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SHE looks like your typical Greek "yiayia", but Vasiliki Hatzis is an expert at clipping marijuana plants - $45 million worth of them.
On her 71st birthday the grandmother, who wears black in memory of her late husband, was yesterday given a five-year-good behaviour bond in the District Court for manicuring marijuana. Judge Michael Finnane, found the frail woman, who uses a walking stick, was unlikely to reoffend and had trimmed the plants out of a sense of loyalty to her 73-year-old husband, Vasilios Hatzis.
Her arrest in September last year came after police seized $45 million worth of cannabis on the north-western NSW property she lived on.
Sitting in a chair on the Narrabri estate, Mrs Hatzis would carefully remove the leaves from hundreds of stems, saving the most potent section of the plant to be bagged and later smoked.
On the same rural property were large drying sheds with heavy-duty drying equipment powered by generators, 3.2 tonnes of cannabis hidden in a shed and 200sqm of crop, discovered by police on April 8 last year.
Born in Cyprus, Mrs Hatzis immigrated to Australia in 1962 with only a primary school education and some farming skills.
She later married Greek-born Vasilios Hatzis and worked in a milk bar and a sewing factory prior to moving to the Narrabri property where she raised her children.
Following her arrest on September 29, the elderly woman spent 94 days in custody before she was released on bail, having been charged with cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis.
"It's sad to think that a 71-year-old on her birthday is sitting in court," Judge Finnane said yesterday.
She "was involved in a peripheral way" to support her husband, who died of cancer after pleading guilty to cultivating a commercial quantity of cannabis on March 20.
"I would accept that she became involved in this because her husband asked her to," Judge Finnane said.
Members of her family, extended family and Greek and Italian associates have been charged with drug related offences. In total, 22 people have either been sentenced or are facing charges.
Her son, Demitrios Hantzis was yesterday jailed for nine years with a minimum term of five years.
The 39-year-old was charged with cultivating a commercial quantity of a prohibited drug, possession of a prohibited drug, and supplying a prohibited drug.
"It is not possible for me to say who was the criminal mastermind in the illegitimate business," Judge Finnane said.
"Mr Demitrios Hantzis says the whole operation was his father's operation and he became involved ... as a matter of loyalty," Judge Finnane said.
"It seems to me too convenient to attribute loyalty to a dead man."
Also sentenced yesterday in relation to the drug bust were Robert Vito Giammaria, who was given a six-year sentence with a non-parole period of 2 years.
Bill Karagiannis was sentenced to a six-year sentence and a non-parole period of 3 years.
Outside the court, Detective Sergeant Steve Tedder said a warrant was still out for two other men who are believed to have fled to Greece.