairnlea man claimed he had been merely visiting his pregnant extra-marital partner who lived in the house.
She was an overseas student who minded the crop for a named third party to pay off her gambling debts, he alleged.
Nevertheless Nguyen belatedly pleaded guilty to cultivating a commercial quantity of narcotics – his third conviction for cannabis growing.
On 13 May, Judge Sue Pullen jailed Nguyen for at least two-and-a-half years.
The plants were discovered by a police officer about 3am on 19 February 2015, following up a neighbour’s complaint about the dogs’ barking at the apparently unoccupied premises.
The officer, who saw lights on and heard water running inside the house, decided to make a welfare check.
The 91-kilo crop was growing under cultivation equipment in several rooms. Seventeen plants were mature or nearing maturity with flowering heads.
The house was connected to an electricity bypass.
During a police search of Nguyen’s Cairnlea home, lease documents for the grow-house were found as well as similar cultivation equipment.
He claimed the equipment was stored in his Cairnlea home garage at the request of the named third party.
Defence barrister Robert Stary had told the court Nguyen had no involvement in tending the crop.
The girlfriend’s DNA was also found at the grow-house, and the third party – also allegedly involved – was known to police, Mr Stary had argued.
Judge Pullen noted neither of the alleged collaborators had been charged. They had given no-comment interviews and their roles in the crime could not yet be ascertained, she said.
Nguyen was born in Hanoi, partly completed a chemical engineering course in Russia and had worked as a fruit-picker, kitchen-hand and waiter in Australia. He was dismissed from work at the Qantas Club when his criminal history was discovered.
Nguyen’s wife – who lived in the Cairnlea house – had no knowledge of the plot nor the affair, but told police she had noticed her husband disappear for long periods of time.
She lives in Australia on a spousal visa after marrying Nguyen in March 2014.
Judge Pullen noted Nguyen pleaded guilty late in the piece, eight months after a committal contest in June 2015.
The judge said the belated plea indicated “some” remorse but was not entirely convinced it was genuine. It entitled Nguyen to a sentencing discount.
She said it was “very concerning” that Nguyen faced his third conviction for possessing and cultivating cannabis – though his first for a commercial quantity.
He’d spent nine months in custody for the past offending.
Two months before renting the grow house, the accused had also been convicted and fined for unlawful assault.
“Jail has not deterred you,” Judge Pullen said.
A community corrections order was not appropriate or adequate, she said.
In 2011, Nguyen had blamed his first conviction on his gambling problems. He completed a Gamblers Help counselling program the following year, and had periods of abstinence when he ran out of money or was making a large purchase.
Judge Pullen noted that by blaming the girlfriend’s gambling debts, Nguyen couldn’t rely on his own gambling issues as a factor in his most recent offending.
According to a recent psychologist report, there were no signs of mental illness or a pathological gambling problem.
“Sometimes it’s about getting bored,” Nguyen had stated.
Judge Pullen said Nguyen’s remand partly during a prison lockdown period didn’t justify a sentencing discount. Nguyen had extended his stay in remand by contesting the allegations.
Nguyen was jailed for four years, with a two-and-a-half year parole period. It included his 448 days in remand as time served.