BRISBANE, Australia — A father of nine who forced his children to help farm one of Australia’s largest cannabis crops worth AU$70 million (US$69.6 million) has been jailed for 13 years. Farmer Michael Bennet Gardner Sr, 58, — who ran the enterprise from 2004 until his arrest in 2008 — recruited his stepchildren, aged 11 to 14, to plant seedlings and tend thousands of plants on the 3,500-acre (1,416-hectare) property when they should have been at school, The Northern Star reported. He also took them with him on the 178-mile (287km) drive to his customers in Nimbin where he made his children hide cash in their shoes to avoid police detection, the Gold Coast Bulletin reported. Brisbane Supreme Court heard Wednesday how Gardner would load about a dozen drums packed with one-pound bags of cannabis into his truck, put on a wig of dreadlocks, and purport to be a hippie firewood delivery man. Gardner told his son he took 16 drums of cannabis to Nimbin in the first season and bragged to his wife he had made $500,000 from that crop which went back into infrastructure for “the big bumber crop,” The Northern Star reported. When police raided the property in Inglewood, about 165 miles (266km) southwest of Brisbane, they found sophisticated drying sheds holding 3.9 tons (3.5 tonnes) of cannabis, estimated to be worth at least AU$69 million on the black market, as well as loaded weapons and a stockpile of 10,000 rounds of ammunition. Gardner, who called the judge a tyrant as she delivered the sentence, told the court he had no regrets and would do it all again because he had been raising money for an anti-abortion campaign. Justice Ros Atkinson noted Gardner did not actually use the millions he made for any such campaign.
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