Businessman's one word reply caught him in court battle

WITH just one word, a prominent Coffs Harbour businessman sealed a deal that would one day see him swap his suit for prison colours.

Andrew MacLeod's simple reply of "yeah" to an offer by corrupt state crime detective Tony Farrell to give him the "heads up" on confidential police intelligence was all investigating officers needed to launch a colourful two-year court battle.

The conversation between the long standing friends was intercepted 10 years after the champion body-builder first drew the attention of police.

Evidence tendered during his trial for making a collusive agreement with a NSW police officer, revealed that from as far back as 2001, MacLeod had been "under suspicion by local police with respect to dealing in performance enhancing drugs and ecstasy".

MacLeod was balancing life as a family man and working between his two Coffs Harbour furniture stores and part-owned gym on the Gold Coast, when his phone was tapped between May 3 and June 2, 2011.

In the first call, he tells Farrell that news another local man has been arrested for possession of performance enhancing drugs makes him feel like "crawling into a hole".

Farrell replies "Oh it's not worth standing in a hole mate...I'll always give you heads up if I see you're under notice because I get all the intel reports and stuff".

Judge Colin Phegan noted that when MacLeod then responded "yeah", he had made the collusive agreement with Farrell as, at the time he "was well aware that he was accepting an offer by Farrell to act in breach of his professional obligations".

He held that the agreement "was directed at averting any police investigation that might ultimately have had some adverse impact on the respondent and enabling him to evade the consequences of the investigation".

Soon after, MacLeod was pulled over as he was travelling north of Coffs Harbour and told his car would be searched as he was under suspicion of supplying steroids.

No banned substances were found but when MacLeod phoned Farrell he was told "Ahh s*** 'cause I um, I looked you up the other day and there's no...dramas at all..I might have to look a bit harder but I won't talk on the phone".

On the same day, MacLeod sent his licence number in a text message to Farrell who then used it to access seven intelligence reports linked to his name on the COPS database.

During a search of MacLeod's home, police found restricted substances which he claimed had been left behind by visiting friends and relatives, belonged to his wife or were prescription medications he had tended to hoard.

The author of a pre-sentencing report expressed "considerable scepticism" noting MacLeod's explanation "was found wanting...important questions remained unanswered regarding the provenance and purpose of the items".

In a psychologist report before the court Macleod describes Farrell, who later offered to give evidence against him, as "one of his closest friends" and says the conversation during which the agreement was made, was "nothing but a joke".

In a later email he tells the psychologist "substances taken from home was more than just Viagra...of the 13 items seized, 10 were eliminated by either doctors script, physician dispensed or expired medication... three items of which I may be called up to answer to...literally nothing in quantity".

MacLeod was found guilty in June last year.

At his sentencing hearing the court heard he was in a stable marriage - his wife Rachael described him as the "heart and soul" of the business - had two children and employed 12 staff in the Coffs Harbour area.

Judge Phegan said his concerns about sending MacLeod to jail were not about him but about causing "very significant hardship" to his family and businesses.

The suspended jail sentence he handed down was immediately appealed by the Director of Public Prosecutions.

From the moment he was arrested, MacLeod has insisted he has not deserved to be painted as a criminal.

The true gravity of his situation only appeared to sink this week when two corrective officers moved to guard the door of a Sydney courtroom and Justice Carolyn Simpson said she would be quashing his suspended sentence and ordering him to serve actual time.

MacLeod was visibly shocked, his wife began to sob and a senior member of the family lashed out at the media, yelling "I hope you're happy" and blaming the "rubbish" printed in the paper for the outcome.

The final paragraphs of Justice Simpson's judgement however revealed she could "easily be persuaded that a sentence of nine months imprisonment is manifestly inadequate to meet the criminality involved" but as the Crown had not sought an increase, she would not propose one.

"I wish to make it perfectly plain that the sentence I propose ought not to be taken as a benchmark for sentencing...of offences under the Police Act," she said

"Such offences are serious and threaten the integrity of the administration of justice...they potentially may pose danger to police sources of information and jeopardise important investigations."

It was unclear as to whether MacLeod would serve is time in protective custody like Farrell, who received a two-year sentence for misconduct.

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