A judge who handed a “respected” member of the Bungendore community a jail sentence for 276 kilograms of cocaine found in an excavator said he played a “lesser role”, but no other sentence was appropriate.
Judge Gina O’Rouke stressed Timothy John Engstrom was being sentenced for attempted possession of the drug rather than for its importation, for which his long-time friend and business partner Adam Phillip Hunter was previously convicted and imprisoned. But Judge O’Rouke noted that Engstrom’s role was “substantially serious”, and both men’s offences carried a maximum sentence of lifetime imprisonment.
The 38-year-old Engstrom appeared at NSW District Court via an audiovisual link on Friday (26 May) and was convicted and sentenced to 11 years and six months’ prison.
The court heard Engstrom’s involvement began in 2019 when he was granted a loan of $30,000 and transferred the same amount to the parent company of his and Hunter’s business, Bungendore Landscape Supplies. The parent company transferred $50,000 to a South African organisation for the delivery of a ”refurbished” excavator that was later determined to be inoperational and in a “very poor condition”.
Judge O’Rouke said the father-of-two was aware the excavator had been purchased and knew by the latest three days before the digger arrived that what was hidden inside was illegal and a criminal offence.
The court heard Engstrom had organised items to cut into the digger’s boom arm where the cocaine was stored and discussed ways to avoid police with Hunter, including using gloves to avoid leaving DNA evidence, avoiding security cameras on the business premises and burning materials. The court heard the pair had also discussed a plan to escape from the business in separate cars “if it all turns to shit”.
After the digger arrived at the Bungendore business on 14 July 2019, Engstrom spent two-and-a-half hours cutting into its boom arm with an angle grinder and unpacked the cocaine into tubs with Hunter.
However, unbeknown to Engstrom and Hunter, police had intercepted the digger when it arrived in Australia in June and discovered and replaced the 384 packages of cocaine with an “inert substance”.
The court heard Engstrom attempted to run from police, who had been surveilling the business when they raided the shed containing the digger on the same day it arrived in Bungendore.
Judge O’Rouke said Engstrom had witnessed anti-social behaviour as a child and tried drugs in adulthood, including cocaine in his mid-20s, but had no substance abuse issues. She found Engstrom was motivated by financial difficulties with his business and a sense of “misguided loyalty” to Hunter, who the court heard Engstrom had since referred to as an associate with whom he did not want any further contact.
The court heard Engstrom believed at the time that if he did not ask questions of Hunter, he would not be breaking the law and did not view his behaviour as hurting people.
Judge O’Rouke said that since being remanded in custody in March (2023), Engstrom had continued working and participated in various courses and workshops.
In the reasons for her sentence, she said while Engstrom’s rehabilitation prospects were good, ”there is simply no evidence of remorse or contrition”.
It was “very concerning”, she said, that after a period of apparent understanding, Engstrom had reverted to claiming he was wrongfully convicted.
She said the “serious criminality of [Engstrom’s] offending” required a sentence that would deter others from what she described as a “nefarious trade”.
“I do not consider any other sentence [besides imprisonment] appropriate,” she said of Engstrom’s “planning, organisation and determined effort to gain access [to the cocaine]”.
Judge O’Rouke said that although his trial was efficient, Engstrom did not cooperate with police and had not pleaded guilty like Hunter, who, for pleading guilty, received a 20 per cent discount to his prison sentence in September 2021. He was sentenced to 12 years and nine months’ jail, ending in 2032, with a non-parole period of eight years and three months, which means he is eligible to be released in October 2027.
Engstrom was convicted and handed a non-parole period of seven years and six months’ jail in May (2023). He will be eligible for release in January 2030.
Jurors in the NSW District Court previously found Engstrom guilty of one charge of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug in December 2022.