South Yorkshire cannabis farmer ‘didn’t realise growing it was illegal’
A cannabis farmer who was caught red-handed with 135 plants in a rented South Yorkshire house told police he didn't realise growing the drug was illegal, a court heard.
Officers raided a semi-detached house on Hawthorn Avenue, Rotherham, where they found Adi Sulaj and three bedrooms converted into a "sophisticated" growing operation, on November 30, last year.
Prosecutor Michael Collins told Sheffield Crown Court how Sulaj had arrived in the UK illegally from Albania two years ago, owing £14,000 for his passage.
Work on a building site reduced his debt by £5,000, but then the work dried up and he accepted the job as a cannabis gardener because he felt "morally obliged" to repay what he owed.
He told officers an earlier grow of 25 plants harvested £25,000, of which £12,000 was used to buy equipment for the new set-up.
Mr Collins said the larger plants would have yielded eight to nine kilos of the drug, which could have fetched £30,000-£35,000 on the street.
"He would have been paid 20 per cent of this, minus the cost of rent and bills," he said. "He was given £150 per week for basic living costs.
"He claimed he didn't know growing cannabis was illegal, but he said a man called "Tommy" would attend every two or three days to see if the police had attended."
"It's clear there is a financial motivation," Mr Collins added.
Andrew Swabey, mitigating, Sulaj was "essentially the fall guy" and "not the main player."
"It wasn't his set up or his operation," he told the court. "He is the eldest of five children from a fairly poor background. The idea was to better himself in the UK and support his family back home.
"He's had a torrid time in Doncaster prison as a foreigner. He has seen and suffered violence on a regular basis."
Sulaj, 29, of Wellington Street, Luton, pleaded guilty to cannabis production at magistrates' court, on December 2, last year.
On Friday, Recorder Amy Mannion said the "least possible sentence" she could pass was 30 months.
He will serve half in prison and half on licence, subject to his immigration status.