Jailed man's digger drug-haul story 'makes no sense'

Tony Maaz paid far too much for an excavator and its contents will cost him at least the next five years of his life.

The apparently successful construction boss bid against himself before finally paying $288,000 for the digger.

But Maaz claims he had no idea it was full of the drug MDMA, also known as ecstasy.

Judge Robert Newlinds on Friday rejected that suggestion, finding that the businessman expected the drugs were hidden inside even before placing his bids.

X-ray of the digger (file image)
The jury heard evidence the excavator was worth between $98,000 and $126,000 but Maaz paid $288,000. (HANDOUT/AUSTRALIAN FEDERAL POLICE)

"This is the real reason he purchased the machine," the judge said in Sydney's Downing Centre District Court, jailing Maaz for at least five years.

Maaz was found guilty by a jury in March of attempting to possess border-controlled drugs.

The jury heard evidence the orange Doosan excavator was worth somewhere between $98,000 and $126,000.

Despite it listing online with a starting price of $165,000, Maaz bid $280,000, more than double what it was worth, eclipsing a hidden reserve by $5000.

But he wasn't done.

He then upped the bid despite being informed he would probably win the auction.

Maaz explained that he needed an excavator for one of his building sites and had asked around before plumber Raymond Lipovac told him of one coming to market.

The excavator had been used for gold mining, but had been recently seized by a financier and was going to be auctioned, Maaz said Lipovac told him.

Maaz claimed he had a budget of $150,000 but was told by Lipovac any dollar over that amount he paid for the excavator would be reimbursed by the owner.

Judge Newlinds did not accept the explanation.

"It literally makes no sense," he said.

Maaz provided an implausible and incoherent explanation for his conduct, the judge said.

That involved the apparently successful businessman relying on an aural guarantee from a person he had not met to reimburse him, when all he knew about them was that they were currently insolvent.

"I did not believe him, nor do I think there is any reasonable possibility that his explanation was true," the judge said.

Maaz also claimed he acted due to threats he would be shot and his mother would be targeted as well if he did not help.

He was not coerced and did it all expecting a financial reward, the judge said.

Maaz did not see any of the men he claimed would shoot him and his mother, and made no attempts to check on her welfare during the three days in May 2020 he spent cutting into the excavator to access drugs.

The illicit goods had already been removed months earlier, when Australian Federal Police officers found 226 bags of MDMA inside the 42-tonne digger at the Port of Brisbane in March 2020.

The drugs, said to be worth over $13 million, were removed, before cameras and trackers were fitted in the excavator.

It continued to the Gold Coast-based auction house Maaz purchased it from, before being delivered to a western Sydney construction site.

Maaz was sentenced to a total of eight years in prison with a non-parole period of five years.

He will be eligible for release in February 2029.

Lipovac previously pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2020 to six years in jail with a non-parole period of four years, expiring in December.