On a wall adorning the Melbourne home of drug trafficker Kiwi Steen McBeth hung a hand-painted portrait of a Colombian drug kingpin in a cloud of white powder.
The painting, titled Narcos after the hit American crime drama, was commissioned to feature the actor who played Pablo Escobar – the notorious billionaire cartel leader dubbed “The King of Cocaine” – in the TV series.
The artwork, measuring almost two metres high, now sits in storage with the Australian Federal Police after detectives descended on former Taranaki man McBeth’s Mernda home during a major international drug investigation involving the FBI.
On Wednesday the 29-year-old was jailed for seven years, and he must serve at least four years before he is eligible for parole.
McBeth and his accomplice and primary school friend Jackson Li, 28, were part of a syndicate that used bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to import drugs over the dark web. Li has also been jailed.
The drugs were mailed to Australian customers, who also paid using bitcoin, through the post.
Court documents released to The Age show that McBeth and Li – both New Zealand nationals – were watched by the AFP for months after Australia Post staff raised the alarm.
When detectives eventually descended on McBeth’s Dalziel Drive home and a nearby “safe house” in October 2017, they uncovered a stash of drugs and paraphernalia.
Parked outside McBeth’s home was a 2011 Lamborghini Gallardo that was allegedly paid for in bitcoin. Inside was more than $50,000 in cash, a cash-counting machine and clip seal bags.
“Between February 6, 2017, and October 9, 2017, the two of you were members of a criminal syndicate which imported and trafficked border-controlled drugs over the dark web,” County Court judge Michael Cahill said as he sentenced McBeth and Li on Wednesday.
“By the sentence I impose I must denounce your conduct, punish you and deter others.”
At Li’s home in Kew, police uncovered more than $113,000 in cash.
While the two friends were part of the illicit drug syndicate, they were not the masterminds. The ringleader, a bitcoin trader, cannot be named for legal reasons.
“[The ringleader] directed the importation and owned a controlling share of 60 per cent. He used bitcoin to purchase a substantial amount of drugs … with cryptocurrency … which was then converted into Australian bank accounts,” Judge Cahill said.
“Police, who had you under surveillance, observed you both regularly attend the safe house.
“You, Mr McBeth, collected the parcels of drugs which were imported into Australia. You, Mr Li, also assisted with the drug trafficking operation.
“The pair would disguise the packages they sent out using children’s toys, cushions and pillows.
Federal police intercepted more than 123 international parcels containing drugs and another 14 were found at post offices between March and September 2017.
Inside those parcels were 1.8 kilograms of cocaine, 5.4 kilograms of MDA and 886 grams of ketamine, bound for more than 20 different post office boxes and parcel lockers around Melbourne, many of which had been set up using other people’s driver’s licences.
In total, police seized 30.93 kilograms of drugs throughout the operation.
On Wednesday, McBeth and Li stood side by side in the dock as the court heard of the pair’s battle with drug addiction and their challenging family circumstances.
Judge Cahill noted that McBeth met the syndicate’s wealthy ringleader through his work as a signwriter, before taking on shares in the illicit drug business.
McBeth had turned to drugs following the death of his sister, the court heard. His family was “absolutely blindsided” by his crimes.
He has been told he will be deported back to his native New Zealand after serving his jail time, Judge Cahill said.
Meanwhile Li, who was born in New Zealand, is also facing deportation.
Li, who had no previous criminal record, attended RMIT University before buying into the criminal syndicate.
“I accept that you are both genuinely and profoundly remorseful,” the judge said.
McBeth pleaded guilty to importing and trafficking a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug and trafficking a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence. He was sentenced to seven years jail with a non-parole period of four years.
Li pleaded guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of a drug of dependence and a border-controlled drug. He was sentenced to six years in jail.
Both men have already served 824 days in custody.
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