A man will spend the better part of the next decade behind bars for his role in a roadside drug deal turned armed robbery just outside of Wagga.
Ahmad El-Hajjar, a 27-year-old man from Sydney, drove to a roadside rest stop on the Sturt Highway in Borambola with his two co-offenders in the early hours of November 21, 2015.
Days before they arrived, El-Hajjar and his party arranged to meet with their two victims, who were Wagga residents, to exchange some $3000 for five ounces of the drug ice.
When the victims arrived to purchase the drugs, one was instructed to get into the back seat of a Nissan Pulsar, where El-Hajjar was waiting for him.
The victim had $1500 in his left hand and another $1500 in his lap; when El-Hajjar inquired about the money, the victim turned on his phone’s flashlight and began counting it.
When he turned the flashlight on, the victim noticed El-Hajjar was hiding a gun.
The victim quickly jumped from the car onto the ground, during which El-Hajjar grabbed the money from his hand.
The same victim heard a bullet fly pass the left side of his head as he was on the ground and heard two more gunshots as he ran back to his own car.
El-Hajjar then grabbed the second victim, pressed the gun to his neck, and said “do you remember who I am? You owe me money”.
The victims then ran back to their own car and pursued El-Hajjar and his co-offenders back to Gundagai at a high speed.
El-Hajjar eventually crashed his vehicle and was arrested by police at 2:20am for possessing a firearm, as they were still, at that point, unaware of that an armed robbery had occurred.
Police found $3525 in El-Hajjar’s shorts, and his blood tests returned positive for the drug ice.
El-Hajjar was ultimately charged with four offences; armed robbery, firing a gun in public, using an offensive weapon to intimidate, and possessing an unathorised pistol.
He was also charged with a series of smaller offences including driving endangering the public, driving while under the influence of drugs, and driving while disqualified.
He faced Wagga’s District Court via video link from the Silverwater Correctional Complex on Friday for sentencing.
After pleading not guilty, he was originally supposed to face trial in April last year; however, that trial did not go ahead, and was ultimately delayed to March this year.
Following some negotiations between the parties, El-Hajjar entered pleas of guilty to all four charges; given how long it took him to enter that plea, the court could only afford him a partial discount of 10 per cent off his total sentence.
In his sentencing remarks, Judge Gordon Lerve said this was a particularly serious matter.
“There was substantial planning, in my view, in this case, noting the phone calls some days earlier, the trip from Sydney to Wagga, and being armed with that weapon,” Judge Lerve said.
“There were a number of shots fired – it was in the dark, and it was in the direction of a number of people.”
Judge Lerve also noted that El-Hajjar had a lengthy criminal history that included break, enter, and steal while armed and stalking.
“The offender has had the benefit of parole and was in the community for less than two months upon being released on parole when these offences were committed,” he said.
“A breach of parole is the most serious breach of conditional liberty.”
Judge Lerve sentenced El-Hajjar to a total sentence of nine years and six months’ jail with a non-parole period of six years and six months.
Given that he has been held in custody since the incident, Judge Lerve backdated his sentence to April 21, 2016, and El-Hajjar will be eligible for parole on October 20, 2022.