Illegal cannabis crops seized in South Australia

Italian tourist handed prison sentence for role as a gardener in large-scale cannabis operation

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An Italian tourist trapped in Australia by COVID-19 border closures has been given a prison sentence for his role in a large-scale cannabis cultivation operation.

Rocco Andriano, an Italian national, was arrested in his home in Seaton last year. Police claimed that he had acted as the “gardener” for a large-scale cannabis operation near Coonalpyn, a town 143 kilometres southeast of Adelaide. 

In court, police explained that they watched Andriano tend to cannabis plants for five hours using police surveillance. He was seen caring for two separate cannabis crops on several occasions, one of which contained 1,340 cannabis plants

Police documents also revealed that Andriano was wearing camouflage clothing and “special footwear designed to hide footprints” as he gardened. His camouflage clothing was later found at his home, alongside sneakers with wool coverings over the soles and gardening tools. 

The 53-year-old told the District Court that he was forced to become a cannabis gardener after being trapped inside Australia during COVID-19 international border closures. Andriano originally arrived in Australia in late 2019 to visit his “unofficially adopted” sister. He decided to stay longer after becoming a godfather to her grandchild and accepted a role as a gardener to earn money. 

Judge Joanne Tracey accepted Andriano’s explanation but told Andriano he was still involved in a “sophisticated set up”.

While I accept that you acted as a gardener in relation to both crops, you have willingly involved yourself in what is very serious offending.

Andriano pleaded guilty to two counts of cultivating controlled plants for sale in a large commercial quantity. Judge Tracey sentenced him to a prison sentence of three years and ten days, with a non-parole period of fifteen months and ten days. He will likely leave prison in February 2022.

Andriano’s case is eerily similar to another case from March, where an Italian tourist told a South Australia court he only took part in cannabis cultivation after he was “trapped” by COVID-19 – despite his visa expiring in 2018.

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