A Queenstown teenager whose lies sparked a painstaking search for scorpions in a primary school has been discharged without conviction.
Promising hockey player Mason Anthony Brookes, 18, had pleaded guilty to two charges after admitting his part in a scorpion smuggling ring.
Brookes confessed to possessing Black Rock scorpions – knowing they were prohibited – and making a false statement.
The scorpions had been smuggled into the country from Australia by another man.
After a tip-off, Government investigators searched Brookes’ home in March and found one scorpion hidden in a box in a wardrobe.
But when questioned, Brookes told Ministry for Primary Industries investigators he’d found the scorpion in a takeaway box at Queenstown Primary School.
That resulted in an immediate night-time search of the Robins Road school by MPI officers using ultra-violet lights.
The apprentice builder appeared before Judge Phillip Moran in Queenstown District Court yesterday (Monday) afternoon.
Brookes faced a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of $100,000 after pleading guilty to the two charges under the Bio Security Act 2003.
Defence lawyer Dale Lloyd applied for a discharge without conviction on the grounds the consequences would outweigh the gravity of his offending.
A talented ice hockey player, Brookes’ goal is to become a professional in Canada’s National Hockey League.
Brookes has represented New Zealand at youth level and trains with Queenstown’s Southern Stampede club.
Judge Phillip Moran agreed saying: “I agree that there is a real appreciable risk that a conviction could compromise your ability to pursue a career in pro-hockey.
“Sure it’s a dream at the moment but all sporting careers are built on ambition or on dreams.
“You are never going to get anywhere if you continue limited to these shores.”
Lawyer Lloyd painted Brookes as a naïve youngster unaware of the gravity of the offence or the origin of the Black Rock scorpions.
Brookes bought two scorpions for $300 from his Queenstown workmate Matthew Stuart Grant, 22, who’d been given six scorpions by Iszac Walters, 23, of Sydney. Walters smuggled the prohibited organisms in through Christchurch in February.
Lloyd says: “I would submit this was an older savvier workmate selling to a rather naïve kid.”
Judge Moran says Brookes’ act was both naïve and stupid and if he were to convict it would end the “ambition of an 18-year-old boy to pursue the dream of his life”.
Brookes would be unlikely to gain a work visa if convicted.
Judge Moran instructed Brookes to make a $2000 donation to Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand by Friday afternoon.
Judge Moran says he’d taken into account the one scorpion found in Brookes’ wardrobe was the only one of the six that survived and so could not procreate.
“The only risk was the little beast would have escaped and stung someone,” Judge Moran says.
Grant Fletcher, representing MPI, cross-examined Brookes, questioning his ability to become a professional and his naivety about the Bio Security Act.
Iszac Walters was fined $10,000 at Christchurch District Court last week
Queenstown brothers Matthew Stuart Grant and James Alexander Grant, 24 were sentenced in November to two months’ community detention, 150 hours’ community work and ordered to pay $1000 towards the cost of the prosecution.