A heritage-listed Shellharbour property – once home to one of the region’s early magistrates - has been leased to a Sydney drug syndicate and used as a meth lab, police allege.
Officers attached to Strike Force Kingarth swooped on the Tullimbar Lane, Tullimbar property on August 29, 2017, soon after a pressure valve sounded and a cloud of vapour erupted from a detached garage.
Police allege the syndicate used the garage as a clan lab to manufacture large commercial quantities of methylamphetamine.
The set-up included a large stainless steel condenser, which was found fixed to a beer keg that had been converted into a reaction vessel.
Police allegedly seized 10 separate quantities of methylamphetamine from the property, totaling 1160.69 grams.
Six lots were found inside the house, including the largest amount (780 grams) which was allegedly inside a Pyrex dish in the hands of a cook, being removed from the kitchen’s microwave, when police arrived.
Investigators have since charged nine people, including the syndicate’s alleged head, who was also arrested that night as he emerged from the homestead wearing goggles and rubber gloves.
Another man, Stephen Gavanas, 48, has pleaded guilty to manufacturing an indictable quantity of the drug at the property, and will return to Wollongong District Court on February 1 for a sentence date to be set.
Gavanas has admitted to visiting the manufacture site at least three times with the syndicate’s alleged head.
He is heard, in secretly recorded conversations, discussing the disposal of “sludge”, the cooking process and the chemistry involved in getting methamphetamine in oil form to separate from the reaction mixture.
“Get that stuff that’s in the wok, the stuff that’s in the keg,” he said in one discussion, recorded August 4, 2017.
“I’ll PH it all at the same time, bring it back to a powder … if it comes back then we just put a little bit of distilled in, reset it, let it come to a skin leave it in the wok. What do you reckon?”
Police declared the garage a crime scene and spent two days processing its contents, which included separating funnels, vacuum pumps, retort stands, funnels and drums of solvents and chemicals.
A drum of methanol, bags of grated aluminium, measuring jugs, steamers and other equipment was also found in a hired Hertz truck linked to the Tullimbar operation.
The address includes the 145-year-old Georgian revival-style home, ‘Toongla’, set on 45 acres. In 1982 the house and gardens were classified by the National Trust. It was transferred to the State Heritage Register on April 2, 1999, prized for it intact Victorian features and association with William Moles, a founding member of Shellharbour Municipal Council and its second Mayor. Moles was the area’s Senior Magistrate and a pioneer of Shorthorn cattle breeding in the Illawarra.
A statement of significance described the property as “an exceptional late 19th century homestead set commandingly on a high hill and having prominent views in and out, especially the frontage from the main road. Exceptionally high degree of aesthetic beauty, distinguished by its elegant form and wide curtilage setting and context”.
The remaining eight alleged syndicate members return to Wollongong Local Court February 6.