THREE members of a syndicate who flooded the Hunter with ice and dealt in tens of thousand of dollars in cash are facing a maximum of life in jail after they pleaded guilty to supplying two kilograms of the insidious drug.
Maryland man Jason Cucumanovski, 28, who told police he had a drug addiction and a gambling problem, fell into a massive drug debt to the ringleader of the syndicate, Michael Vasilveski, 31, who along with his girlfriend, Tegan Lagazio, delivered large quantities of methamphetamine from Wollongong to the Hunter.
The trio all appeared in Newcastle Local Court via audio visual link from jail and pleaded guilty to supplying a large commercial quantity of a prohibited drug.
Vasilevski also pleaded guilty to possession of an unauthorised pistol after police who raided his rental property in Marsden Street, Shortland, in September found a loaded Remington semi-automatic pistol.
The three syndicate members will appear in Newcastle District Court next month to get a sentence date.
The case highlights the amount of money changing hands in the Hunter's criminal underworld, the hold the drug has on user-dealers and the significant debts some are finding themselves in.
Newcastle Drug Unit detectives established Strike Force Betel in July, 2019, to investigate the supply of ice in the Hunter.
The targets of the operation were Vasilevski and his partner, Lagazio, who were both living in Wollongong but would regularly travel to Newcastle to deliver large quantities of methamphetamine to Cucumanovski who would then on-supply the drug to a network of dealers and users in the Hunter.
It became clear to police that Cucumanovski owed substantial debts to Vaselevski as part of the drug supply operation and police were monitoring as Cucumanovski desperately tried to recoup money from his customers and borrow money from his father.
Between early August and his arrest on September 6, Cucumanovski frantically tried to get together tens of thousands of dollars, repeatedly telling his father that he needed money and his life was in danger.
As well as monitoring the text messages of the ever-overwrought Cucumanovski, the police were listening into conversations within the unit at Shortland and watching as bricks of ice arrived, were cut up and placed into smaller bags for distribution.
Eventually, about 4.30pm on September 6, while the trio were all at the unit in Shortland, police swooped.
Vasilevski told police about the loaded gun and officers later located two large plastic bags each containing about one kilogram of methamphetamine.