Drug dealer who stashed gun by kids’ bed avoids prison after surprise help

A father of two who was found with a loaded sawn-off shotgun stashed beside his child’s bed has avoided imprisonment with help from an unlikely source.

Gary Pani Amoroa, 32, appeared in the Dunedin District Court yesterday on a variety of drugs and weapons charges but before he could be sentenced his mother-in-law spoke passionately in his defence.

“I was absolutely horrified as a grandmother and really surprised Gary had gone down this road,” she said.

However, the defendant had since moved his family to Wanaka and was trying to change things.

“He’s doing his best now … I’d hate to see him going to prison and leaving behind those two beautiful children. I have his back completely,” she told the court.

Judge Emma Smith sentenced Amoroa to 12 months’ home detention (the maximum sentence short of imprisonment) but said there were elements of the case that were “disturbing”.

Police raided the family home in Helensburgh on May 18 last year on the basis of suspected drug offending.

And once they got inside they found resounding confirmation.

In a backpack in the kitchen, next to a child’s toy, was 22.7g of cannabis, split into deal bags, along with a small amount of MDMA.

In a bedroom, jammed between a child’s bed and the wall, was a loaded sawn-off double-barrelled shotgun.

A police summary said it was in “easy reach” of any child who had used the bed, but the court heard it was actually in a storeroom.

The warrant also covered Amoroa’s black BMW parked outside the home. Inside it officers turned up nearly 5g of MDMA and another two firearms: a cut-down 30-gauge shotgun and a .22 pistol.

Both were in working order, police found.

Around the property was an assortment of ammunition for the firearms — 85 rounds in total.

At first Amoroa claimed he had them for duck-shooting before later explaining he was holding on to them for a friend.

Finally, he told a counsellor they were for his family’s protection because armed men had come to the property and threatened to harm his partner.

While Judge Smith stressed the seriousness of the situation, she also noted it had been at least a decade since Amoroa had come before the court.

For someone with his background, she said, that had been a significant triumph.

The court heard Amoroa had grown up in Waikato and experienced a somewhat transient upbringing before being raised by his grandparents.

His stability, though, disintegrated when his grandmother died when he was 15, leading him to the use of alcohol and cannabis.

That decline continued when he moved to Dunedin to live with his mother, counsel Brian Kilkelly said.

But Amoroa’s fortunes improved upon meeting his partner, and it was only the loss of his job because of Covid-19 that had prompted him to resume old habits.

Kilkelly said his client was now undergoing counselling for his disadvantaged childhood and making impressive progress.

The judge also sentenced Amoroa to 200 hours’ community work and made a forfeiture order for the firearms and ammunition.

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