1493363346568 - Man targeted in Wellington storage fire jailed for his part in gang drug ring

Man targeted in Wellington storage fire jailed for his part in gang drug ring

The man targeted in a Wellington storage facility fire that caused millions of dollars in damage has been jailed for his part in a lucrative drug ring.

Former drug addict and father-of-one Darren George Samuel McKinley – known as the ‘operations manager’ – was a pivotal player in the methamphetamine, GHB and fantasy drug ring that was thwarted by a police sting in 2014.

McKinley, 48, was the man whose unit was targeted in the 2014 Kiwi Self Storage fire started by Angelo Bitossi, who was jailed for eight and a half years in 2015 for the arson.

The fire at the self-storage facility in the suburb of Kilbirnie destroyed the possessions of hundreds of people. It affected 224 other personal storage units with combined losses estimated at $9 million.

* Gang boss jailed for managing and advising on drug ring
* Methamphetamine drug courier gets home detention for second offence
* Kiwi Self Storage arsonist Angelo Bitossi jailed for 8 1/2 years
* Drug arrests reveal gang underbelly

In the High Court at Wellington on Friday, Justice David Collins sentenced McKinley to four years and eight months in jail for his part in the drug ring.

The raft of charges he faced included three of supplying methamphetamine, two of conspiracy to supply, and one each of possession for supply, conspiring to defeat the course of justice and participating in an organised criminal group.

McKinley joins his boss, Peter Evans – the president of the capital city chapter of the Highway 61 gang – who was jailed in October for managing the drug ring.

Evans had earlier pleaded guilty to possession of methamphetamine for supply, possession of fantasy for supply, offering to supply morphine, possession of fantasy, participation in an organised criminal group and two charges of supply of fantasy.

He and several others, including McKinley, were picked up during a joint police and Customs operation codenamed Operation Fantail in 2013 and 2014.

Evans allowed McKinley to live at the gang’s headquarters in the Wellington suburb of Miramar in early 2013 so he could arrange the supply of meth to trusted associates who would meet at the gang pad or nearby.

McKinley carried out the bulk of the operations, with Evans giving advice and guidance for maintaining the supply network.

In May 2014 a deal between McKinley and an associate for 142 grams of meth in exchange for $65,000 was intercepted by police at a Paraparaumu motel.

In June he was found with thousands of dollars in cash, along with four grams of meth, scales and utensils.

During Bitossi’s sentencing in the High Court at Wellington in 2015, Justice Simon France said although McKinley’s unit was the target, the fire was lit recklessly, with the storage unit door left open and a trail of petrol down the corridor. 

Bitossi had the security code and all-hours access keys to McKinley’s storage unit, and used them often.

But he decided he was being used and, in the judge’s words, became “very disenchanted” with McKinley, who had stopped paying him.

There was no apparent trigger for the arson, but Bitossi’s interviews with police demonstrated he harboured “a current, very raw” grievance, Justice France said.

The judge said that although other arsons had caused a similar level of financial loss, Bitossi’s crime had caused an unparalleled scale of personal loss and distress.

In late 2014 McKinley was brought to court but would not give evidence against Bitossi.

There were more than 300 personal victims and a significant loss to the Kiwi Self Storage business.

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