A Bendigo man who sold illicit drugs to undercover police at his live music venue has avoided a jail term, but must undertake hundreds of hours of community work.
Owner of the now-closed club Music Man, Paul Tzountzourkas, pleaded guilty in the Bendigo Magistrates' Court on Thursday to two charges of trafficking drugs of dependence, charges of possessing cannabis, cocaine, amphetamine and MDMA, and possessing an unregistered handgun.
The court heard Tzountzourkas sold three LSD tablets to an undercover officer in Music Man on July 29 last year.
More court news: Fatal crash accused committed to stand trial
On August 11, the 42-year-old made two more sales to an undercover officer, of a total of five ecstasy pills, four MDMA capsules and a gram of cocaine.
Then on August 31, he sold an undercover officer 100 MDMA capsules.
Five days later members of the Central Victorian Response searched the venue.
They found amounts of green vegetable matter believed to be cannabis, a sawn-off .22 rifle with no bolt, white powder believed to be cocaine, a crystalline substance believed to be amphetamine and 12 capsules of what was believed to be MDMA.
More court news: Family's pain after Karen Ristevski's killer's lies
Tzountzourkas was arrested and admitted in a police interview to possessing the green vegetable matter, but denied any other offending.
Defence counsel Matt Fisher conceded the charges were serious but said the trafficking was limited, being a few occasions in a 20-day period.
Mr Fisher said the Music Man venue was struggling last year and his client continued to run it while trying to sell it.
Tzountzourkas was under significant financial pressure, he said, having also family to support and two mortgages.
Tzountzourkas spent 23 days in custody after his arrest.
"He's a man now at 42 who has never spent any time in custody, in his life. It was a confronting experience for him," Mr Fisher said.
More court news: Mexican restaurant chain denies 'unconscionable conduct'
Mr Fisher said his client successfully completed the Court Integrated Services Program while on bail and had a new job.
Tzountzourkas was now away from the financial pressures of the business and the pub and club scene, the lawyer said, and had committed no prior drug offences.
Mr Fisher said a term of imprisonment would harm Tzountzourkas' rehabilitation prospects and asked the magistrate to consider a community corrections order.
The court heard a community corrections order assessment rated his risk of re-offending as medium.
Magistrate Bruce Cottrill said he had been in the local community for a long time and as a magistrate had seen the ravages inflicted by drugs.
"This nature of the offending on any level is serious, and there is a general abhorrence in the community for those who participate in drug trafficking," Mr Cottrill said, adding it was "pretty apt" that drug traffickers were commonly referred to as "bottom feeders".
Mr Cottrill noted that Tzountourkas' time on bail appeared to have been of benefit in way of rehabilitation, and this had also benefited the community.
More court news: Company to stand trial on cartel charges
He took into account that time in custody for a man with no previous experience and family responsibilities would have been confronting.
Elements of the plea were difficult to reconcile, he said, but on balance he agreed he ought to take the course of action submitted by the defence.
Mr Cottrill ordered Tzountzourkas to undertake a two-year community corrections order, including 350 hours of unpaid community work.
Tzountzourkas was also ordered to undertake any drug, mental health and offending treatment or programs as directed, some time of which could count towards his community work hours.
He must also provide police with a DNA sample.
Tzountzourkas' family supported him in court and were visibly relieved with the sentence.
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.