In early 2014, Zoran Ivanovic was a desperate man.
The former BHP steelworker owed the tax office more than $100,000 after falling foul of financial scammers and his Wollongong cafe was suffering from the downturn in business due to Crown Street Mall upgrades.
He needed money - fast.
But his decision to grow cannabis in the hopes of earning a quick buck failed to secure him any cash, and almost landed him behind bars this week.
Ivanovic was handed a nine-month suspended prison sentence in the District Court in Sutherland on Tuesday, after he pleaded guilty to cultivating a prohibited plant.
The court heard an anonymous tip-off prompted police to raid the 44-year-old's Cringila home on March 17 this year.
Ivanovic confessed. In a backyard shed was a sophisticated hydroponic set-up involving lighting, watering and airconditioning systems for six cannabis plants.
Police estimated the plants could generate about $30,000 worth of marijuana.
In court on Tuesday, Judge Paul Conlon was told Ivanovic had been the victim of a financial scammer in relation to early withdrawal of some of his superannuation funds, leaving him owing the government $107,000 in unpaid taxes, fines and interest.
Unable to come up with the money, Ivanovic said he turned to a friend who advised him on growing cannabis. The arrangement involved him growing the plants and his friend buying them upon maturity. He had been growing the plants for about 18 weeks.
Judge Conlon accepted that Ivanovic's actions had been those of a desperate man who was otherwise an upstanding citizen with no prior criminal convictions.
"His sole motivation in entering upon such an enterprise was in respect of his large tax debt," Judge Conlon said, noting Ivanovic had found himself saddled with the debt through no fault of his own.
In suspending the jail sentence, Judge Conlon noted Ivanovic's early guilty plea, significant remorse and lack of criminal history.