Decision delayed on bodybuilder’s drug prosecution

Court House-Sept-2013-05A Christchurch bodybuilder will have to wait one more day to find out whether his international career will be blighted by convictions for importing illegal drugs worth up to $90,000.

Christchurch District Court Judge Gary MacAskill decided he needed to consider the submissions and decisions on other other cases overnight before sentencing Stephen Michael Raymond Orton, 24, on two charges.

Orton, employed as a personal trainer, is seeking a discharge without conviction to allow him to continue the international travel involved in his bodybuilding career. Judge MacAskill adjourned the sentencing and said he would give his decision on Friday afternoon.

Orton pleaded guilty in May to two charges of importing the class C drug methylone into New Zealand. The drug mimics the illegal drug ecstasy or MDMA and is regarded as a type of party pill.

Orton was caught in a controlled delivery operation after the incoming packages were intercepted at Auckland International Airport late last year.

They were brought in addressed to a false recipient, with falsely declared contents. Orton, who was crowned National Amateur Bodybuilders’ Association world champion in Italy last year, admitted being the intended recipient.

Customs prosecutor Lorraine MacDonald told the court the value of the 700g of drug was between $40,000 and $90,000 depending on whether it was sold in bulk or made into pills for street sales. Orton was seen as a “catcher” – someone the drugs were sent to for collection.

Orton had no previous convictions, and had pleaded guilty. Customs conceded his offending was at “the lower end of culpability”. Probation assessed him as suitable for home detention, Ms MacDonald said.

The court was told that Orton’s successful career as a bodybuilder, built upon a great deal of hard work, would be at an end if convictions were entered because he would not be able to travel overseas. Ms McDonald said no evidence had been put forward to verify that claim.

Defence counsel Kirsty May said the offending arose through an acquaintance Orton made through the bodybuilding scene. He would be paid $500 for allowing a package to arrive, and advising someone when that happened. However, he had never received the money.

She said he would lose his position as a personal trainer at Les Mills because of a conviction, and the media attention. Convictions would pose “quite some hurdle” to his ability to travel and pursue his  professional career as a bodybuilder. “A conviction of this nature is the sort of thing that upsets Americans and is likely to be given quite some scrutiny.”

She urged that if he was not discharged without conviction, a home detention sentence should be imposed.

“The upshot is that he believes his career as a body builder is probably over,” said Mrs May.

Judge MacAskill questioned whether the courts should suppress drug offenders’ records to enable them to avoid the border controls of other countries.

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