Cocaine was among the drugs sold in the Queensland operation.
Cocaine was among the drugs sold in the Queensland operation.

Cops spent $53k on drugs to nab ice, ecstasy trafficker

IT started as a way to cope with his stepfather's death.

Soon, Andrew Robert Hughes was churning through five ecstasy pills a week and half a gram of ice every day.

To finance drug debts, he got involved in cocaine, ice and ecstasy trafficking with deals in Mackay, Townsville, Airlie Beach and the Gold Coast.

But the Mackay man's deals were observed during a police operation lasting seven months and involving undercover officers spending $53,000 on drugs.

By the time he was busted in Gympie with an associate in October 2015, Hughes barely made a profit, and any "trappings of wealth" eluded him, Brisbane Supreme Court heard on Monday.

Police in Gympie found 998g of ice worth about $160,000.

A raid on Hughes's Mackay home uncovered a lever-action rifle and ammunition and Hughes faced weapons and explosives charges.

He was aged 24 and 25 during the offending, and had no significant criminal history.

Justice Ann Lyons said Hughes, now 27, had a difficult upbringing, but the arrival of a "very supportive stepfather" improved things.

The stepfather's death in 2014 was devastating for Hughes.

Defence barrister Doug Wilson said Hughes, "unable to cope" with the loss, used drugs.

Wilson said Hughes "quickly developed a very significant" habit, as was common with crystal meth use.

He was asked to store drugs for a supplier, and agreed.

But his house was broken into, drugs stolen, and his debts shot up.

Hughes used two phone numbers on which police identified "2275 drug-related communications" with dozens of customers, Crown prosecutor Russell Hood said.

The boilermaker was caught discussing ice deals and could supply buyers with wholesale prices in deals worth thousands of dollars.

One deal involved collecting ecstasy pills worth $20,000 from Townsville.

More than $432,000 of cash changed hands during the whole operation, but Hughes was owed about $130,000, and owed others even more.

The Crown said Hughes's business indicated consistent, intense trafficking.

But Hughes's relative youth, insignificant criminal record and rehabilitation efforts counted in his favour.

Urine tests showed he was now drug free. He also found work with an employer who described him positively.

Hughes was jailed for seven years on nine charges, including trafficking and possessing dangerous drugs.

He can apply for parole in two years.