A father and son contracted to destroy smuggled or prohibited goods seized by Australian customs — including expensive alcohol and Cuban cigars, weapons, pornography and shark jaws — have pleaded guilty to stealing it instead.
Don Elgin, 60, and Jason Elgin, 41, stole goods with an estimated retail value of more than $500,000 between 2008 and 2011 that they should have sent into a conveyor-fed crushing machine at their Coburg North premises and then buried.
But a Melbourne court heard on Tuesday the pair diverted the goods before they entered the crusher and kept them for their own use.
The goods also included drugs, pharmaceutical products and trademark items such as computer games, iPhones, toys, hair stylers and watches.
The weapons varied from batons and knives to tasters while other goods included 2000 pornographic DVDs, 560 bottles of alcohol — some Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and Smirnoff — and various tobacco products that included more than 500 cigars, 1294 cigarette cartons and tins of "Double Happiness".
The Elgins appeared in Melbourne Magistrates Court at a committal mention hearing where they pleaded guilty.
Prosecutor Stephen Young asked that magistrate Gerard Lethbridge impose bail conditions that included the defendants surrender their passports and not leave Australia.
In a statement of facts, it was outlined that Don Elgin's company Accord Transport Pty Ltd was contracted by the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) to destroy condemned goods seized as smuggled or imported items.
The agreement began in 2008 and involved a process that included, after strict security and controls by ACPBS, the goods being emptied and sorted by Accord Transport employees and then destroyed under the supervision of customs officers.
After each destruction, the company provided a certificate specifying the goods had been destroyed, they had been transferred for "deep burial" and customs documented them as "disposed".
For occupational and safety reasons, ACBPS officers who attended destructions between 2008 and 2011 were prevented from standing at the top of the conveyor belt.
"(They) stood in the destruction area and had a clear view of the bottom of the conveyor belt," the statement said.
"The officers provide evidence that visibility of the top of the belt and the shredding process was restricted.
"The officers could not see the goods falling into the crusher."
At the end of each destruction, the company provided a certificate that stated that all the listed products received were "securely destroyed under strict quality control and environmentally friendly procedures".
Customs officers made statements that they "adhered to standard procedures and they supervised every destruction from the designated area", and that they believed the goods were destroyed "at the time they attended".
When the Elgins' premises were searched by police in January, 2011, goods were found in several areas , including two locked rooms, bedrooms and storage rooms.
Don Elgin, of Coburg, and his son, of Greenvale, were ordered to appear in the County Court later this year.