Drug trafficker: Property portfolio was gained legitimately

A LOCKYER Valley man who was jailed for masterminding a large-scale cannabis enterprise is facing a looming court battle in a bid to stop his property and assets being seized.

Robert James Upson, 59, claims his extensive property portfolio - in the Lockyer Valley, Tweed Heads and in Brisbane - and bank accounts flush with cash were legally obtained.

But authorities argue his wealth was amassed from the proceeds of his criminal activity.

Upson was found guilty in 2010 and jailed for eight years for trafficking marijuana which he grew on multiple properties on Mount Mulgowie Rd at Coominya between June, 1997, and September, 2007.

He hit the headlines again the following year when he appealed his sentence in Queensland's highest court claiming he had only earned $1.1 million from his illegal activities, not the $1.3 million put forward at his trial.

Upson unsuccessfully suggested the sentencing judge could have given him a lesser sentence had the correct facts been before the court.

He said two forensic accountants had agreed the figure could be as low as $1.1 million after they had learned he received a $500,000 compensation payout in New Zealand before he moved to Australia with his wife, Beryl Joy Upson, in 1986.

The court heard 347 deposits totalling $1,282,943.93 were made into various banks accounts Upson held during the period of his offending.

There were 27 deposits between $9000 and $9999, just shy of the $10,000 point requiring financial institutions to report cash deposits.

The court rejected his application.

Upson, released after serving half his sentence, remains the focus of confiscation proceedings which were initiated November, 2007, shortly after his arrest.

Documents filed in the Brisbane Supreme Court over the confiscation battle reveal a tangled and convoluted web of cash transactions, claims and counter claims.

There is even an affidavit from his mother Helen Upson who said her son stashed money in various nooks and crannies in his house because she was raised not to trust banks and she passed that wisdom onto her son.

"We did not trust banks and kept all of our funds in either a desk drawer or sock hidden in our house," she said.

"We brought Robert up to deal with his finances the same way."


Upson family home awash with cash

APN Newsdesk also viewed an affidavit from a police officer involved in the initial raid on the Coominya property and subsequent investigation which revealed the extent of cash at the Upson's disposal.

State Drug Investigation Unit's Detective Sergent Anthony Parsons said when police searched Upson's house they found $23,195 cash in the living room.

He said a more detailed forensic investigation into the couple's financial affairs revealed significant wealth including properties at Tweed Heads, the Lockyer Valley and Brisbane along with bank accounts and an extensive share portfolio.

Further investigations revealed the couple had not lodged a tax claim since 1997.

"Financial analysis indicates there appears to have been a significant increase in their wealth in 2004," Sgt Parsons said.

"This increase in wealth appears to have been largely funded with unexplained cash deposits into their bank accounts."

Sgt Parsons said a large proportion of their living expenses from 2000 onwards was paid for in cash derived from an unknown source.

"Examinations of various bank and credit card accounts held by the couple have found $659,423 of unexplained cash being deposited between January, 2000 and November, 2006," he said.

"These deposits include $583,552 to Heritage Building Society accounts and $75,871 deposited to American Express accounts."

Sgt Parsons said the majority of the deposits were made in cash at branches in Esk, Gatton, Loganholme and Springwood.

He said all of the cash deposits were slightly under the $10,000 reporting limit.

"A review of bank records show there were many days where multiple deposits were made," he said.

"There appears to be a close financial relationship between Robert Upson and another man William Mackay.

"A review of his bank accounts reflects a similar pattern of deposits to that of Robert and Beryl Upson."

Mackay was charged with drug-related offences stemming from his involvement in Upson's drug empire and was jailed in August, 2007, for three years.

He served 14 months of the sentence before being released.

Robert Upson, in an affidavit complied while he was in prison, said he collected second-hand golf balls from different course across the south-east and sold them, a lucrative business if he is to be believed.

"The work that I was required to do to recover these golf balls was not pleasant," he said.

"It was the reason that I had such a monopoly on the market.

"I can say it was very financially rewarding work."

Upson claimed collecting golf balls and on-selling them over a nine-year period netted him $605,000 plus an additional $85,500 when one of the courses hired him as a part-time cleaner.

He said he built a 60cm by 30cm by 30cm safe under the pantry to store the cash and only accessed it when needed.

"It ... easily stored more than $200,000," he said.

"We also kept some cash in jars in the kitchen.

"I would only deposit cash into bank accounts as we needed otherwise we generally lived on our American Express card.

"I would deposit cash onto the said card from the safe when needed."

Upson said all his wealth was gained through legitimate sources and had nothing to do with the drug charges which he was jailed over.

"I once again say that all my property was accumulated during my lifetime, particularly from sales of our New Zealand properties, rental income, share trading and income from selling and retrieving golf balls," he said.

The confiscation hearing is scheduled to be heard in the Brisbane Supreme Court next month.

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