Jail for violent ice syndicate members who targeted vulnerable young

Aaron and Joshua Dalton in court.The head of a violent, organised ice syndicate that targeted vulnerable young people in country Victoria was sentenced in the Melbourne County Court on Wednesday.

Judge Michael Bourke jailed Aaron Shane Dalton, 32, of Wangaratta, for a maximum of nine years with a minimum term of six-and-a-half years.

Dalton pleaded guilty to trafficking a commercial quantity of methylamphetamine, known as ice, and ecstasy, as well as recklessly causing serious injury, reckless conduct endangering a person, false imprisonment and arson.

Judge Bourke described the case as a “truly cautionary tale” about the risk and damage of ice.

“Drug trafficking is seen as a major community problem,” he said.

“This overall drug enterprise was expansive and sophisticated. It not only trafficked large amounts of harmful, dangerous drugs to the north-east [Victoria] community, and often its vulnerable, but also conducted its business in a quite sinister way.”

The court heard that Dalton, once a promising cyclist who vied for a spot at the Australian Institute of Sport, descended into drug addiction and trafficking in his 20s and controlled a syndicate that used young people with no prior criminal history to its web across Wangaratta, Shepparton, Wodonga, Myrtleford, Yarrawonga and southern NSW.

The syndicate used violence and intimidation to control those both outside and within its web for almost a year until September 2012.

A young butcher was shot in his home, two homes were firebombed as children slept inside, a car was set alight and another run off a road and into a tree. There were numerous assaults as the syndicate wrestled for control and recovered drug debts.

Judge Bourke highlighted during sentencing on Wednesday the assault and interrogation of a young man in his home as Dalton hunted down a syndicate member who had left because of the pervading violence.

“The treatment of [name omitted] is in my view a chilling insight into the methods to which your criminal enterprise was capable of resorting,” Judge Bourke said.

The arrest of Dalton and eight others was the result of a Wangaratta police probe that investigated the syndicate.

Four of Dalton’s associates, including his brother and ex-girlfriend, were also sentenced on Wednesday after pleading guilty to their charges.

Aaron Dalton’s brother Joshua Dalton, 27, of Caulfield South, was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison with a 15-month minimum sentence for trafficking a commercial quantity of ice and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Aaron Dalton’s ex-girlfriend Rebecca Howarth, 24, of Erina in NSW, was sentenced to a three-year community corrections order for trafficking a commercial quantity of ice and ecstasy.

Jai Trevor Montgomery, 26, of Wangaratta, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison with a minimum term of two years and nine months for commercial trafficking and arson.

Justin Huck Verry, 20, of Pascoe Vale, was sentenced to a three-year community corrections order for commercial trafficking.

Four other syndicate members were sentenced in October and November last year.

One of the key police investigators, Wangaratta Detective Acting Sergeant Jason Bray, said outside court on Wednesday that north-eastern Victoria had never before seen a drug syndicate operate with such violence and sophistication.

He said it had a wide effect on tight-knit communities and drew in and damaged young people who were mostly from good families that had never been exposed to criminal activity.

Detective Sergeant Bray said the sentences of Dalton and his associates was satisfying.

“I’m hopeful it will have some sort of effect or deterrence on those who want to get involved or are involved in this sort of activity and that this is the sort of result they should expect,” he said.

“The community in Wangaratta and around the north-east is pretty close and it’s a good place to live. These events don’t occur often here, so when they do occur we need to get on top of it and stop it. In this case, we were able to do that.”

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