Imitation gun found under car seat among swag of charges

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Guilty plea: A court has heard an imitation gun was found under the driver’s seat of a man’s car in Shepparton when he was pulled over by police. Photo by Rodney Braithwaite

An imitation gun was found under the driver’s seat of a man’s car in Shepparton when he was pulled over by police while driving, a court has heard.

Fatusaele Beniera Tautala, 28, of Coffs Harbour in NSW, pleaded guilty in Shepparton Magistrates’ Court to charges including theft of a vehicle, possessing an imitation firearm, three counts of driving while disqualified, three counts of driving unlicensed, possessing a controlled weapon and two counts of drug driving.

Prosecutor Senior Constable Luke Lund told the court police found an imitation firearm under the driver’s seat of Tautala’s car when they pulled him over in Wheeler St, Shepparton on June 15.

He was also driving while his driver’s licence had been cancelled and was on bail with a condition that he not drive.

Tautala told police at the time the imitation gun “was his nephew’s” and that he “had no intention to use it” and had not used it before,” Sen Constable Lund said.

The court heard Tautala told police “it doesn’t even click”.

These were among 20 charges, stemming from several incidents, that Tautala faced in court.

He also pleaded guilty to two counts of committing an indictable offence while on bail, contravening a bail condition, two counts of driving an unregistered vehicle, dishonestly undertake the retention of stolen goods, going equipped to steal, stating a false name to police and driving without number plates displayed.

Sen Constable Lund said Tautala bought a Mazda 3 car from an associate for $400 on July 10, and was told on July 15 that it was stolen.

When police stopped him while he was driving the stolen car in Hotham St, Shepparton, they found a folding knife in the centre console of the car and a balaclava in the footwell.

They also found bolt cutters and a cut padlock in the boot, as well as a stolen bankcard.

Tautala was also driving while disqualified, driving an unregistered vehicle, and he contravened two counts of bail by driving a vehicle.

On May 18, 2022, he was also caught in Shepparton driving on a disqualified licence.

Five days earlier Tautala was caught in Kialla drug driving, driving without a licence, and driving an unregistered car with two different number plates on it — neither of which belonged to the vehicle.

The court was told that on March 22, Tautala was caught driving unlicensed, while on April 18 he was caught drug driving and unlicensed, and on this occasion he also gave police a false name that he said he “made up”, before telling them his real name.

Tautala’s solicitor John McNamara told that court that at the time his client was caught driving the stolen car, he had only just found out the day before it was stolen and “was returning it”.

He also said he was unaware of the knife in the console.

He also told the court Tautala’s mother-in-law had died three weeks ago and his mother had recently been diagnosed with cancer.

Mr McNamara said his client normally lived in Coffs Harbour now, but would remain in Shepparton for the duration of any community corrections orders that were imposed.

Magistrate Ian Watkins sentenced Tautala to a 12-month community corrections order, that includes 80 hours of community work.

He also ordered Tautala be treated for drug abuse and dependency, mental health issues and take part in offending behaviour programs, and that 20 hours of any treatment programs he did could be deducted from the community work hours.

He also disqualified him from driving for a further 12 months.

“It is clear to me that methamphetamines is a destructive force in your life,” Mr Watkins said.

“You’re dealing with grief … but using methamphetamines as a coping mechanism is not going to work.”