Mar 20, 2023

Police’s shocking discovery inside excavator

A struggling landscaper from southern NSW has been jailed for at least seven-and-a-half years over his role in a scheme to bring hundreds of kilograms of cocaine into Australia secreted inside an excavator.

Timothy John Engstrom, 38, on Friday faced sentencing in Sydney's Downing Centre District Court after a jury last year found him guilty of attempting to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine.

Engstrom and his long-time friend and business partner were arrested when police burst into their landscaping business in Bungendore, near Queanbeyan, in July 2019.

When their business imported a used excavator from South Africa, Border Force, Customs and Australian Federal Police discovered 384 plastic-wrapped 1kg blocks of cocaine hidden inside the hollow cavities of the machine's hydraulic arm.

Police began closely monitoring the pair, switched out the drugs for an inert substance and pounced after they watched them spend two-and-a-half hours cutting open the excavator.

Judge Gina O’Rourke on Friday afternoon said that by 2019, the pair's business was in a dire financial position.

In May of that year, Engstrom took out a $30,000 loan and that money formed part of a $50,000 transfer made to a South African company for the purchase of a 20-tonne excavator.

The excavator arrived in Australia on June 20, 2019 when authorities discovered the drugs.

Before it was shipped to their business, Engstrom organised to borrow scaffolding and other equipment needed to get the drugs out of the excavator's arm.

The excavator was stored in a shed at the business and Engstrom was heard by police discussing with his business partner, Adam Hunter, ways to avoid detection and leaving physical evidence.

"The offender also discussed a contingency plan if the police were to raid the property," Judge O’Rourke said.

"That is, in the offender's own words, ‘if it all turns to s***’."

Hunter is serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to attempting to import a border controlled drug.

He was in 2021 sentenced to 12 years and nine months in jail, with a non-parole period of eight years and three months.

The court heard that Engstrom's role in the scheme was lesser than his former business partner's.

"I find his motivation was financial," Judge O’Rourke said.

"Due to the dire straits his business was in financially, plus some misguided loyalty to his friend."

Friends and loved ones described Engstrom's offences as out-of-character and the court heard he did not have a history of serious drug abuse.

However, Judge O’Rourke said there had been no expression of contrition or remorse.

Engstrom was on Friday afternoon sentenced to 11 years and six months in prison, with a non-parole period of seven years and six months.

With time served, he will be eligible for release in January 2034.