‘Scandalous and predatory Six people charged over alleged cannabis cultivation and COVID-19 fraud
Six people, including three real estate agents, have been charged over a scheme where they allegedly pocketed more than $700,000 in COVID-19 rental relief payments and used rental properties as drug labs.
NSW Police arrested and charged six people yesterday aged between 23 and 52 as part of a year-long investigation into an alleged criminal syndicate operation to grow cannabis and fraudulently obtain COVID-19 rental relief payments.
Detective Inspector Luke Scott said police attended five Fairfield properties that had “sophisticated hydroponic cannabis set-ups” between July and August last year.
Police uncovered 598 cannabis plants which have an estimated street value of $2 million.
“We identified a real estate agency within the Fairfield area had been hiring or renting these properties enabling them to grow this cannabis,” Detective Inspector Scott said.
Officers said the hydroponic setups have ruined the properties and they now “require complete fitouts”.
Strike Force Delbo was established to dismantle this criminal syndicate.
During investigations, police also identified a number of large-scale fraudulent applications under the NSW Government COVID-19 Residential Tenancy Support Package scheme.
“We identified a number of the people associated with the real estate agency were committing criminal offences, not just the enhanced cultivation of cannabis but we uncovered a significant fraud against the COVID-19 grant scheme,” Detective Inspector Scott said.
Detective Inspector Scott said the group allegedly fraudulently obtained $700,000 worth of COVID-19 rental relief grants.
“None of that money went to the people that it was intended to, this real estate agency took that money for personal gain,” he said.
“They were designed to help people in the time of need… to see a small group of people think it’s alright to take advantage of the money we have given to our community members who are struggling, I’m absolutely disgusted.”
Detective Inspector Scott said police will allege in court 160 separate properties had COVID-19 rental relief claims made for them.
“That means 160 different tenants had claims made on their behalf and they weren’t even aware,” he said.
Five people, including a 52-year-old man, a 44-year-old man, two 35-year-old men, and a 37-year-old woman, were refused bail to appear at Fairfield Local Court today.
A 23-year-old man appeared at Newtown Local Court and was granted strict conditional bail to reappear at Fairfield Local Court in May.
“The nature of this fraud is particularly scandalous and predatory; the community won’t tolerate it, and those involved now have our court system to answer to,” Detective Inspector Scott said.