A high number of Vietnam nationals have been prosecuted over a series of grow house discoveries in the Ballarat region over the past six months.
This year alone four Vietnam nationals have been prosecuted over a number of separate grow houses in the Wendouree, Miners Rest and Rokewood areas.
This follows another four prosecutions over the previous two years in Alfredton and Daylesford.
Over the five grow house discoveries a whopping 1332 plants were seized by police.
The largest bust was a $2 million discovery last year at Wheatsheaf, just outside Daylesford.
Two Vietnamese nationals paid to prune and water about 600 cannabis plants in the grow house were each sentenced to four years and 10 months' jail with a non-parole period of two years and six months.
The men, who were described as "expendable pawns" in a larger criminal enterprise, responded to an advertisement in a Vietnamese newspaper after fruit picking work across Victoria dried up in 2013.
The men were told they would receive $7000 after each crop matured.
A County Court sitting in Ballarat heard the pair gave similar explanations during their interviews, saying they needed to make money to send back to their families in Vietnam.
The first accused, who had hepatitis C, was looking to make some fast cash to pay for medical costs and was fully aware of the risks involved, while the second accused was drawn in by the allure of "big money”.
The circumstances were similar for two Vietnamese ‘crop sitters’ who were jailed in August for 18 months with a non-parole period of 12 months after pleading guilty to one count of cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis at the Victorian County Court.
The men, who were found inside a grow house with 285 cannabis plants at 13 Edward Crescent in Wendouree, were both recruited while working at fruit picking farms in Victoria.
While one accused was on a student visa and made a “poor decision” to earn more money, the other felt pressured to get involved in growing the plants after he was unable to repay a loan for his son’s surgery in Vietnam.
Meanwhile, an illegal immigrant who grew commercial quantities of cannabis inside an Alfredton home with the help of a prostitute he was paying to service him, also agreed to work as a “sitter” after loosing thousands of dollars gambling.
The 28-year-old man was jailed for nine months and his accomplice sentenced to six months’ jail wholly suspended for 12 months after police found almost 200 plants at a Leicester Court grow house.
A 24-year-old Vietnamese student, whose visa had lapsed, also made the decision to get involved in crop sitting a grow house in Miners Rest and was sentenced to two years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 12 months.
All of the accused had no criminal history.
In most of the grow houses searched an electrical bypass system had been set up, directing power to the house without it being paid for.
Denounced by the courts, a number of judges have attempted to send strong messages to people considering trying to make “easy money” from crop sitting.
During sentencing in the Wheatsheaf case, Judge Duncan Allen said "a message must be sent out to the community that when people are feeling vulnerable, when they're desperate for money to send back to their impoverished family in Vietnam, they must not give into the temptation of working on cannabis crops”.
In 2014 Judge Frank Gucciardo said "even those at the lower end... must expect punishment for their conduct which the courts must denounce and deter others from engaging in".
The Courier is not suggesting Vietnam nationals are involved in all grow house discoveries in Ballarat.
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