A police liaison officer who helped mastermind the sale of a significant amount of kava into a remote community – using his position to provide tip-offs to avoid search warrants and roadblocks – has been jailed for four months.
Ronnie Garrawurra, 60, worked as an Aboriginal liaison officer for NT Police in the community of Ramingining, about 800km east of Darwin, and helped supply 170kg of kava worth more than $56,000 to the community over six months.
The NT Supreme Court heard Garrawurra started a business relationship with an associate, Loviana Tamoua, to supply kava to the community in 2018.
He used his position with NT Police to alert Tamoua – who was travelling to Ramingining from Sydney via Darwin with the batches of the prohibited drug in a hire car – to roadblocks and search warrants targeting her so she could avoid detection.
The offending occurred between July 3 and December 26, 2018, and involved Tamoua delivering the kava to Garrawurra to sell in the community, which was divided in sandwich-sized clip-seal bags and sold for between $150 to $200 per serve.
The court heard Garrawurra was required to deposit a set amount into Tamoua’s bank account to reimburse the cost of the kava and was allowed to keep the remaining profits for himself.
However after at least 10 separate drug runs, the plot came undone when Tamoua was apprehended by police at Darwin Airport on January 4, 2019.
Police found 29kg of kava on Tamoua and also seized her mobile phone, which alerted them to Garrawurra’s involvement in the syndicate.
Despite the fact he had previously been convicted for two drug supply crimes involving kava, the court heard Garrawurra was an upstanding member of several remote communities in the region.
He is a Ramingining senior elder, a vice chairperson of the local Red-Tail Black Cockatoo Football Club, the chief organiser of the Ramingining Festival and also previously worked as a night patrol officer.
Justice Graham Hiley said despite Garrawurra’s impressive standing in the community his conduct deserved to be punished.
“This offending was serious, because you committed it when you were an Aboriginal liaison officer, it occurred over that period of nearly six months and involved a substantial quantity of kava,” Justice Hiley said.
The court heard Garrawurra elected to commit the importation because of an impending debt due to a tax bill and his inability to maintain repayments on his car.
“I’m very sorry for what I did and shouldn’t have done (it). I’m sorry for law and justice,” Garrawurra said in a letter addressed to the court.
“I let my community down, not only at Ramingining but also at Milingimbi. I’ve let my family and friends down, my wife, my kids, my grandchildren, who have supported me in my job as Aboriginal liaison officer.”
Justice Hiley sentenced Garrawurra to three years and three months in jail, to be suspended after four months.