Third Queenstown scorpion ring member admits guilt

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A Queenstown teenager is seeking a discharge without conviction after yesterday (Tuesday) admitting his part of a scorpion smuggling ring.

Apprentice builder Mason Anthony Brookes admitted possessing Black Rock Scorpions on or about March 14.

Brookes also admitted making a false or misleading statement to an official on April 19.

The 18-year-old appeared before Judge John McDonald in Queenstown District Court yesterday.

A third charge of wilfully withholding relevant information regarding the origin, distribution and presence of the scorpions was withdrawn.

Iszac Walters, 23, of Sydney, James Alexander Grant, 24, of Arrowtown and Matthew Stuart Grant, 22, of Queenstown, have already admitted their parts in the offending and are awaiting sentence.

Prosecutor Grant Fletcher, appearing for the Ministry for Primary Industries, says Walters smuggled six scorpions through Christchurch International Airport on February 17 and supplied all of them to James Grant.

Mr Grant supplied two to his brother, Matthew Grant, and then gave him another two, which were sold to Brookes.

In April MPI received information alleging Brookes was in possession of a live scorpion, kept in his bedroom.

Brookes’ home was searched by MPI investigators and the scorpion was found in his wardrobe.

When questioned, Brookes stated it was the only scorpion. He said he’d found it in a takeaway box at Queenstown Primary School and had decided to keep it.

“Mr Brookes also stated that he had not shown the scorpion to anyone else and that he only had one scorpion,” Fletcher says.

MPI then carried out a UV search of Queenstown Primary School, however, no scorpions were found.

The Ministry obtained a production order for Brookes’ cell phone, discovering several text messages indicating others were aware of, or in possession of, scorpions.

Brookes’ sent messages included one asking why his “little mates ain’t eating” and texts received included one on March 31 suggesting he should “release your scorpions”.

Production orders were then obtained for Matthew Grant’s phone – on April 24 a text was received by him asking if he’d “heard the news”.

“Bio security have seized a scorpion in Queenstown!! Was it the one you sold?”

The Grant brothers were interviewed and were co-operative, stating Brookes bought the scorpions for $300. When his was seized the brothers destroyed the remaining scorpions by boiling them, crushing them and burning the remains.

Fletcher says Brookes was interviewed again on July 11 and was co-operative after having spoken to his lawyer.

Brookes confirmed he had initially purchased two scorpions, but one died before the MPI seizure. He admitted initially making a false statement and said he had lied because he didn’t like “narking” on others.

Defence counsel Sonia Vidal says she intended to seek a discharge without conviction for her client.

Judge McDonald remanded Brookes at large until December 16 for the application to be heard.

The Grant brothers will be sentenced on November 18 in Queenstown, while Walters will be sentenced on December 11 in Christchurch.

The maximum penalty for each of the charges is five years’ prison or a $100,000 fine.

Advice received by MPI indicated the scorpions could survive in the New Zealand climate and its sting could cause inflammation and pain for several hours.

It could survive for eight years or more in the wild.

– Otago Daily Times