Luxury suburb’s dark drug history


It is one of Queenstown’s most exclusive neighbourhoods.

But in 2012, Kelvin Heights was home to a processing plant for one of the South Island’s largest cannabis operations.

Now, seven years after police launched an investigation into the multi-million dollar drug ring behind it, detectives can finally close their files.

All the major players have been sentenced.

They’re either serving time, or home detention.

Wanaka’s Maxwell John Mains, 58, and Invercargill accountant David Christopher James Payne, 45, were jailed earlier this month.

At sentencing, Justice Cameron Mander described what officers found when they raided council-owned scrub land off Peninsula Road on May 28, 2012 - adjacent to associate Michael Alexander Dickson’s home.

“An area on that land had been cleared for the purpose of drying and processing cannabis,” Mander said.

“There were a series of tunnel-type tracks in the scrub that led to another area that had been used to manicure and package cannabis into one pound bags.”

Mander said police found electronic scales and processing equipment on the land.

And they also found “very large quantities of cannabis”.

“The police located five large plastic bins that contained 16 one pound bags of cannabis, and 37 pounds of loose cannabis.

“In total, 53 pounds [24kg] of dried, premium grade cannabis head was located and recovered.

“The value of this cannabis can conservatively be estimated to be worth some $170,000 if sold by the pound, and if broken down into retail amounts, considerably more.”

Mains and Payne joined kingpin Brian Anthony McCarthy, 64, in the clink.

The Arthurs Point resident got four years and three months in jail back in late 2013 after admitting dealing, possession and cultivation.

He was stopped by detectives in a car in Dunedin with 4.5kg of cannabis in the boot the day before the Kelvin Heights raid.

And the $170,000 of drugs found at the scene was something of a drop in the ocean of the drug ring’s operation.

Operation Canary netted 40kg of processed cannabis and 361 plants in cannabis plots in Glenorchy and across Southland.

Police estimated the group had grown more than 1000 plants during the four years of Operation Canary, with a potential yield of 181kg with a street value of $4.5m.

And, they said, McCarthy could have been at it for the past 20 years.

Officers took photos of some of the men tending the plots wearing balaclavas.

Mains was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for dealing the drug and possessing it for sale.

Payne went down for three years and three months for cultivation and possession for sale.

Glenorchy carpenter Andrew John Grant, who tended one of the Glenorchy plots, was given 11 months’ home detention on one charge of cultivation.

Dickson, 54, a first-time offender, was sentenced to five months’ home detention by Mander in October on one charge of possession.