Dark web drug ring leader Cody Ronald Ward sought companionship, not cash, he told the court at his sentence hearing on Thursday, November 26.
Ward, aged 26, appeared at the District Court in the Downing Centre via audio-visual link.
He said he was bullied as a child, and found it difficult to make friends. Since he has been in custody, a psychologist has diagnosed him with social anxiety disorder.
He said drugs made him feel happy, and on the dark web he could be a different person - the money was "just a handsome byproduct".
"I was a social outcast at school, I was obese," Ward told the court.
"In real life I was a loser, no one wanted to talk to me.
"But online, people looked up to me. I found friends."
He said a friend introduced him to the dark web, where he developed an interest in cryptocurrencies, which led to purchasing, then selling, drugs online.
He saw the business as an extension of role-playing online games, where he would pretend to be a drug dealer.
Ward, of Callala Bay and two co-accused, Shanese Koullias, 24, of Callala Bay and Patricia Koullias, 20, of Quakers Hill were arrested and charged with a variety of offences related to drug supply in February 2019.
It is alleged Ward was in charge of the business, which ordered drugs over the dark web, which were then repackaged at a Callala Bay property, resold over the dark web, and sent to customers via Australia Post.
In Nowra Local Court on August 4 Ward pleaded guilty to three counts of importing a commercial quantity of border-controlled drugs, two counts of importing a marketable quantity of border-controlled drugs and a number of supplying prohibited drug charges.
At his sentence hearing on November 26, the court was also told Ward was the victim of extortion attempts while in prison, because of the publicity surrounding his arrest.
He said other inmates had threatened him with blades in an isolated part of the prison yard.
The court was told that while Ward did own a $70,000 Mercedes when he was arrested. A Maserati he also owned was unregistered, and had only cost him $7000. He also had a 2002 Mitsubishi Evo, which he had purchased for $15,000.
"When the arrest was published, you were charged with a $17 million drug business, sports cars that sounded fancy were seized, and there were photos of you and your co-offenders living the high life," Judge Robyn Tupman said.
"It made you look as though you were very rich - an easy target for extortion."
However, Ward had courted publicity prior to his arrest under his online alias. In August, 2018, he gave a "boastful" interview to news.com.
Ward said he had an online following, and the interview was a way to improve his brand as an online dealer.
He told the court that a number of things he said in that interview were untrue.
"I didn't have a 'team of ghosts' [in the business]," he said.
"I likely said it as a red herring, to look bigger and more organised."
Ward estimated he had a gross income of "thousands of dollars a day" selling drugs online.
Some of that income went to buy more drugs, some to pay his assistant and co-accused Shanese Koullias, and some was spent fuelling his own drug habit.
He also paid $300 a week in rent, and took himself and a friend on two cruises, one around the Pacific Islands, and one that ended up in Hawaii.
He described the cruises as "not expensive".
Ward also traded in cryptocurrency, however, the seed money all came from his drug business. He did not have any other form of steady employment.
He claimed he was "drug-f***ed all the time". When asked how he managed to keep a 4.9 star rating for his four-year-old business in such a state, he said it was "more simple than you would think".
"I made more mistakes than you would believe," he said.
"Often we would have to resend drugs or refund people. We would resolve issues before customers left bad feedback."
He told the court that he and co-accused, Shaneese Koullias, had been best friends growing up.
"I always had a crush on her," he said.."We supported each other through things, but we never had an intimate relationship."
Ward has been in jail since his arrest in February 2019. He said he felt "timid" in jail, and regularly witnessed stabbings.
He also said his time in jail had resulted in him kicking his drug habit, losing 25kg and developing the ability to speak in public.
"I meditate, I stretch, I go to church," he said.
Ward also credited a new-found insight into the impact of drugs on the community to his time in jail.
"I didn't grow up around drug users," he said.
"I now understand they have a ripple effect. I diminished and corrupted society."
Nine of the charges Ward faces carry a maximum term of life imprisonment. He said he hoped to leave jail in time to lead a respectable life.
"I want to make my father proud," he said.
"There's a high chance I won't get to see him outside jail again, to have a whiskey or watch a movie together.
"I want to get a respectable job and have a family one day."
Cody Ward is scheduled to be sentenced on February 12, 2021.
Shanese Koullias is also set to be sentenced in February.
Patricia Koullias are scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, November 27.