UNTIL yesterday they were Sydney’s “untouchables” – a select group of alleged drug lords who police believe masterminded a narcotics network that stretched across Australia.
Police claim they ran six organised distribution syndicates from suburban and country bases, earned millions of dollars and flouted the law for three decades.
“Today we haven’t taken a tentacle off the beast, we’ve removed a very, very big beast,” NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said yesterday. “We further allege that among those that are in custody are a number of major players in the Australian drugs trade, names you’ll instantly recognise.
“A number of the people who were arrested today were people I started working on 30 years ago, when I started working in the police force.”
Just how they ended up in custody is remarkable – a complex series of raids on 37 different locations, a police operation that cost $1.2 million but has already netted many times more than that in confiscated drugs, money and goods.
Shortly after dawn broke yesterday, more than 500 police officers raced into action in Sydney, the Central Coast and Mudgee.
By day’s end, 202 charges had been laid against 28 men and three women over their alleged roles in the commercial supply of illegal drugs.
Police seized 16.7kg of material thought to be cocaine, 5848 tabs of LSD, 30 cannabis plants, 29kg of precursor chemicals, four firearms and 600 bullets.
Some of the alleged drug kingpins lead modest lives to hide their alleged business interests, while others travel in luxury imported cars or even helicopters.
One man was arrested at a Cronulla housing commission block; another had an $800,000 mortgage; the wife of a third was on a single mum’s pension.
The home of Montreal Olympian Warren Richards – a fortified brick house at Croydon Park – was raided at 6am.
The 60-year-old appeared in Burwood Local Court late yesterday, his wife and daughter watching from the gallery.
He is charged with 18 counts of drug supply and distribution.
He did not seek bail.
Richards represented Australia in judo at the 1976 Games.
One of Richards’ co-accused, Henry Charles Landini, will appear at Bankstown Local Court today, while Victor Camilleri was refused bail yesterday.
Police allege they played major roles at “the top of the tree” of a nationwide drug syndicate.
As Richards was being arrested, the luxury Kogarah unit of co-accused Tarek Barakat was being raided. Police sources said the 34-year-old broke down in tears when he was taken into custody.
His ‘Neptune blue’ Maserati Quattroporte sportscar was searched and then confiscated. He was charged with nine drug offences and refused bail.
Further north, tactical response officers and the dog squad raided Michael Abdallah’s Denham Court mansion.
In Liverpool Local Court, police alleged that Abdallah sold undercover officers more than 1kg of cocaine since June from the home he shares with his family.
Organised crime squad Detective Superintendent Mick Plotecki has co-ordinated the confiscation of $9.1 million in cash and more than $14 million worth of real estate, luxury cars and aircraft since November 2009.