Operation Emoji: Man kept $1.5 million in cash hidden in hydraulic compartment under bed

Calebh Simpson, 31, was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for operating a meth lab while on electronically-monitored bail. Photo / Andrew Warner

Hiding $1.5 million in methamphetamine profits in a hydraulically-operated compartment under his bed, a man was sprung by police after he got family members to deposit the money into prison spending accounts.

Calebh Simpson, 31, was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment in the High Court at Rotorua Friday on a raft of drugs charges – the majority related to the production and eventual sale of methamphetamine to individuals and gangs across the Bay of Plenty.

The charges included one representative charge of each manufacture, supply and possession of methamphetamine, possession of precursor substances, possession of drug manufacturing equipment, possession of cannabis and possession of firearms.

According to the summary of facts, Simpson, from Whakatāne, who has no prior drug convictions, was stopped by police in Auckland in April 2019 after being seen using his phone while driving.

He was pulled over but had no form of ID, and consented to police searching his car in an attempt to find a form of identification.

No ID was found, but police discovered a bag with 293g of methamphetamine, $3000 in cash, and a white bucket with iodine residue.

Also found in the vehicle was a cut-down .30 caliber semi-automatic rifle and a shotgun stock.

Simpson was arrested and charged with supply of methamphetamine and spent six weeks held on remand, before being granted electronically-monitored bail to a Whakatāne address.

Simpson remained clear of police attention until February 13, 2020, when police conducted a search warrant at his bail address.

Living in a “substantially remodeled” garage, a room containing a clandestine meth lab was discovered by police. While not operational, tools used in the manufacture of the drug were found, including precursor substances.

In Simpson’s bedroom, police found $64,000 in cash and approximately 625g of methamphetamine with an estimated street value between $50,000 and $100,000.

Four gold bars and two rings were also found in a safe, with one of the rings valued at $136,000.

Approximately $1.5 million was discovered in suitcases hidden in a hydraulic compartment under Calebh Simpson's bed.  Photo / NZ Police
Approximately $1.5 million was discovered in suitcases hidden in a hydraulic compartment under Calebh Simpson’s bed. Photo / NZ Police

A total of 1.2kg of cannabis was also found with an estimated street value of $9000.

Police also located a number of firearms including a sawn-off shotgun, a modified starter pistol, a .22 long-range rifle, and two military-style rifles.

Police seized CCTV cameras installed by Simpson which showed the production of meth at the property.

The elaborate operation saw associates bring the materials needed to produce meth to the address, as bail conditions prevented Simpson from leaving.

Simpson was arrested during the search and remanded in custody.

In the following weeks, the police became aware that the man was still in control of a significant amount of cash, and Simpson had discussed plans with relatives to spend the money from within prison.

From prison, Simpson called and asked his father to uplift the cash – totalling approximately $1.5m – so it wouldn’t be discovered by police or stolen.

The money was concealed in two suitcases, hidden in a hydraulically-operated compartment originally missed by the police during the first search.

Simpson then arranged for relatives to use the cash to buy a car, clothing and deposit funds into prison accounts in the names of associates. Legal fees were also paid with the cash.

In court, Simpson claimed that he continued the production of methamphetamine because gang associates had pressured him into doing so with the threat of retaliatory action.

Justice Graham Lang told the defendant: “That may be so, but the hold that the gangs had over you arose because you became indebted to them because you purchased drugs when you had no means to pay for them.

“The answer to your dilemma is not to get involved in drugs in the first place.”

The court heard that the offending appeared to stem from Simpson’s own addiction to methamphetamine, which he first consumed at age 19.

“As is often the case, you began dealing to pay for your own habit,” Justice Lang said.

Justice Lang also shared Simpson’s eventual remorse for his offense, sparked when he found out that his then-partner and mother had been charged with money laundering after he asked them to deal with the remaining cash.

“The prospect of rehabilitation is still very much in the balance.”

After a 40 per cent sentence discount for the guilty plea, remorse and psychiatric mental health history, Simpson was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, five of which must be served before he becomes eligible for parole.

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