Nightclub owner distilled 'Smirnoff' in garage

Steve Butcher
October 5, 2010


The vodka distillery in Mark Donald's garage.

 

AUSTRALIAN prime ministers once presented boxes of Kayser chocolates manufactured by Mark Donald in Geelong as gifts to foreign leaders.

Donald later refined his sweet tooth and toyed with making liqueur essences and flavourings, a creative dabble that led to a costly bungle and left a very sour taste.

In court yesterday he admitted using distilled home-brewed vodka - made in experiments in the garage of his then home at Lake Wendouree, Ballarat - to dupe patrons at a nightclub.Drinkers at Room 99 in Ryrie Street, Geelong, which Donald, 56, once co-owned, drank the backyard booze thinking it was genuine Smirnoff vodka.

Magistrate Ron Saines convicted and fined Donald $12,000 after he pleaded guilty to a charge of obtaining property by deception.

Geelong Magistrates Court heard the club made its way through about 96 bottles of Smirnoff each weekend, served with various mixers.

Leading Senior Constable Geoff Lamb, prosecuting, said that in the five weeks before a police raid on the club in August last year it was estimated Donald's home brew had generated about $15,000 in sales.


Room 99 in Geelong, where the vodka was sold. Photo: Justin McManus



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Senior Constable Lamb said police later seized a large number of full ''Smirnoff'' bottles and 20-litre white drums from the home-distillery in Donald's garage. Tests found a 42 per cent alcohol content in some, while genuine Smirnoff has a content of between 36 and 36.5 per cent.

Defence barrister David Whitchurch said Donald, an unemployed father of three and a former Geelong College and Monash University student, deeply regretted his conduct.

Mr Whitchurch said Donald admitted he was the architect of the crime, with some ''encouragement'' from the club's then manager.

Donald was ashamed he had jeopardised his former de facto partner and club licensee, who yesterday had her charges withdrawn, Mr Whitchurch said, but claimed his actions were partly experimental and partly to promote the club's interests.

Mr Whitchurch said Donald once produced 30 tonnes of chocolates annually used by airlines and hotel groups. ''Prime ministers took the product overseas as gifts to foreign places,'' he said.

Mr Saines told Donald, now of Geelong, he had defrauded Smirnoff, tax revenue and the public.

Mr Saines rejected Donald's claim he had made no money from the vodka production, which he described as premeditated.

The home set-up was elaborate and carefully planned to make a cheap, home-made product and sell it commercially, Mr Saines said.



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