Drug dealer sold product that contained ‘paint stripper’, judge says

Justin Rankin was sentenced for the biggest fantasy haul New Zealand has yet seen.

KEVIN STENT/Stuff

Justin Rankin was sentenced for the biggest fantasy haul New Zealand has yet seen.

A bulk supplier of the drug GBL or “fantasy” was peddling a product that contained what was effectively paint stripper, Judge Andrew Becroft said in the Wellington District Court on Friday.

Justin Rankin, 36, arranged for the importation of the largest amount of the drug GBL yet known in New Zealand.

But the industrial cleaner from the United States had another ingredient, the judge said. He said he doubted that any of the young people he had seen in court who had used Gamma Butyrolactone (GBL) sourced from Rankin knew that they were effectively consuming paint stripper, and its potential harm.

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The company that imported the cleaner was not charged. Prosecutor Kate Feltham said at one point Rankin told the company that it had an ingredient the underworld was interested in. Rankin maintained to them that he was using it to clean wheel rims.

The judge said it seemed that at the time it was legal to import the cleaner – which cost Rankin about $98,000 – but that has now been stopped.

Rankin’s lawyer, Liz Hall, accused the importing company of wilful blindness. After Rankin gave it the “heads up”, the company checked with the American supplier, confirmed the ingredients, and continued importing it.

Wellington police seized many litres of GBL in November 2020. (File photo)

NZ Police/Supplied

Wellington police seized many litres of GBL in November 2020. (File photo)

Hall strongly criticised the lack of drug rehabilitation programmes in prison “We call them the Department of Corrections but they’re not correcting anything at the moment,” she said.

Rankin pleaded guilty to five charges: supplying GBL between May 2017 and November 2020; possessing the drug for the purposes of supply; possessing equipment that could be used for the manufacture of methamphetamine; possessing methamphetamine; and driving while disqualified.

He was sentenced to seven years and five months’ jail. The judge made what he said was a “strong plea” for Rankin to urgently have drug treatment. Before his arrest, Rankin’s body bore open sores, which can indicate a raging drug addiction.

The sentence was reduced by 45 percent to take account of factors including having pleaded guilty, remorse, and his commitment to rehabilitation.

ROSA WOODS/STUFF

On November 17, Detective Inspector Darrin Thomson addressed the media after Wellington police seized the largest amount of GBL, known as the “date rape” drug, in New Zealand’s history. (Video first published November 2020).

Hall said there was no evidence of Rankin making huge profits from selling the liquid. His only asset was a ute he half-owned with his brother.

Rankin worked as a builder, he used some of the GBL himself, sold some and traded some for methamphetamine to feed his addiction, she said. He also said he used some for cleaning.

But the judge said the potential profit had been up to $1.6 million.

Rankin would scarcely have been able to believe his luck that he could instigate the importation into NZ without attracting the attention of the authorities, and all he needed to do was take off the label and the hazard warning and call it GBL and sell it, the judge said.

Police found about 400L of the liquid when Rankin was arrested in November 2020. They also found about $10,000 cash. Almost $4000 was found when Rankin was arrested in 2019.

Rankin bought more than 2200 litres of the liquid that was about 67 percent GBL. (File photo)

supplied/Police

Rankin bought more than 2200 litres of the liquid that was about 67 percent GBL. (File photo)

Police said street names for GBL include G, fantasy, rinse and liquid ecstasy.

After Rankin’s sentencing Detective Senior Sergeant Hamish Blackburn said the joint Police and Customs operation leading to the arrest of Rankin and others significantly disrupted the illicit drug market.

Seizing such an enormous quantity of GBL prevented harm, and communities were safer as a result.

During the sentencing Hall criticised police for withholding information from the defence. It was a serious omission that would be litigated in another forum, she said.

Feltham said police withheld the information for safety reasons because threats had been made against the person it was sourced from. But it had been wrong not to at least tell the defence of its existence, she said.

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