Riki Carlson, 25, pleaded guilty to the charges – including 22 counts of offering to sell cannabis, two counts of selling cannabis, two counts of possession of cannabis for supply, one of conspiring to sell cannabis and offering to supply methamphetamine – on August 19 and appeared in court for sentencing last Thursday.
In court, Justice Colin Doherty said “It’s clear he was rather naive and vulnerable”, making Carlson susceptible to the subordination of higher-end drug leaders.
Despite this, Justice Doherty said “court sentencing principals” must be upheld, using last year’s appeal case of Giovanni Marsters and Samuel Tangaroa as a benchmark.
“It’s clear you were heavily involved in the retail trade of cannabis,” said Justice Doherty, noting it was unclear exactly who was providing the drugs to Carlson.
Based on the Marsters and Tangaroa appeal, a scale of offending has been devised with three categories of punishment – ranging from short prison sentences and jail terms of up to 10 years.
Addressing the court, Carlson said he understood the seriousness of the charges and apologised, saying he was embarrassed.
“I’ve changed a lot, and I’ve become responsible,” he said.
Justice Doherty said the number and nature of the charges made Carlson a category two offender, which can be punished with a prison term up to six years.
Crown prosecution had asked for five-and-a-half to six years in jail, but the judge decided to use the lower number as his starting point.
The final sentence of four years and five months was handed down after Justice Doherty gave Carlson 13 months of credit for entering guilty pleas on the charges, along with his “contribution to society”.
In addition to Carlson, Mark Franklin, 55, and Mere King, 56, were also handed down sentences by Justice Colin Doherty last week.
All three individuals were apprehended during the Operation Eagle investigation, which was initiated by the Cook Islands Police Service from October 2010 to May 2011.
Franklin, a former police official with over three decades of experience in law enforcement, was sentenced to 12 months in prison after pleading guilty to three drug-related charges.
King was given a seven-month sentence for one charge each of supplying, and selling cannabis in an incident involving Franklin.
Operation Eagle focused on the importation and distribution of class A and class C drugs - specifically cannabis and methamphetamine - into the Cook Islands and was assisted with law enforcement officials from New Zealand.