An illegal immigrant lured into the illicit drugs trade in the hope of overcoming financial difficulties and obtaining a visa will likely be deported back to Vietnam.
Tuan Van Dang, 38, was arrested at a south Portland property in April last year during a police raid that netted 296 cannabis plants weighing more than 133 kilograms.
The property was fitted with a sophisticated hydroponic setup and an electrical bypass system that stole electricity worth close to $10,000.
Dang pleaded guilty in County Court of Victoria on Thursday to cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis, stealing power belonging to Powercor and dealing with proceeds of crime.
Portland and Hamilton police detectives raided the south Portland property on the night of April 25 last year, uncovering the sophisticated growing network and plants worth nearly $500,000.
The cannabis, which ranged from seedlings to mature plants was located throughout nine rooms and over two storeys of the house, which was unfurnished, included the electrical bypass system and was used solely as a grow house.
The sophisticated set up included 154 hydroponic lights and six timer units.
The court heard Portland police detectives forced entry to the property after requests to open up were ignored.
Dang was observed running towards a fence at the rear of the property in order to flee police but fell to the ground and was subsequently arrested.
He was found in possession of $610 cash suspected of being the proceeds of crime.
Dang was arrested and conveyed to Portland police station where, through an interpreter, he said he was dropped off at the property by a friend and didn't know about the large amount of cannabis in the house.
He said he only attended the house to get a vacuum cleaner.
But crown prosecutor Erin Rutherford said telephone intercepts revealed Dang attended to the crops at the house and was involved in the transportation of goods, purchasing supplies and negotiating prices of cannabis seeds.
She said the phone calls showed Dang was directly involved in the commercial cannabis enterprise and was in a position of trust and responsibility.
Judge Frank Gucciardo said it was difficult to ascertain one's particular role in illegal trade operations but said defence counsel often "want to squeeze a client into the crop sitter category".
"It's difficult to decipher from summaries and deposition material as to what the precise category is," he said.
"But it's really more about the particular role, about what he did and didn't do, or rather what he was prepared to do."
Lawyer Amie Hancock said it was accepted that Dang was the person on the ground cultivating the drugs.
She said while Dang was responsible for the purchasing of seedlings, he was not involved in the trafficking or selling of cannabis.
"He was the crop sitter," she said.
Ms Hancock said there were no allegations of Dang being involved in the setting up of the bypass system or grow house.
She said there were four co-accused who were charged with more serious offending, including offences relating to an alleged wider syndicate involving more than one crop house.
Ms Hancock said Dang was an illegal immigrant who was introduced through a friend to someone offering a "legitimate visa in Australia".
She said he travelled to Melbourne from Darwin and took up a position looking after the crop house.
"Now he is likely facing deportation," Ms Hancock said.
The court heard Dang had served 474 days in custody on remand, some of which was spent locked down for 23 hours or more a day due to coronavirus restrictions.
Dang will be sentenced on September 13.
In the past 12 months three Vietnamese nationals have been jailed for a combined total of nearly four years for their involvement in the cultivation of cannabis in converted grow houses in Portland and Hamilton, and the theft of megawatts of power to do it.
In December last year, a Vietnamese national found at an alleged crop house with more than 300 cannabis plants had all of the charges withdrawn because he thought he was harvesting fruit trees.
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