A man responsible for the biggest haul of liquid ecstasy ever found in the country told his supplier it would be used to clean car rims.
Justin Rankin, 36, was today sentenced in the Wellington District Court to seven years and five months imprisonment for his “leading role” in purchasing and distributing the drug GBL, or liquid ecstasy.
Rankin was charged over the possession of 400 litres of GBL, and the supply of a further 1800 litres.
“The seizure of 400 litres of GBL in November 2020 remains the largest recorded domestic seizure of GBL in New Zealand,” police said after the sentencing.
He used the product to feed his own “rampant” addictions, using, trading, and supplying it to others.
Rankin imported more than 2000 litres of the cleaning product through an Auckland company, and stored it around various locations in the Wellington District, decanting the substance into smaller vessels.
He later told the supplier company the substance, marketed as a Slide Resin Remover and used mainly as a commercial cleaner, was of interest to the “underground”.
The operation was uncovered by police in two operations, Skipjack and Paris, where they found more than 7000 litres of the substance with an estimated billion dollars of social harm overall across several offenders. These other cases are still before the courts.
Rankin’s offending spanned from May 2017 to November 2020 when a search warrant uncovered supplies of the drug as well as meth, cash and other items needed in the production of methamphetamine.
The street value in Rankin’s possession was valued around $1.7 million, but what he did sell was discounted and a large portion of what was distributed was to trade for other drugs like meth.
He was a daily user of the drug, but what he did consume was a very small portion of what was found by police.
The product was usually sold as aerosol and in this form did not contain GBL.
However, in bulk, as was ordered by Rankin eight times over three years, it would contain 50 to 80 per cent of the drug, with the remainder “essentially paint stripper”.
Described as a man with a “rampant addiction” to both GBL and methamphetamine, Rankin would use his supply to sell at a discount, swap for other drugs, give away and even use it for cleaning.
He was trading the drug, according to his lawyer, “to feed his addiction and habit”.
The amount used by Rankin, who had a serious addiction to the substance, was a metaphorical and literal drop in the bucket compared to the amount he had ordered into the country, Judge Andrew Becroft said today.
Rankin faced a number of charges to do with GBL, as well as possessing meth for supply and tools to manufacture the class A drug.
The Crown said the product itself is illegal to import, and it was only able to be brought into the country because it was labelled as slide resin remover and did not have a contents label.
The effects of the drug have been described as euphoric, relaxing and a loss of inhibitions, however with “paint stripper” ingredients added, it could have extremely harmful side effects as well.
The court heard that Rankin’s operation involved considerable planning and premeditation. He was deceitful in obtaining the substance, using a link with a construction company to obtain it.
Defence lawyer Elizabeth Hall argued her client’s offending was not a financial enterprise, and Rankin was simply using the drug to feed his own addictions. Much less of the drug was supplied than thought.
Hall said Rankin had continued to work long hours as a builder, and there was no evidence of significant financial gain.
Rankin had not received any support in getting clean from these addictions while awaiting his sentencing, and Hall argued that her client would continue to be deprived of rehabilitation while in prison for at least two years.
Hall expressed her concern regarding her client’s eligibility for parole, where active work towards combating addiction could be a deciding factor for the board.
She said she wanted her client to be provided with some sense of hope while in prison, a place Hall described as a cage. Rankin was said to be addicted to drugs since he was 18.
“[It is] deeply concerning that we send people to prison and we can’t get them any help,” Judge Becroft said in court today.
Hall made comment about late disclosure from police that slowed down her client’s progress through the courts.
Crown prosecutor Kate Feltham said the delay in disclosure was due to the personal safety of the person in the police video interview.
While handing down his sentence, Judge Becroft acknowledged that Rankin was committed to rehabilitation, and it was clear he was a bright, intelligent and capable man.
“Your offending itself proves that,” he said.
Judge Becroft’s final plea was that Rankin be accorded urgent health treatment for his addictions.
“To enable you to be and finally master your significant drug dependency and addiction.”
* This story was first published on the New Zealand Herald website.