A teenager from Greece found in charge of a £600,000-plus cannabis farm in a disused shop in Selkirk has been jailed for 15 months.
Emiliano Boia had only been in the UK for half a year when he was offered £15,000 to look after the drug cultivation for three months.
However, in January a police raid recovered 652 cannabis plants in the former Ali Baba convenience store in Curror Street, just yards away from the town’s Knowepark Primary School, and Boia was arrested.
Selkirk Sheriff Court heard his level of involvement was only as a “foot soldier in a large operation”, but sheriff Peter Paterson told him: “You engaged in this course of conduct for money, and while it maybe that you did not fully appreciate what was involved, you could be under no illusion that you do not get £15,000 for three months’ work if there is not a high level of criminality involved.”
It was the second time in three years that police had raided the building and found cannabis being grown there.
Vietnamese illegal immigrant Hang Phan Vo, 23 at the time, was jailed for three years in March 2016 after a cannabis cultivation valued at £150,000 was found there in October 2015.
Despite the previous history of the building, it was again used as a cannabis farm three years later with the electricity supply by-passed to assist the cultivation.
And when police raided the property on January 15, Boia was the only person found on the premises and subsequently arrested.
However, the court heard that it was accepted that the 19-year-old was probably “at the lower echelons of the operation”.
Boia, originally from the Albanian city of Elbasan but brought up in the Greek town of Nafplio, is understood to have arrived in Britain in July last year, visiting cities such as London and Glasgow.
Procurator fiscal Graham Fraser told the court Boia had no previous convictions
He said: “The location here is a two-storey derelict property in a residential street in Selkirk. Previously, there were shop premises on the ground-floor and a four-bedroom flat upstairs.
“It has been uninhabited for some time, but it is not the first time a cultivation of cannabis has been found there, but I stress Mr Boia had no connection with the previous episode.
“On January 11, a search warrant was obtained and on January 15 a search was carried out.
“A strong smell of cannabis was evident as soon as the premises were entered, and the accused was found in the bedroom area.
“The electricity supply had been bypassed, but, again, there is no suggestion the accused was involved in that. Once the place was made safe, a full search was carried out.”
Mr Fraser said the wholesale value of the cannabis recovered would have been worth £219,000, but a conservative estimate of street deals of £10 per gramme would yield a figure close to £625,000.
Mr Fraser said: “The accused was the only person found in the locus. The position is that the accused was part of an organised drug production and supply operation.
“While in no way do I want to minimise his position, it is quite possible he was at the lower echelons of that operation.
“It is clear from items recovered that he was eating, sleeping and brushing his teeth there.
“This was a professional set-up, but it was pointed out that there was no watering system in place and the crop had to be hand-watered.”
Boia pleaded guilty to a charge of being concerned in the supply of cannabis.
Defence lawyer Greg McDonnel said his client had got in too deep, and when he realised what he was involved in, he felt he could not get out.
He said: “This is a young man who had good grades at school in Greece and came across to the UK looking for a better life and to get an income so that he could send money back to his family in Greece.
“He was living in a disused shop with no heat or light. In the two-month period he was there, he was visited on a weekly basis by an Albanian man who would deliver food and further instructions.
“He had indicated a desire to leave and did not want to carry on, but he felt trapped.
“My client was put on a train from London to Glasgow and met by an individual there. He took photos of himself at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery so that he could tell his family he had gone on holiday and then was driven in a van to Selkirk. His part in the operation was at the lower end of the scale.”
Mr McDonnel pointed out that Boia had received no money for his role as he had been arrested before he could get paid.
He added that he plans to return to Greece after he gets out of prison.
His jail sentence was backdated to January 16, that being when he was first remanded in custody.