Charged winemaker’s softer sentence plea after losing empire

A WEALTHY winemaker implicated in a drug kingpin's criminal plot should get a softer sentence because he lost his "large business empire" when police laid charges that were later withdrawn, a court has heard.

Marcello Nello Casella, 58, the youngest brother from Australia's largest family-owned winery, Casella Wines, appeared at Downing Centre District Court this morning as he faces up to two years for concealing his mate's cannabis plantation plans in rural NSW.

He was initially accused of providing the finances and machinery for now jailed Bateman's Bay crook Luigi Fato's plan to grow 2750 cannabis plants at a farm uncovered by police in 2014.

But weeks into a district court trial earlier this year he instead pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of concealing the plot - admitting he knew what his friend was doing and lied to police when they questioned him.

 

Marcello Casella arrives for a sentencing hearing at the Downing Centre Courts in Sydney,
Marcello Casella arrives for a sentencing hearing at the Downing Centre Courts in Sydney,

His barrister Phillip English told the court his client was the director of 10 companies but was forced to resign two weeks after police raided his home while investigating the major criminal operation.

That included losing his director role at Casella Wines which is worth $1.5 billion and created the world-famous cheap and cheerful Yellow Tail brand.

"He has stepped down from those positions on the basis of charges that have been withdrawn," Mr English said.

"He's been effectively not holding those offices …. Where he held responsibility of a large business empire."

But Crown Prosecutor Tarik Abdulhak said that the evidence on what loss Casella suffered was limited.

Yellowtails wines owner Marcello Nello Casella and Francesco Polimeni. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Yellowtails wines owner Marcello Nello Casella and Francesco Polimeni. Picture: Jeremy Piper

He said it did not include information on whether Casella played an active role in the companies he held directorships in and how much income he lost.

Casella has had to abide by strict bail conditions since 2014 and has been unable to leave the Yenda area where he resides.

Mr Abdulhak said it appeared he had "navigated" the difficulties presented by the bail conditions "with some success" as he had advanced business ventures including a large project in the Riverina area and agricultural projects with potential partners in China, Sri Lanka and India.

Judge Peter Zahra will sentence Casella on September 21.



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