Family in tears as 'hard working' men cop lengthy jail time

FAMILY members of two fathers who masterminded a sophisticated cannabis operation wept as their loved ones were sentenced to more than five years jail in the Lismore District Court yesterday.

Edward Garry Gumbleton, 45, and Steven Allan Chaloner, 53, were described as "two very able and otherwise hard working men" by District Court Judge Lynne Wells, "who in many aspects had made a valuable contribution to the community" prior to their offending.

However, their role in setting up a "streamlined (and) sophisticated system" involving the growing, packaging, and distribution of wholesale cannabis meant imprisonment was the "only possible" sentence.

Both men pleaded guilty last October to charges including the enhanced indoor cultivation of cannabis and commercial drug supply originating from a Mt Burrell farm house which police raided on June 23 last year.

Judge Wells described the drug operation as "almost like a factory".

In a secret location under the home a total of 46 plants were found in various stages of hydroponic cultivation involving lights, fans, using a timed watering system and nutrients and chemicals. 

Three 80 litre barrels of cannabis leaf were found in a bedroom and 19 "one pound" bags of cryovacked cannabis head were scattered throughout the residence.

A subsequent search of Chaloner's car and a Lennox Head residence located more than $10,000 in cash and a ledger diary used to record payments to a gang of "trimmers", and 63g of cannabis resin.

A search of Gumbleton's Larnook residence found a further 20-plus kilos of cannabis including cryovacked bags of cannabis head and two 80 litre barrels of leaf.

Almost 100kg of cannabis was seized across the three properties.

In setting up the operation the two men had also recruited five other local men, who were met at the Nimbin Hotel, and invited for a "barbecue and some drinks" at the Mt Burrell property, to which they then returned at a later date to commence work.

The men had been paid between $200 and $900 for their work trimming cannabis heads with scissors before police raided the property. 

Judge Wells said Chaloner, a spraypainter by trade who had raised two adult daughters and two step children aged nine and 11, had only a minor criminal record and excellent character references.

Gumbleton had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for a serious assault in 2009 but had no record of drug offences.

In his personal life, Judge Wells noted Gumbleton had become the sole carer of his two children at a young age, and had been in a stable relationship for some time, and had a "very good work history".

"Apart from their involvement in this activity they had otherwise led quite (positive) social lives," Judge Wells said.

But she said the social use of cannabis by the men with their peers helped "desensitise" them to the serious criminality of their actions.

She emphasised that both men were the "principles" of the enterprise, and said it was "particularly" serious that the pair had recruited other men in the community in order to "maximise" production.

Some of those men have since received jail sentences for their part in the enterprise.

Judge Wells summarised the pair's crimes as very serious criminal activity in "scope, duration, and complexity".

Both men were sentenced to an aggregate five years and three months in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and nine months.

The men showed no emotion as they were sentenced.

Taking into account time served they will be eligible for parole in September 19, 2020.

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