The sentencing of Mongols gang member Rauawa Fitzgerald, pictured, wasn’t that straightforward for Justice Melanie Harland. Photo / Belinda Feek
There was a stand-off between the Crown and the defence over the quantity of drugs a key Bay of Plenty Mongols drug dealer was alleged to have dealt.
Rauawa Fitzgerald was the patched member responsible for dealing drugs between Tauranga and Rotorua throughout the police Operation Silk investigation, which focused on the gang’s national drug distribution network.
While disagreements are often easily settled at sentencings, three of which occurred in the High Court at Hamilton today, Justice Melanie Harland told the Crown there was a stark difference between an ounce and a kilogram of methamphetamine.
“There’s a wide difference between the two,” she said, confirming there were 35.2 ounces in a kilogram.
The difficulty emerged because Fitzgerald had pleaded guilty to his 10 charges, mostly possessing and supplying meth, from an agreed summary of facts – while continuing to dispute reference to kilograms – signed off before the 16-week trial last year.
The Crown, through prosecutor Caitlin Bourke, submitted Fitzgerald’s dealing totalled 3.17kgs, including one transaction, involving more senior members, of 2.9kgs – some of which she submitted Fitzgerald received and on-sold.
However, his counsel, Oliver Troon, appearing for Ron Mansfield, said they always disputed any reference to kilograms, stating Fitzgerald only dealt in grams and ounces.
The Crown eventually conceded the kilograms were more likely ounces and left the remaining dispute to Justice Harland to decide.
Troon refused to concede, sticking to 250g, as the total amount of drugs dealt on all charges.
After further consideration, Justice Harland said it was likely more than 250g, but not kilograms, settling on 372g.
The total amount was critical for both the Crown and defence to decide where his crimes sat in the various drug dealing bands, or categories, and could mean years more in prison for the accused.
Justice Harland said Fitzgerald’s role was significant because it was both operational and functional; travelling frequently between Rotorua, where he lived, and Tauranga, dealing drugs with and on behalf of Hone Ronaki during the country’s first Covid-19 lockdown.
He also likely financially benefitted from his work, albeit not significantly, as he was also an addict.
She took a starting point of eight years and six months, including an uplift for possession of an AK47 gun, and after multiple discounts, including for plea and background, came to an end term of five years and nine months’ jail.
‘His life spiralled out of control’
Frederick Whare was involved in dealing 6.6kg of cannabis and 1.23kg of methamphetamine with the Mongols.
Crown prosecutor Caitlin Bourke said there was not only a monetary and commercial aspect to that, but it was also driven by his drug addiction.
Bourke labelled Whare a significant player in the gang, evident by his involvement in the purchase of 500g of meth on behalf of Ronaki from an Auckland gang member at a Denny’s carpark in February 2020.
The 40-year-old was also involved with the shooting at Ronaki’s home at No 2 Rd, Te Puke, alerting him to the convoy of seven Mongrol Mob vehicles heading through the town, the day after a shooting at Haukore St.
In total, he pleaded guilty to 57 charges including supplying, conspiring, the possession of P and cannabis, firearms offences, and breaching Covid-19 boundary restrictions.
However, his counsel, Bill Nabney, said Whare was simply acting at the behest of gang vice-president Ronaki, noting he was only paid $100 to pick up the meth from Denny’s with “chef” Matthew Ramsden.
“He was clearly addicted and his life spiralled out of control,” after the break-up with his long-term partner, which saw him reconnect with Ronaki, Nabney said.
Whare’s father, Ted, also spoke to the judge, lamenting his son’s reconnection with the senior member.
“If Hone Ronaki hadn’t been sent back with the buggers from Australia, [Fred] wouldn’t be here now,” he said, adding soon after that it was his son’s fault where he’s ended up.
He and the whānau were “disgusted” with his son’s actions but told him they still loved him and looked forward to him rehabilitating.
After taking a starting point of 12 years’ prison, then applying various discounts, Justice Harland came to an end jail term of seven years and eight months.
‘Saddest’ cultural report of Operation Silk
While on bail for charges relating to firearms, possession of meth and participating in an organised criminal group for Operation Silk, Whana Ronaki committed further firearms offences for which he’s currently serving a jail sentence.
Crown prosecutor Caitlin Bourke said he had also been in trouble in prison and his attitude was of concern.
Counsel David Bates said his client was “doomed” to end up involved with a gang, given he was introduced to drugs and alcohol aged 7 and “it’s really been a spiral ever since”.
He eventually became a patched Mongrel Mob member at 16.
Ronaki was not only the nephew of vice-president Hone Ronaki, but his father was the vice-president of Mongrel Mob Aotearoa, and his brother was also currently in prison.
Justice Harland said the deprivation and violence throughout his upbringing was “alarming”, and his cultural report the “saddest” she had read during the sentencing process of Operation Silk.
After handing down discounts of more than 50 per cent, she arrived at a 21-month end jail term.
However, she agreed with Bates’ submission in allowing the 23-year-old leave to apply for home detention if a vacancy arises at a residential facility.
Belinda Feek has been a reporter for 19 years, and at the Herald for eight years before joining the Open Justice team in 2021.