A Vietnamese national with a "substantial role" in a criminal enterprise involving the cultivation of a commercial quantity of cannabis has been jailed for four-and-a-half years.
Tuan Van Dang, 38, pleaded guilty in the County Court of Victoria last month to cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis, stealing power belonging to Powercor and dealing with proceeds of crime.
On Monday, he was jailed for four-and-a-half years with a non-parole period of two years and six months.
He has already served 506 days in custody on remand.
Dang is the fourth Vietnamese national jailed in the past 12 months over their involvement in the cultivation of cannabis in converted grow houses in Portland and Hamilton.
The offenders have been jailed for a combined total of almost eight years.
Dang 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.
Judge Frank Gucciardo said there was no evidence of Dang having a role in the setting up of the crop house or the electricity bypass.
But he said it was "reasonably clear" that the man had "a significant amount of autonomous agency over the crop and how it was to be dealt with".
"In that sense you were much more than a crop sitter or a mere guardian," the judge said.
"In my view your role was substantial."
Judge Frank Gucciardo said the charge of cultivating cannabis in a commercial quantity carried a maximum penalty of 25 years' imprisonment.
"Cannabis is a drug that wreaks havoc in the minds of users, the lives of individuals and families, particularly the young, and often leads to criminality and progressing to heavier drugs," he said.
"It invariably involves criminal enterprises or groups and those who involve themselves in it take a calculated risk in the face of its illegality because of its financial rewards."
Mr Gucciardo said general deterrence and community protection loomed large in Dang's sentence.
"The court must denounce the continuing scourge in our society and deal with those who participate and promote it for gain by just punishment," he said.
The judge said Dang fled Vietnam by boat but was intercepted and he was taken to an immigration detention centre in Darwin.
He remained there for several months but later absconded and commenced working on farms in Northern Territory.
He later went to Sydney before making his way to Victoria in January 2020 with an offer of a legitimate visa in Australia.
Judge Gucciardo said the man took up work in the hydroponic grow house in Portland but had not made any money from the criminal enterprise and was yet to obtain a legitimate visa.
He said Dang spoke very little English, potentially rendering his incarceration more burdensome, and faced deportation upon his release from custody.
"Deportation will deprive you of a life in this country and I take that into account," the judge said.
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