A “well-organised” baby-milk stealing syndicate targeted warehouses across Melbourne and took pallet-loads of top-shelf formula worth more than half a million dollars which the gang planned to ship to China.
Two men, including a drug addict who was in possession of knuckle dusters, heroin and an angle grinder when he was arrested, have admitted being part of the gang while a third is still on the run.
Gurwinder Gill and Herdeep Singh were among a handful of men who robbed storage centres that housed baby formula and vitamins, between June 8 and August 30 last year.
Pallets of formula tins were loaded onto a truck with a forklift during one burglary in Mount Waverley, Melbourne Magistrates Court heard on Tuesday, while thieves who broke into a Port Melbourne factory were so focused on formula they overlooked cash and electronic devices.
Detective Senior Constable Melissa Leeds said the syndicate targeted top-shelf formula brands and used trucks and vans to transport them from warehouses, so syndicate heads could then ship the products to China and other Asian countries, where the demand was high.
During each early-morning break-in, burglars forced their way into the warehouses with power tools and then disabled alarm and CCTV systems.
Gill, 37, pleaded guilty to 20 charges related to burglaries at Point Cook, Springvale, Port Melbourne, Preston, Clayton, Burwood, Laverton and Mount Waverley. Police say he was involved in burglaries that netted $540,000 of baby formula and vitamins.
Singh, 31, pleaded guilty to eight charges. He was involved in burglaries in Burwood, Mount Waverley and Preston that police say landed $177,000 of formula and other products. He also admitted possessing heroin and ice.
Gill was a heroin user at the time, the court heard, and received $5000 for his involvement. Police found him in possession of knuckle dusters, heroin, cash and an angle grinder when he was arrested.
He applied for bail on Tuesday so he could resume drug treatment but police and prosecutors said his offending was connected to his drug use and opposed his application over concerns he would reconnect with the syndicate.
Police hadn’t identified some of the men involved in the burglaries, while a third man charged, Navjinder Singh, 24, remains at large after previously failing to meet bail.
Gill’s wife, Kamal, said her husband’s family was ashamed of his offending and promised that if he was granted bail she would inform police if he went back to using drugs or left their Ardeer home at night.
“I want him to stay away from drugs,” she said.
Magistrate Kate Hawkins wasn’t satisfied Gill made out the compelling reason he needed to get bail, and noted his “considerable involvement” in serious offending he committed while on bail for other offences.
“This enterprise presents as a well-organised, broad-ranging ring involving a huge amount of goods, which have been systematically raided from premises and stolen for potential sale in other markets,” she said.
Singh, of Newport, didn’t apply for bail.
Ms Hawkins remanded both men in custody to appear for a plea hearing in the County Court on August 15.