DIRTY MONEY: Sakariah Peniamina leaves Ipswich Magistrates Court after admitting to being in possession of $10,000 in tainted cash.
DIRTY MONEY: Sakariah Peniamina leaves Ipswich Magistrates Court after admitting to being in possession of $10,000 in tainted cash. Ross Irby

Youth worker 'taken advantage of' when caught with cash

POLICE uncovered $10,000 cash when a suspicious-looking vehicle piqued their interest.

Sporting a flat tyre and left with its bonnet up, the vehicle was parked by the side of the Warrego Hwy near Minden State School, with two men sitting inside, Ipswich Magistrates Court heard this week.

Prosecutor Senior Sergeant Brad Dick told the court police were carrying out a special operation on July 21 last year when they came across the vehicle.

A person of interest in the operation was found sitting in the back seat of the car, while the man sitting in the front seat was defendant Sakariah Peniamina.

The police officers went in for a closer look and found a thick envelope in Peniamina's pocket containing a large amount of cash.

Peniamina told police the $10,000 was payment for his tattoo work.

The court heard police suspicions were proven, with Peniamina, 37, a youth worker from Goodna, pleading guilty to possession of tainted property.

"He says it was money obtained for his tattooing. The envelope was sealed," Sgt Dick said.

"He was questioned about the money. He said he went for a drive up the road from Minden and got a flat tyre."

Sen Sgt Dick said Peniamina told officers he did not know the other man in the car very well, having only met him thought his tattooing work.

"He could not say how much money was in envelope, but said it was in $50 and $100 notes," Sen Sgt Dick said.

"He said he did not use his bank account as he did not trust banks."

The court heard police took Peniamina and the envelope of cash back to the station, where the money was counted. It was stacked in two bundles of $50 notes using elastic bands.

Each bundle held $5000.

Sgt Dick said Peniamina had no criminal history. Police sought a forfeiture order on the cash. Defence lawyer Dylan Hans said Peniamina instructed he had no involvement with the other man in the car or the drug scene.

Mr Hans said the man contacted Peniamina to give him a lift to Toowoomba.

"He did become aware of what he was doing. He was asked by him to hold that cash. He agreed," Mr Hans said.

"He realises he was taken advantage of."

Mr Hans said Peniamina is a father of four children who moved from NZ to Australia in 2016.

He separated from his wife in 2017 and it was around that time he met the man.

He had "a dream job" and was worried about any impact a court conviction would have.

Magistrate Virginia Sturgess noted that although Peniamina initially claimed to have earned the money, he had not been able to describe how it was presented.

She also noted Peniamina should not have been driving as he did not hold a licence at the time. Police ultimately did not charge Peniamina with any driving offences, the court heard.

"There is no suggestion by police that you were involved an any drug dealing that resulted in the $10,000," she said.

Ms Sturgess urged Peniamina to reflect on what had taken place, saying that through his work he would likely see what happens to people who are preyed upon by drug dealers.

"There are people out there profiting from the misery of others,"' she said.

"I'm not sure how you were chosen to drive this person to Toowoomba when you are not the holder of a licence.

"It is quite a concerning episode."

Peniamina was fined $800. A conviction was not recorded.