FIVE Vietnamese nationals, including a young married couple, have been refused bail accused of cultivating hundreds of cannabis plants as part of a $2.8 million drug operation smashed by raids across Maitland on Wednesday.
Anh Thy Vu, 22, of Revesby in south-west Sydney, and her husband, 26-year-old Vuong Luu Quoc, of Crofton Avenue, Tenambit, were the first to appear in handcuffs in Maitland Local Court on Thursday.
Ms Vu and Mr Quoc, who police said was living in Australia illegally, have been charged with cultivating a commercial quantity of a prohibited plant and are accused of growing 150 cannabis plants at a home in Tenambit.
Next to step into the court dock was 37-year-old Tuan Dac Trinh, who police also said had been identified as an illegal immigrant.
Mr Trinh has been charged with cultivating a large commercial quantity of a prohibited drug – a charge which carries the maximum of life in jail – after police allege they pulled 274 cannabis plants from his house in Radford Street, Heddon Greta during raids on Wednesday. Next was Kim Phuong, a 48-year-old man who gave police an address in north-western Victoria.
But police allege he was found growing 235 cannabis plants at a home in Morpeth and have also charged him with cultivating a large commercial quantity of a prohibited plant.
Finally, 25-year-old student Anh Quang Pham, who the court heard had the best grasp of English out of the group, appeared charged with growing 174 plants at a home in Tenambit.
The five Vietnamese nationals, who were all represented by solicitor Julia Clarke, did not apply for bail and their matters were adjourned to Newcastle Local Court on February 21, where they will likely be prosecuted by the DPP.
There was some delay in the five alleged offenders fronting court because of their lack of English and the unavailability of a Vietnamese interpreter, but Ms Clarke said Mr Pham seemed to have been able to explain the situation to the others.
As well as the raids at Tenambit, Heddon Greta and Morpeth, police also seized cannabis plants from properties at Aberglasslyn and Chisholm.
According to police, when investigators from Strike Force Devom entered the houses they discovered each had been refurbished with fake walls and extra rooms, “solely dedicated to the cultivation of hydroponically-grown cannabis”.
Police also said the exterior of the houses had been fashioned to “blend-in” in the suburban neighbourhood, but there were still tell-tale signs.