Six members of Albanian organised crime syndicate arrested: Four grow houses shut down

Six people, including a real estate agent, have been arrested under an AFP-led investigation into an Albanian organised crime syndicate allegedly operating multiple cannabis grow houses in Melbourne rental properties.

The AFP launched its investigation into the organised crime syndicate in April 2021 and identified an Aspendale Gardens man, 36, the alleged leader of the syndicate from information obtained during Operation Ironside.

Police executed a warrant at the man’s Aspendale Gardens home in June last year (7 June, 2021) as part of the first phase of Operation Ironside, where they allegedly seized an ANOM device, along with $270,000 and five designer watches allegedly concealed in a roof cavity.

The AFP-led investigation- codenamed Operation Ironside South-Valhalla – identified and dismantled two alleged cannabis grow houses located in Keysborough connected to the syndicate, with assistance from Victoria Police.

Eighty-one cannabis plants, weighing more than 96kg were seized from the two properties in June, 2021. A 40-year-old Keysborough man and a 24-year-old Noble Park man, who are alleged syndicate members, were arrested in connection to the grow houses.

On 2 August 2022, the Aspendale Gardens man, a 46-year-old Burwood East man and a 23-year-old Dandenong woman were arrested.

It will be alleged the Aspendale Gardens man was the head of the syndicate, who coordinated the establishment of grow houses and the production of cannabis at those premises. Information obtained from Operation Ironside identified the man to be allegedly linked to known international Albanian organised crime identities.

Further search warrants were executed on two additional alleged grow houses in the suburbs of Burwood East and Keysborough, where detectives seized 44.6kg of cannabis, including 20 plants and 11 seedlings.

On Thursday 29 September, 2022, investigators arrested a 59-year-old Malvern East man, accused of acting as a key facilitator for the criminal syndicate.

It is alleged the 59-year-old man is a Melbourne real estate agent who acted for the criminal syndicate by identifying at least two rental properties owned by overseas investors, knowing they would not conduct inspections in person. It is suspected at least four cannabis grow houses were coordinated by the real estate agent.

That information was shared with the syndicate, which rented the properties and set up cannabis grow houses inside, sometimes significantly damaging the properties in the process.

The 59-year-old Malvern East man was charged and granted police bail to face the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today (Friday 30 September, 2020).

AFP Sergeant Glenn Tankard said it was likely the illicit drugs would have been distributed across Victoria by criminals associated with serious and organised crime.

“Information from Operation Ironside has seen the AFP, with assistance from Victoria Police, dismantle yet another alleged criminal syndicate, wiping out its entire operations including a network of illicit cannabis grow houses across Melbourne,” Sergeant Tankard said.

“We allege the persons arrested are significant syndicate members with ties to Albanian organised crime, who undertook enormous planning to execute their criminal operations to grow and cultivate cannabis with the help of professional facilitators.

“The AFP, together with our law enforcement partners, have prevented more harmful, illicit drugs from reaching our community thanks to this investigation.”

Operation Ironside South-Valhalla 2022 charges:

36-year-old Aspendale Gardens man:

  • Directing activities of a criminal organisation, contrary to section 390.6 of the Criminal Code (Cth).
  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth)
  • Cultivating a marketable quantity of controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.5 of the Criminal Code (Cth).

46-year-old Burwood East man:

  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

23-year-old Dandenong woman:

  • Cultivating marketable quantities of controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.5 of Criminal Code 1995 (Cth).

The trio faced the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 3 August, 2022 and were released on bail to reappear again on 25 November, 2022.

59-year-old Malvern East man:

  • Supporting a criminal organisation contrary to section 390.4(1) of the Criminal Code 1995 (Cth);

Operation Ironside South-Valhalla 2021 charges:

40-year-old Keysborough man:

  • Deal in property, namely currency valued at greater than $100,000, and believed it to be proceeds of general crime, contrary to section 400.4(1A) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
  • Cultivating controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.6 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
  • Dealing with property, namely currency valued less than $100,000, reasonably suspected of being proceeds of indictable crime, contrary to section 400.9(1A) of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth);
  • Failed to comply with an Order to Provide Information or Assistance contrary to section 3LA(6) of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth);
  • Possessing a marketable quantity of a border controlled drug, namely cocaine, reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully imported contrary to section 307.9 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The 40-year-old man is set to face court again on 4 November, 2021.

24-year-old Noble Park man:

  • Cultivating a marketable quantity of controlled plants, namely cannabis, for a commercial purpose, contrary to section 303.5 of the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth).

The 24-year-old man is set to face court in January, 2023.

Australia’s law enforcement agencies need the community’s ongoing assistance to minimise the harm caused by drugs, and urge anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or to submit at confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

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