A well-known member of the waterski racing community who was involved in the theft of four speedboats - including one belonging to race car driver Mark Winterbottom - has been jailed for two years.
Brett Allan Spits, 38, pleaded guilty in the Victorian County Court to charges of theft and handling stolen goods.
He was described as playing a "significant part in this criminal enterprise", which netted property worth $525,000 in total from towns along the Murray River.
The court heard between January 26 and January 27 last year, two Malibu Wake Setter boats were stolen from addresses in the southern NSW town of Mulwala.
The prosecution said Spits towed the stolen boats over the Victorian border using a distinctive white Range Rover. The combined value of the speed boats was $250,000.
The court heard on February 25, a white Toyota Land Cruiser went to an address in Bundalong, near Yarrawonga in Victoria's north-east.
Mr Winterbottom's Malibu Wake Setter VTX ski boat was secured to the carport at the front of the address.
Spits removed the $135,000 boat and trailer from the carport. CCTV footage showed the boat being towed away using the Land Cruiser.
The court heard the next night, Spits stole another Malibu Wake Setter speed boat from an address in Bundalong. The boat and trailer was valued at $140,000.
Police received an anonymous tip-off on February 27 that his co accused, 45-year-old Lincoln William Mifsud, had one of the boats stored in his panel beating workshop in Echuca.
Officers searched Spits' home and Mifsud's business the next day. Police discovered the Range Rover used in the NSW incidents at Spits' address.
The court heard Mifsud was at his business at the time of the search warrant and was cooperative with police. He also pleaded guilty to charges of handling stolen goods.
One of the speed boats was found at the rear of the panel workshop. The registration sticker had been pulled off the hull of the boat and a false registration plate had been attached to the trailer.
Mifsud offered to take the police to the location of the other stolen boats. Officers found the remaining boats in another shed in Echuca. The boats all had their registration stickers and plates removed.
CCTV footage from that shed showed Spits, Mifsud, and an unknown male at the property at 10.39pm on February 27.
The court was told Spits and Mifsud had met through ski racing and were first involved together in a speedboat team back in 2014.
But the $20 million collapse of Spits's construction business in 2017 led to bankruptcy and an escalation of his drug use. The court heard that at the time of the offending Spits was a cocaine addict with "dismal" finances.
Judge Sarah Dawes said Mifsud regarded Spits as a "local hero" given his history in ski racing, and that his own involvement in the crimes represented a "significant fall from grace" for someone with no previous criminal background.
Mifsud's business collapsed after the offending was revealed.
Judge Dawes told the court there was little clear evidence about what the men planned to do with the boats or what their motives were.
But she said she had concluded the plan was to rebirth and sell the boats. "There is no other reasonable explanation," she told the court.
Spits, the court was told, suffered from depression and was previously convicted of dishonesty offences. Judge Dawes said the 38-year-old's mental health problems would make imprisonment more onerous, but ruled that time in jail was justified.
He was sentenced to a two-year term, with a non-parole period of one year and three months.
Mifsud was released on a two-year community corrections order, with a condition that he complete 350 hours of community work.
Judge Dawes told Mifsud he had avoided time in jail "by the narrowest of margins".
All of the stolen boats have been returned to their owners.
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