The mafia, metadata and me: the day Stan called me into an ecstasy sting


The mafia, metadata and me: the day Stan called me into an ecstasy sting

Nick McKenzie

Mafia in Australia – Drugs, Murder and Politics

The mafia continues to flourish in Australia despite major police operations, as this joint Four Corners/Fairfax Media investigation reveals.

When the phone vibrated in my pocket in September 2007, I had no idea the incoming call would plunge me into the middle of Australia’s biggest Mafia investigation in decades.

I was also unaware that the caller, who identified himself as “Stan”, was, in fact, a driven and entrepreneurial drug trafficker from Griffith, NSW, called Pat Barbaro.

Federal Police and Customs agents with some of the Ecstasy and Cocaine after the drug bust.Federal Police and Customs agents with some of the Ecstasy and Cocaine after the drug bust. Photo: John Woudstra

Barbaro had organised the world’s biggest ecstasy shipment into Melbourne in June 2007. But by the time he rang me, three months later, he was unable to locate the shipping container packed with his $500 million load.

Calling me, and then sending a series of texts from several mobile phones registered in fake names, was part of a desperate plan by Barbaro to either locate his shipment or confirm his suspicions that the police had seized his drugs.

He was hoping I would reach out to police or waterfront sources to do this, and then report my findings. To say his plan failed spectacularly would be an understatement.

Unbeknownst to either me or “Stan,” police were intercepting the text messages, which included detailed descriptions of the size and likely location of the drug shipment. These text messages, and analysis of the corresponding metadata, were used to prove Barbaro had organised the drug shipment.

But that was not the only implication. Over the past six months, federal police have used the scenario as a case study to convince the Federal Government of the need to pass laws ensuring telcos store the metadata generated when a person uses a phone or computer.

As the hulking Barbaro walked around Melbourne’s CBD, meeting bikies, South Asian money launderers and other Mafia bosses, he carried up to a dozen phones. One was his personal mobile, with a subscription under his own name.

The other phones were “burners”, which were registered in false names and regularly replaced with new phones. The problem for Barbaro is that these burners were hitting the same mobile phone towers as his regular phone.

Barbaro’s personal phone and the burners were pinging off the same towers so often that police were able to prove the burners belonged to Barbaro.

According to the Director of Public Prosecution’s Andrea Pavleka, the texts sent from the “Stan” burners “showed that Barbaro had critical knowledge of the contents of that container”.

“That was a terrific link for the prosecution to have in this particular matter.”

Back in 2007, I knew none of this.

In fact, had I known my communications were being intercepted, I would have been furious.

Many of my sources are banned by their employer from speaking to me, or any other reporter, so the prospect of any innocent whistleblower being outed would have concerned me greatly.

I only learned this many months later of the interception. From all the checks I have since conducted – and there have been many – no source of mine was compromised and the AFP agents involved acted professionally and with regard to the sensitivities of my trade.

That said, ever since 2007, I have implemented a range of measures to protect sources’ communications — steps not unlike those suggested by Malcolm Turnbull during the recent debate about metadata.

Ever since the phone buzzed that day in my pocket, and “Stan” briefly entered my life, I’ve been especially conscious about how a person’s communications leave a trail, no matter how careful they are. It is a lesson the now jailed Barbaro has, no doubt, also learned well.

Watch part two of a joint Fairfax and ABC Four Corners mafia investigation on ABC1 8.30 PM Monday.

Terror diverts focus from Mafia ‘board of directors’


Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker, Michael Bachelard

Inside a mafia ecstasy sting

The Calabrian mafia was responsible for the world’s biggest ecstasy importation in 2007. As Fairfax Media and the ABC can reveal, it didn’t go to plan…

Italy’s top anti-Mafia prosecutor and Australian police are warning that the massive diversion of law-enforcement resources to combat terrorism is eroding the fight against the Mafia and other serious organised crime groups.

Australian authorities have failed for decades to dismantle the “board of directors” of Calabrian Mafia godfathers across Australia, allowing them to entrench their drug trafficking operations, build alliances with outlaw bikie gangs and infiltrate government and police agencies.

The Mafia's reach in VictoriaThe Mafia’s reach in Victoria.

A 2013 multi-agency police report warns “Ndrangheta Transnational Australian Groups” are posing an extreme risk to Australia.

Italian anti-Mafia magistrate Dr Nicola Gratteri has also warned that the Australian government has risked allowing these organised crime groups to prosper.

“When social alarm is provoked over terrorism, governments are forced to invest in terrorism and not in Mafia … the Mafia celebrates because they know there are fewer resources,” Dr Gratteri said.

The Mafia's reach in NSW.
The Mafia’s reach in NSW.

Senior police across Australia have confidentially backed these comments, saying that while terrorism was a clear priority, the focus on suspected jihadists had meant the shifting of important resources away from the fight against organised crime.

Three weeks ago, Dr Gratteri oversaw an international anti-Mafia operation, codenamed Santa Fe, which attacked the operations of the powerful Alvaro Mafia clan, seizing tonnes of cocaine and making dozens of arrests.

Confidential Italian and Australian police files state that the Alvaro clan has powerful cells operating in Australia, allegedly headed by Adelaide construction figure, Paul Alvaro, 64, and a NSW man. Mr Alvaro did not answer specific questions, but he denies any links to organised crime

The pair is aligned to a handful of figures in capital cities across the nation and in Griffith, NSW, who – according to a police assessment – operate as “an executive Board of Directors” for the Calabrian Mafia, or “Ndrangheta”.

The board “comes together on an ad hoc basis particularly in times of crisis or when the low profile of [the Calabrian Mafia], so carefully cultivated and jealously protected, is threatened,” police reports say.

NSW Police intelligence lists “the main” Calabrian Mafia clans as “the Sergi family, Trimboli family, Romeo family” who are all “based predominantly in the Griffith area.” Only a very small number of members of these families are engaged in crime and there are many Italian families who share these common surnames but who are not connected to the Calabrian Mafia.

“The criminal activities engaged in by this network have been engaged in for decades with a high level of success. Members of the network have occasionally been apprehended and imprisoned, but on the whole, internal wrangling appears to have exacted a higher toll, as family members are murdered not infrequently,” says one NSW police assessment.

In Victoria, court files allege that wealthy Melbourne businessman, Giuseppe “Bebbe” Manariti, was linked to the world’s biggest ecstasy importation in Melbourne in 2007.

Commonwealth prosecutors have alleged that Mr Manariti was briefed by the Mafia importers, stating that he was “interested in unfolding events” linked to the massive shipment.

Mr Manariti, who has never faced criminal charges, is a close associate of alleged Melbourne Mafia boss Tony Madafferi and the pair, along with deceased Mafia leader Rosario Gangemi, are considered by police to have previously formed a “trinity” that directed the Calabrian Mafia’s Melbourne operations.

Both Mr Manariti and Mr Madafferi were previously identified in a top secret 1995 anti-Mafia operation as members of the group also known as the Honoured Society.

Mr Madafferi could not be reached for comment but has previously denied any involvement in organised crime. Mr Manariti could not be reached for comment.

The police files also reveal that the Calabrian Mafia has built close ties to outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMCGs), including the Rebels and Bandidos.

“This is particularly evident with identified connections to the Sydney and North Coast Bandidos OMCG and the Canberra and Batemans Bay Rebels OMCG. There is also intelligence of links to the Finks OMCG through associates.”

Dr Gratteri’s warning about the diversion of resources away from the organised crime fight echoes a classified National Crime Authority report in 2003.

“It is suggested that they [Australia’s Mafia cells] will neither decline nor cease their activities in the foreseeable future due to their long entrenched history in criminality in Australia, the steady market demand for cannabis and other illicit drugs and the diversion of law enforcement efforts to other areas.”

Watch part two of a joint Fairfax and ABC Four Corners mafia investigation on ABC1 8.30 PM Monday.

Judge bribes, military arms sought: the Mafia’s alleged Australian operations


Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker, Michael Bachelard

An Australian Mafia boss allegedly paid $2.2 million in bribes to  judges to get lighter jail sentences, and the Mafia have approached defence force personnel to supply them with military grade weapons, top-secret police intelligence reports reveal.

The reports also reveal the price of some food – including the price of certain types of seafood in Sydney – may be more expensive due to Mafia control of the supply chain across Australia.

Fairfax Media can also reveal that Jupiter’s Casino on the Gold Coast has become a key gambling site for Mafia figures banned over money laundering concerns from Crown Casino in Melbourne and Star City in Sydney.

Two top crime figures, including a Mafia godfather, banned from the Sydney and Melbourne casinos recently gambled large amounts at Jupiter’s, effectively rendering anti-money laundering efforts useless.

A search this month of the business holdings of all the key Mafia bosses in NSW, Victoria and South Australia also reveals their continuing control over multimillion-dollar wholesale, construction and farming businesses, including a major winery and several large fruit orchards.

A joint Fairfax Media and ABC Four Corners probe has obtained a series of confidential Australian police reports written and circulated to state agencies between 2003 and 2014.

The reports provide startling revelations about the depth of Calabrian Mafia’s infiltration into Australian life and the ambitions of the criminal group.

They reveal the group known as ‘Ndrangheta, or the Honoured Society, continues to control both legitimate and illegitimate businesses, with money earned both from the drug trade and from stand-over and extortion within pockets of Australia’s fresh food trade, trucking and construction industries.

A 2013 file, circulated among agencies, warns that the Mafia poses as “extreme” organised crime risk to the nation.

It echoes similar warnings made in a 2003 Australian Crime Commission assessment that revealed the Mafia had “infiltrated members into, or recruited people from, public organisations, government and law enforcement agencies with the lure of money”.

“[Mafia] family associates are employed in many areas of government enterprise, as well as in the telecommunications industry; bookmaking/racing; car dealerships/car repairs and hydroponic shops,” the 2003 report states.

In Victoria, Mick Gatto is named as a crime figure who works closely with the Calabrian Mafia while running his own crime syndicate.  

“Mick Gatto has shown a high awareness of law enforcement methodology and has taken a proactive approach in accessing corrupt law enforcement personnel and information to protect his ventures,” one report says.

In NSW, another Italian crime boss “is involved in a number of legitimate businesses … including car dealerships and night clubs, and is associated with at least one ex-AFP member and one corrective services person”.

NSW police intelligence also describes how detectives had discovered how “Italian Organised Crime members have actively approached members of the Australian Defence Forces for the purpose of acquiring firearms and ammunition”.

The NSW police also gathered information in 2003 that Mafia figures in Griffith, NSW – the group’s traditional stronghold – had been “receiving information from a person connected to the police in Griffith and the court”.

“It is alleged that a Sydney based IOC [Italian Organised Crime] member received light sentences in the past because he paid off [Sydney] judges, costing approximately $2.2 million.

“The protection provided to IOC members by other members comes in many forms, ranging from the simple criminal code of silence or perjury, to more sinister acts involving corrupt influence [and] abusing a position of responsibility.

“IOC groups in NSW have infiltrated members into, or recruited people from, public organisations, government and law enforcement agencies with the lure of money.”

Fairfax Media has recently spoken to senior law enforcement sources who identified a judge allegedly involved, saying he has since left the bench.

The NSW police have also discovered “information [that] suggests a monopoly exists … at the Sydney Fish Markets where private arrangements need to be made for their purchase”. The report says these arrangements allegedly involve cartel behaviour, including price fixing and threats of violence.

Police have warned that Mafia identities maintain control over the food supply chain via their ownership of farms, wholesale businesses and transport and freight firms.

Reception centres owned by Mafia bosses in Adelaide and Melbourne have been hired by unwitting police and politicians to hold functions.

An intelligence brief circulated to police across Australia in 2011 states: “The Calabrian Mafia … readily uses fruit trucks to transport cannabis to the Melbourne Fruit and Vegetable Market [from Griffith, NSW and other regional sites] to be further distributed. The trucks usually have the cannabis hidden among containers of fruit and vegetables.”

In 2003, NSW police confidentially warned that: “Investigations developed intelligence of IOC figures involved in both the Sydney fruit markets at Flemington and fish markets, as well as the Belconnen markets in Canberra”.

“[Wholesale food] markets continue to provide controlled linkages to the interstate trucking and transport industry. Again, elements of the transport infrastructure are controlled by families with connections to IOC elements. There is continuing intelligence of the exploitation of this type of freight for trafficking illicit commodities.

“The exploitation of the markets and interstate freight remains a significant area for environmental hardening and law reform.”

The revelation that Mafia figures banned from NSW and Victorian casinos over money laundering concerns are simply heading to the Gold Coast casino suggests another major weakness in anti-organised crime measures.

Police have previously warned that Mafia “identities were using casinos to launder funds through, with significant money movements through Jupiter’s Casino and Crown Casino Melbourne”.

linked with Mafia-Labor expels figure Victorian ALP delegate Michael Teti


Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker, Michael Bachelard
Frank Madafferi and Michael Teti.
Frank Madafferi and Michael Teti.

The Labor party will expel Victorian ALP delegate Michael Teti after revelations the Moreland Councillor allegedly supplied a gun to a Mafia henchman who then used it to threaten a woman, and moved funds on behalf of convicted crime boss Frank Madafferi.

Mr Teti, who was recently found guilty of weapons offences, secretly spent months working as Madafferi’s business manager in the full knowledge that  Madafferi was an underworld boss with a lengthy criminal record for violent crimes and drugs.

Mr Teti’s vehicle has also been searched multiple times by police, who have discovered drug paraphernalia — believed to be an ice pipe — and, on two separate occasions, ammunition.

Documents obtained during a major Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation reveal that Mr Teti acted as an adviser and gofer for Madafferi while the Mafia boss was facing serious drug trafficking charges, for which he was recently jailed.

During this period, Mr Teti also secured one of Frank Madafferi’s associates – who subsequently was charged with criminal offences over a violent bashing – a job in federal Labor Senator Mehmet Tillem’s office. There is no suggestion Mr Tillem, who is no longer a senator, knew that Mr Teti or his now former employee had close ties to Madafferi.

Despite knowledge within the Labor party of Mr Teti’s ties with crime, the ALP invited him in March to the party’s state conference, allowing him to vote on policy and party issues.

The ALP scrambled to expel Mr Teti on Friday after Fairfax Media sent Premier Daniel Andrews a series of questions about Mr Teti’s behaviour.

A spokesman for the Premier said in a statement: “We have been informed that the State Secretary, Noah Carroll, has lodged the necessary documents to seek the expulsion of Mr Teti from the Victorian Branch of the Australian Labor Party.”

The revelations about Mr Teti’s acitivities raise further questions about the Mafia’s infiltration of Australian politics.

Last year, Labor Roads and Ports minister Luke Donnellan accused a number of Liberal backbenchers of having “lips … dripping with blood from criminals” after revelations that Mafia members had organised political fundraisers for the party as recently as 2013.

Last week, Fairfax Media and Four Corners revealed police reports documenting how Mafia figures, including alleged crime bosses closely linked to Frank Madafferi, had infiltrated the Liberal Party as part of efforts to get Madafferi a visa.

Madafferi, whose criminal convictions for extortion, drugs and Mafia activity date back to the 1980s, appointed Mr Teti as his business manager in around 2013.

Confidential documents show that Mr Teti was handling Madafferi’s finances, moving money for his fruit shop businesses, Mondo Fruit, placing advertisements for Madafferi in Italian newspapers and importing foodstuffs for the crime boss from Italy. Madafferi has used his fruit shops as a base for his drug trafficking although there is no suggestion Mr Teti is personally involved in the illegal trade.

The most serious allegations involving Mr Teti relate to a gun he owned, which was allegedly used by a man called Michael Villeva, who also works for Madafferi.

Mr Villeva is suspected of using Mr Teti’s weapon to threaten a woman in Doreen in Melbourne’s north-east.

Mr Teti did not respond to specific questions about his relationship with Madafferi or Mr Villeva. But in a statement denying any wrongdoing, Mr Teti’s lawyer, Stefanie Chillico, said Mr Teti’s ties to Madafferi and Villeva were confined to a “professional relationship he had with them” while Mr Teti worked at a legal firm. Several well-placed sources said Mr Teti’s explanation was false.

Mr Teti controls two local ALP branches in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, and has had the ability with his allies in Labor’s right faction to influence the nomination of political candidates and ALP policy.

The ALP failed to take action against Mr Teti after he was found guilty late last year of weapons offences, including possessing a flick knife and carrying a loaded firearm in public. However, the full extent of Mr Teti’s activities has never been publicly revealed until now.

Fairfax Media can also reveal that Mr Teti has provided his vehicle to another alleged criminal and associate of Frank Madafferi, after which it was searched by police on Lygon street. Police found bullets and paraphernalia for using methylamphetamine inside Mr Teti’s car.

In 2012, local council records reveal that Mr Teti received political donations from Frank Madafferi’s brother, Tony Madafferi. Tony Madafferi was recently banned from Victoria’s Crown Casino by the Victoria Police chief commissioner because of his alleged organised crime ties.

Mr Teti has also been a regular visitor to one of Frank Madafferi’s Melbourne properties.

Federal police Detective Superintendent Matt Warren said Frank Madafferi “has a very high standing within the ‘Ndrangheta [Calabrian Mafia] in Melbourne,” and that any political figure needed to “be very careful in dealings with Francesco Madafferi”.

“It’s a real risk for them to be associated with organised crime figures.”

Mr Teti was found guilty last December of several weapons offences. He told police that the weapons were in his car because he planned to go on a hunting trip, which was later cancelled.

Mr Teti sought to avoid a formal finding of guilt, but Magistrate Michael Wighton found his conduct was “too serious”.

While the magistrate found Mr Teti did not have “criminal intent” when he left the weapons in his car, Mr Wighton said the firearm could have been obtained by others.

Mr Teti received a six-month good behaviour bond, with Mr Wighton saying Teti has “very good character” and his offending should not impede his “ambitions in public service”.

Ex-mayor runs Mafia cell, answers to Italy


Nick McKenzie, Richard Baker, Michael Bachelard

Inside a mafia ecstasy sting

The Calabrian mafia was responsible for the world’s biggest ecstasy importation in 2007. As Fairfax Media and the ABC can reveal, it didn’t go to plan…

A former Western Australian mayor is allegedly running a Calabrian Mafia cell in Perth and answers to a Godfather in Italy, according to explosive court files.

The files, from ongoing Italian court proceedings, reveal that businessman and former long-time Stirling mayor, Tony Vallelonga, is accused by Italian prosecutors of holding the “role of leader within his locale [Mafia cell]” and of “making the most important decisions, imparting orders or imposing sanctions on other subordinate associates”.

Mary Vallelonga with her husband Tony Vallelonga, the former mayor of the City of Stirling.Mary Vallelonga with her husband Tony Vallelonga, the former mayor of the City of Stirling. Photo: AAP

A joint Fairfax Media and Four Corners investigation uncovered the files in Italy. They allege that Mr Vallelonga discussed with Mafia boss Giuseppe Commisso the “spiny problem” of another Australian who wanted to start his own Mafia cell in Vallelonga’s West Australian patch, and had sought the approval of Calabrian Mafia bosses.

A bug hidden by Italian anti-Mafia investigators in a Calabrian laundromat allegedly recorded Mr Vallelonga telling Commisso in August 2009 that he had previously confronted the Australian man who wanted to start his own Perth cell, telling him: “As long as I’m alive, you don’t get a locale [local Mafia cell] … and that’s that!”

Mr Vallelonga is also allegedly recorded on the bug claiming that his Perth rival responded defiantly, telling Mr Vallelonga: “You can’t be the man any more …Enough!”

Mr Vallelonga also allegedly said the other man wanted to report directly to Mafia bosses in the Calabrian town of Siderno, rather than answering to Australian godfathers.

“I’m answering to Siderno,” the aspiring Perth Mafia figure allegedly told Mr Vallelonga.

The Italian court files allege that the Calabrian mafia boss, Giuseppe Commisso, instructed Mr Vallelonga to handle Australian problems himself, rather than bringing them to Italy.

Of the other Australian, Mr Commisso allegedly said: “We can’t allow him these things”.

The bug allegedly also records Mr Commisso telling Mr Vallelongaz: “If you aren’t good there [in Australia], you’re not good here either.

“You mustn’t come to me with people, if you have problems, you should go and fix them yourself …if you’re always here … I tell him no?  If you are here and there [Australia] you’ve had problems and you haven’t fixed them, we can’t do anything for you”.

While Mr Vallelonga’s alleged links to Mafia figures in Calabria were previously reported in 2011 in Australia and Italy – and fiercely denied by the WA businessman – the detailed evidence and allegations from the more recent court files have never been publicly revealed.

Mr Vallelonga’s lawyer, John Hammond, told Fairfax Media that Mr Vallellonga denied any involvement in criminal behaviour and that the Italian allegations were “completely without any foundation”.

The court files reveal that anti-Mafia magistrates are seeking to prosecute Mr Vallelonga, who served four stints as Stirling mayor between 1997 and 2005. But Italian authorities may struggle to extradite Mr Vallelonga because the proposed charges of Mafia association do not exist in Australia.

The allegations come after Fairfax Media last week reported confidential warnings by police that the Calabrian Mafia had infiltrated Australian politics.

The court files say Mr Vallelonga is, according to the evidence assessed by the magistrates, “completely familiar with mafioso organisation”.

It is alleged that the Australian had discussions about “the ambitions for autonomy of one who, in dissent against him, wanted to declare the place and open his own locale in Australia, legitimising it with the approval of the società of Siderno.”

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