Jail for NRL player-turned-turtle smuggler

Former Roosters and Broncos NRL player Martin Kennedy has been jailed for animal trafficking.
Former Roosters and Broncos NRL player Martin Kennedy has been jailed for animal trafficking.

Martin Kennedy has donned many hats - as a former school prefect, an NRL player and as a reptile breeder.

But Kennedy will be dressed in prison greens until at least 2022 after the player who was dumped from rugby league for doping was jailed on Friday for "serious" wildlife smuggling.

The NSW Court of Criminal Appeal found his original sentence - a three-year good behaviour bond delivered in June - was far too weak and jail was needed to send a message to the community.

The former Sydney Roosters and Brisbane Broncos prop, who was taken into custody minutes after the decision, had pleaded guilty to six offences including attempting to export blue-tongue lizards, importing turtles and stingrays from Thailand and illegally possessing foreign pythons at his Sydney home.

District Court Judge Sean Grant in June ruled he had excellent prospects of rehabilitation and sentenced him to the longest good-behaviour bond available to judges.

One condition of the intensive corrections order was that he complete 700 hours of community service.

But the appeal court on Friday agreed with prosecutors that the sentence was manifestly inadequate and imposed a four-year maximum jail term with a non-parole period of two years and six months.

"This is some of the most serious offending of its kind which has come before the courts," Justices Anthony Payne and Elizabeth Fullerton said.

Justice Christine Adamson said the original sentences for each individual offence were also too low which explained in part the inadequate total term.

She said not jailing Kennedy would mean others weren't deterred from committing the same offence.

"I consider general deterrence to be a highly significant factor in the present case," Justice Adamson said.

Kennedy had argued he'd already completed more than 500 hours of community service, taken significant steps toward rehabilitation and posed a low risk of reoffending.

The court had been told a career marred by major injuries led the Lismore-born man to seek out performance-enhancing supplements.

He wiped data from his phone and amassed a six-figure legal bill during a long-running investigation by anti-doping authority ASADA into his practices.

Issues at his reptile breeding and Japanese fishing tackle businesses, and a $25,000 loan owed to a friend and convicted bank fraudster, led Kennedy into the lucrative world of wildlife smuggling.

Kennedy's operation was first detected in July 2016 when Australian customs officials x-rayed four packages bound for Sweden and found 24 live shingleback lizards and 10 live dinner-plate turtles stored in cloth bags inside plastic food containers.

A similar attempt to send nine shinglebacks to Sweden in October - when Kennedy recruited a friend to physically post the packages - was also thwarted by customs and Australia Post.

Days later, he travelled to Thailand and - while paying more than $3000 in fees - posted a swath of live animals to Australia.

The haul was made up of 68 snakehead fish, 23 Chinese soft-shelled turtles, 20 sugar gliders, 15 veiled chameleons, 15 alligator snapping turtles and 11 neo-tropical stingrays.

Some 91 animals died in transit and all surviving specimens were later destroyed.

Two foreign non-venomous pythons and $43,550 in cash was seized from Kennedy's home in a March 2017 raid on his property.

Kennedy will be eligible for parole in April 2022.

Australian Associated Press