Port woman’s ice hell

Port Douglas & Mossman Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - Scott Tib­balls

A Port Dou­glas woman who pleaded guilty to drug charges has nar­rowly avoided jail-time af­ter telling a judge she had been caught up in her brother’s drug traf­fick­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

Jodi Hep­ner, 44, ap­peared in Cairns Supreme Court this week fac­ing drug charges, in­clud­ing per­mit­ting the use of prop­erty in sup­ply­ing a dan­ger­ous drug.

She was charged as a re­sult of Op­er­a­tion North Kim­ber­lite, which tar­get­ing the sup­ply of metham­phetamine, or ice, in the Cairns and Port Dou­glas re­gion in 2015.

The court was told that dur­ing the po­lice op­er­a­tion, her younger brother Leigh Hep­ner was tar­geted as a drug traf­ficker, and in­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions had re­vealed Hep­ner’s in­volve­ment.

Leigh Hep­ner is sched­uled to ap­pear be­fore the Cairns Supreme Court in early March. He was ar­rested in­ter­state last year and brought back to Cairns.

Ac­cord­ing to Crown pros­e­cu­tor Me­lanie Franklin, “Ms Hep­ner was caught up in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion in re­la­tion to her brother Leigh Hep­ner, and as a re­sult of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his traf­fick­ing was cap­tured on a num­ber of in­ter­cepted com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween the pair.”

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion al­legedly un­cov­ered an in­stance where Hep­ner had acted as a mid­dle­man at­tempt­ing to or­gan­ise the sale of ice be­tween her

brother and an­other per­son, and had also al­lowed her car to be used as part of her brother’s traf­fick­ing, caus­ing Far North drug squad de­tec­tives to con­sider her a key fig­ure in the sup­ply chain in Port Dou­glas.

“The use of her ve­hi­cle es­sen­tially arose once her brother had handed over his own ve­hi­cle to his sup­pli­ers to pay off his drug debt, in or­der for him to con­tinue sup­ply­ing drugs she al­lowed him to use her ve­hi­cle,” Ms Franklin told the court.

Hep­ner’s de­fence lawyer Pe­ter Feeney told Jus­tice James Henry that Hep­ner, who had no prior crim­i­nal his­tory, had be­gun us­ing ice af­ter her brother of­fered her a ready sup­ply, and then be­came en­tan­gled in her brother’s ac­tiv­i­ties to help him con­tinue sup­ply­ing the drug.

Mr Feeney de­scribed Hep­ner get­ting caught up in the in­ves­ti­ga­tion as the re­sult of two worlds col­lid­ing – that of a pro­duc­tive and in­volved mem­ber of the com­mu­nity, and her younger brother’s in­flu­ence.

“She is here be­cause she got caught in the wake of her brother,” said Mr Feeney.

Hep­ner was de­scribed as quickly be­com­ing ad­dicted and “pre­oc­cu­pied with ob­tain­ing” ice over a pe­riod of a few months in 2015. She has since bro­ken the ad­dic­tion and the court heard she has not re­lapsed. In his rul­ing, Jus­tice Henry said that be­fore get­ting in­volved in her brother’s traf­fick­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, Hep­ner had “con­ducted (her­self) in an en­tirely re­spon­si­ble way,” but that at 44 she was old enough to know the dan­gers of drug use.

Jus­tice Henry high­lighted Hep­ner’s clear knowl­edge of her brother’s ac­tiv­i­ties as be­ing one of the rea­sons for a harsher sen­tence. “It is ob­vi­ous though that you were not deal­ing with him … like some naive babe in the woods. You had a full un­der­stand­ing of what was go­ing on.”

Hep­ner was sen­tenced to six months im­pris­on­ment which was wholly sus­pended for 18 months, and 18 months’ pro­ba­tion with con­di­tions. A con­vic­tion was recorded.

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