Tauranga gang member jailed for 12 years
A Head Hunters gang member sentenced to 12 years and one month prison is said to have “chosen gang life”.
But Justice Anne Hinton said that view was “simplistic” when considering his history of abuse.
Tauranga man Stacy Walton Dennis Paora, 35, was sentenced in the High Court at Rotorua on Thursday on 11 counts of supplying methamphetamine, four counts of possessing the Class-A drug for supply, one charge of conspiring to deal in ephedrine, and one charge of unlawful possession of a pistol.
The firearm was found hidden inside a false-bottomed LPG canister inside the wardrobe of a children's room in October 2019. It was loaded with live ammunition.
Paora was arrested after a police sting uncovered his sophisticated methamphetamine supply operation in the Bay of Plenty.
Undercover officers, posing as members of an Asian crime syndicate, were paid $100,000 by Paora to supply 1kg of ephedrine, a class-B drug used to make methamphetamine.
The substance was recovered later, in a bucket buried in Papamoa sand dunes.
Paora ran the drug operation like a “chief executive” and he had a significant leadership role in Head Hunters business, the court heard. He used front companies to transport drugs, was involved in identifying prospects, enforcing discipline through physical violence and matching gang members to tasks.
During sentencing, Justice Hinton said Paora lived a lavish lifestyle and boasted about his skills.
According to intercepted phone conversations, he bragged about making $10,000 a day, and he would host extravagant parties at penthouse apartments.
The public gallery was filled, as much as it could be during alert level 2, with whanau in support of Paora. Dozens more were outside court.
Two made appeals to Hinton including Taranaki Iwi chief executive Wharehoka Wano.
He addressed the court to say Paora was a “good boy” despite his dealing of methamphetamine, which he abhors.
"I am disappointed with the charges. I work in our tribal community and I've seen the havoc that methamphetamine wreaks among our people," he said.
“I need you to go through the journey and come back to us. He’s made a huge mistake, but we don’t abandon the family when they make mistakes.
“We support them when they’ve done good and support them when they've done bad.”
Paora’s uncle urged him to “learn something” during his prison time. “Don’t just exercise the muscles,” he said. “Don’t waste that time.”
Crown prosecutor Anna Pollett acknowledged the whanau support and added it can be a rarity in criminal cases.
However, she argued Paora had “chosen the gang life over whanau life for many years” as evidenced by his offending and his standing as a senior member of the Head Hunters gang.
Court referenced a cultural report into Paora’s past which identified abuse from a relative as a key trigger for his move into a life of gangs.
Pollett argued the report should not reduce Paora’s sentence as he had advantages other offenders did not in the form of the supportive family but chose to give his loyalty to the Head Hunters.
“He was a lead player in a significant commercial operation,” she said. “He’s the top of the chain. He made significant financial gain using businesses as cover to do that.”
She argued for a starting point of 19-20 years imprisonment.
Hinton said the idea of choices was “simplistic” given the personal trauma suffered by Paora.
“I think that’s how people like you and I see it,” she said. “He goes to Whakatane. He does not have the support of iwi, father and mother. He drifts into what others are doing. Substance abuse and starts going off the rails.”
Hinton said Paora was a leader but “should have been leading is iwi and not leading the gang”.
Paora’s defence lawyer Ron Mansfield argued the underlying issues within the cultural report warranted a reduction in sentencing.
“[Paora] suffered personal trauma that drifted him away from his family," he said.
“He started using alcohol and was introduced into the gang lifestyle. This court sees this time and time again. The Head Hunters have been an extension of his family because of things that occurred he found support, solace in that lifestyle.”
Mansfield called for a start point of no more than 16 years and called for significant reductions to the end sentence length.
During sentencing, Hinton allowed a 15 per cent discount for the cultural report.
“The report writer says [alcohol and drug use] was self-medication for internal anger. This also brought a tendency for fighting. The Club [Head Hunters] offered a substitute whanau and you demonstrated acumen in organising the gang activities. There was sense of honour of being a good 'warrior'.
Justice Hinton set a start point for offending of 17 years and nine months and applied discounts for the cultural report, time spent on bail and an early guilty plea which resulted in a final jail term of 12 years one month.
A minimum non-parole period of six years was also imposed.
She added Paora should be leading his whanau, not the gangs.
"Leaving the Head Hunters would be the major step you need to take to complete your mana wairua," she said.