The Supreme Court has sentenced seven men to jail for terms of between three and four and-a-years after a raid on a marijuana plantation.
Convicted in court were Tonga Wolfgramm, described as the group’s ringleader, Afei Tatafu, who admitted to being in charge of selling the drugs, Sulitomu’a Muna, who kept an armed guard on the plantation, Cullen Pongi, Heuati Toke, Misinale Lavemai and ‘Amini Topui.
The cannabis was hidden inside a kava planation being cultivated by the defendants as a church group of growers.
The court was told sales of the cannabis generated TP$600 a day.
In September 2018, police received information that cannabis was being grown at a tax allotment at Holonga, Vava’u. When they arrived at the allotment they found Sulitomu’a Muna, who fled carrying a .22 rifle. He ran across the adjoining allotments and dropped the rifle in a bush area next to the residence of Luti Wolfgramm and went inside.
Police then brought Tonga Wolfgramm to the tax allotment at Holonga where they read him a search warrant and then conducted a search. Police found a total of 2,665 cannabis plants weighing 99.65 kilograms.
Police then executed a search warrant at Luti Wolfgramm’s residence where Tonga Wolfgramm lived and which the other defendants often visited. There they found 13 ziplock plastic bags containing cannabis leaves and 15 small plastic bags containing cannabis seeds. The combined weight of the leaves and seeds was 22.57 grams. Police also found 26 rounds of .22 calibre ammunition.
When interviewed by police, all the Defendants admitted to the offending and eventually pleaded guilty in court.
The court was told that Wolfgramm controlled the financial side of the operation.
Lord Chief Justice Whitten, presiding, said it was unfortunate there had been no attempt to work out the street value of the cannabis seized by police.
“However, the submissions of other defendants provide some indication of the financial size of the operation,” the judge said.
The defendants were paid $500 each for their work on a crop harvested just before the raid and it seemed likely that Wolfgramm kept most of the money.
The offending fell within the category of large scale growing for commercial purposes.
“A further consideration in assessing the seriousness of the offending is the effect this quantity of cannabis is likely to have had on the community had it been harvested, processed and sold to others,” the judge said.
“It is well known that Tonga is currently in the grips of an alarming war on illicit drugs. Although some in the community may see cannabis as far less insidious drug than methamphetamines, all illicit drugs are potentially harmful to those who use them and the broader community which is inevitably affected by those who succumb to drug addiction.
Lord Chief Justice Whitten handed down the following sentences:
Tonga Wolfgramm was convicted of growing cannabis and was sentenced to four years and six months in prison. He was also found guilty of possessing cannabis, for which he was sentenced to nine months and six months possession of ammunition without a license. These sentences are to be served concurrently. The final 18 months of the lead sentence were suspended for two years.
Sulitomu’a Muna was convicted of the cultivation of cannabis and sentenced to three years and one year for possessing a firearm without a licence. The final two years of the main sentence will be suspended for two years.
Cullen Pongi was sentenced to three years for growing cannabis. The final two years of the main sentence will be suspended for two years.
Heuati Toke was sentenced to three years for growing cannabis. The final two years of the main sentence will be suspended for two years.
Misinale Lavemai was sentenced to three years for growing cannabis. The final 18 months of the main sentence will be suspended for two years.
‘Amini Topui was sentenced to three years for growing cannabis. The final 18 months of the main sentence will be suspended for two years.
Afei Tau’akitangata Tatafu was sentenced to three years and six months for growing cannabis. The final 15 months of the main sentence will be suspended for two years.
Each of the suspensions of sentence depends, among other things, on the defendants not committing any offences punishable by imprisonment, being placed on probation, not consuming alcohol or drugs and completing a course on alcohol and drug awareness.