Shark patrol charity Australian Aerial Patrol under investigation over alleged fraud

Shark patrol charity Australian Aerial Patrol under investigation over alleged fraud

Posted 16 minutes ago

The future of an Australian shark patrol charity looks in doubt amid a series of investigations into fraud and misappropriation of funds.

The ABC also understands that Harry Mitchell, the general manager of Australian Aerial Patrol (AAP), has been questioned by police over an attempt by an international drug syndicate to use the charity to launder the proceeds of crime.

The AAP — a shark spotting and emergency service which has operated on the New South Wales south coast for more than 50 years — is being investigated by police and government authorities for hundreds of thousands of dollars which allegedly cannot be accounted for.

Just two weeks ago the Aerial Patrol’s main sponsor, Bendigo Bank, withdrew funding after the resignation of the chief pilot and engineer.

Both claim they have not been paid. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority then grounded the entire fleet.

Mr Mitchell said he had a new chief pilot and was back in operation.

The charity has been facing financial difficulties for sometime.

But in early 2014 Mr Mitchell and the AAP board thought their financial woes were over when a consortium of businessmen, including pilot Bernhard Stevermuer, offered $1.5 million for the aircraft training and engineering side of the business.

A deposit of $750,000 was made.

Before the remaining money could be paid, the Middle Eastern Organised Crime (MEOC) squad arrested Stevermuer, who was charged and found guilty for his part in an international drug syndicate accused of flying drugs into Australia.

There is no suggestion that Mr Mitchell is part of the consortium or knew anything about the drug syndicate.

But police allege the $750,000 deposit was laundered through AAP and is money from the proceeds of crime.

The NSW Crime Commission has issued Mr Mitchell with a court order restraining the $750,000.

“The money has all been used. It’s all gone.” Mr Mitchell told the ABC.

Some AAP board members recently hired a forensic accountant to find out where the money went and why the organisation was in such financial trouble.

According to the report, Mr Mitchell paid for repairs and maintenance on his personal properties with charity funds.

He allegedly abused his fuel card and allegedly made suspect superannuation payments onto his American Express card.

General manager paid for work ‘he didn’t do’

As part of Mr Mitchell’s job to promote the shark patrol, he was paid by the charity to do traffic reports on local radio. He stopped doing the traffic reports in 2008 but he did not stop charging the charity.

“For about eight years he hasn’t been providing those traffic reports, but he has been paid a total amount of $127,000 for work he didn’t do,” Graham Pike, a former advisor to the board, said.

Now the Australian Taxation Office is allegedly chasing Mr Mitchell for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“We are dealing with that at the moment,” Mr Mitchell responded.

He also denied wrongdoing concerning the charity’s finances.

“I am not the treasurer. I didn’t have access to funds. I wasn’t the signatory. I didn’t have access to any of that,” Mr Mitchell explained.

But treasurer John Weston disputed that.

“That is far from the truth. He has obviously had his other people like his bookkeeper and other signatories on the accounts to do his work,” he said.

The two signatories on the accounts were contacted by the ABC but did not want to respond.

Councils had ‘no idea’ how many patrols were done

The number of shark patrols — which is what the AAP gets its donation for — has also apparently dropped off.

In the financial year of 2013, the shark patrol received $545,000 dollars in donations and income, but flight logs show just $15,000 was spent on aerial shark spotting.

A former staff member contacted the sponsors — who are mainly made of local councils including Wollongong, Shoalhaven and Kiama councils — to let them know that the patrols were being done ad hoc but received no response.

“Councils were giving money with absolutely no idea of how many patrols were being done. They had no Service Level Agreements in place and didn’t seem to care too much,” the source told the ABC.

Wollongong City Council told the ABC it was reviewing its funding and the principal sponsor, Bendigo Bank, has walked from its relationship with Australian Aerial Patrol.

The Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad, the local Illawarra police and the NSW Crime Commission are continuing their investigations.

The ABC also understands the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) were informed that Australia’s most famous shark patrol charity was in a parlous state and needed to be investigated.

The ACNC declined to comment.

Cancer-suffering pilot sentenced to jail over drug importation flight into Wollongong

Updated 22 May 2015, 5:36pm

A pilot has been sentenced to nine months in jail for taking part in an international drug ring by flying a small plane thought to have been carrying drugs into Australia.

Wollongong father Bernhard Stevermuer, 43, pleaded guilty in February after a plane was raided by police at Illawarra Regional Airport last July, following a Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad investigation into drug supply in the Sydney metropolitan area.

Police said Stevermuer had $70,000 in cash, his payment for flying the plane from the United States across the Pacific.

Stevermuer’s lawyer Mark Savicunsuccessfully argued that his cancer-suffering client took part in the deal because of his love of flying and wanting to secure his family’s finances.

Mr Savic said Stevermuer’s prognosis was that he had a 10 per cent survival rate over the next five years, but he was in remission.

He said “the excitement of flying a light aircraft all the way from the US back to Australia was a huge inducement in itself”.

“His love of flying caused him to be blind,” Mr Savic said.

Mr Savic described his client as a trustworthy, generous man who had contributed significantly to the aviation community.

Stevermuer admitted to the judge in a letter that he “thought it was too good to be true”, while another document tendered quoted his wife as saying he had an “ostrich-like stance”.

Sentencing magistrate in Port Kembla Local Court, Michael Stoddard, said Stevemuer may have been naive initially but said he “continued on dealing with these people and these serious offences that occurred”.

“One would wonder why he would put himself, particularly given the submissions made in relation to his family, why he would put these people in the position that he has,” hesaid.

Stevemuer’s lawyer argued he should receive a community service order or non-custodial sentence.

But the magistrate said that would be totally inappropriate and jailed Stevemuer until at least February 2016.

Stevermuer launched an immediate appeal against the sentence and has been granted bail ahead of a hearing.




Former WA minister Gordon Hill defrauded Firepower investors of $3.4m

A former West Australian police minister defrauded about 80 investors of $3.4 million, which was meant to be spent on shares in the failed fuel technology company Firepower, the WA Supreme Court has found.

Greedy prick, Gordon Leslie Hill, 65, a former Firepower director and minister in the Burke, Dowding and Lawrence State Labor governments, was ordered by Justice Andrew Beech earlier this month to repay the group of investors.

Former WA minister Gordon Hill defrauded Firepower investors of $3.4m, court finds

10.32pm 21/04/16

A former West Australian police minister defrauded about 80 investors of $3.4 million, which was meant to be spent on shares in the failed fuel technology company Firepower, the WA Supreme Court has found.

Gordon Leslie Hill, 65, a former Firepower director and minister in the Burke, Dowding and Lawrence State Labor governments, was ordered by Justice Andrew Beech earlier this month to repay the group of investors.

The civil action against Hill, 65, is the group’s first small victory in their long-running bid to recoup the money they paid for shares which they never received.

They are among many investors who lost money in the company, which claimed to have developed a magic petrol pill that improved fuel economy and reduced emissions from motor vehicles.

Firepower collapsed in 2007, taking $100 million in investors’ money.

The group of investors made deposits ranging from $2,000 to $200,000 between December 2004 and June 2005 into a trust used by Hill, who was then working as a solicitor, to buy shares in a Firepower company registered in the Cayman Islands.

But they never received their shares because Hill transferred their funds into companies that benefited himself as well as Firepower boss Tim Johnston, who had requested the money.

This included payments to companies called Green Triton, incorporated in the British Virgin Islands, and Operations Firepower, which was registered in WA.

Hill ‘recklessly indifferent to obligations’: judge

Justice Beech said an email from Hill to Mr Johnston showed that he “was acutely conscious” he was not supposed to use the money in the trust, and “deliberately turned a blind eye to the obligations that he knew he had as a trustee”.

“It is a real problem for me sending funds from the Trust account in this way … Legally the money is not meant to be used until the shares are issued,” the March 2005 email said.

Hill denied he acted fraudulently, with his lawyer arguing he intended for investors to receive shares in a different Firepower company, registered in the British Virgin Islands.

But Justice Beech disagreed, saying “at best Hill was recklessly indifferent to his obligations”.

“He consciously put those obligations to one side when complying with Mr Johnston’s instructions and making the Trust Payments, thereby benefiting some or all of Green Triton, Operations Firepower, Mr Johnston and himself,” Justice Beech said.

The legal bid by the investors’ group first started two years after the company collapsed, but was interrupted by other legal battles as well as Hill going into bankruptcy between 2010 and 2013.

Investors seek to recoup money

The group’s lawyer, Stephen Penrose, said the next step would involve a means inquiry to determine how Hill would pay the investors.

If he cannot pay, they will look to recoup money from the Legal Contribution Trust, a fund established to compensate clients of solicitors who misappropriate trust funds.

Mr Penrose said the investors – as well as another group owed $1 million by Mr Hill but who were not part of the Supreme Court action – needed Hill to be found to have acted fraudulently to apply to the fund.

But he was not confident they would receive the full amount of money they were owed, including interest.

While some of the investors were wealthy, many were just average people.

“They are just normal people, mums and dads. That’s the shame – they were normal people who put in money,” he said.

Hill’s lawyer has been contacted for comment.

Topics: courts-and-trials, fraud-and-corporate-crime, perth-6000, wa, cayman-islands, virgin-islands-british

 Firepower founder will not face charges over company collapse

Updated 26 Sep 2014, 4:52pm

The corporate regulator has announced there will be no further penalties against executives from the collapsed fuel additives business Firepower.

It is six years since Firepower collapsed, leaving investors who had poured $100 million into the company with nothing to show for it.

The business had spent liberally on sporting sponsorships and celebrity connections to promote its fuel additives, which were subsequently discredited.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) was successful three years ago in banning Firepower chairman Tim Johnston from managing another company for 20 years, while another executive was banned for six years.

The regulator says it has now finalised its investigation into possible criminal charges.

ASIC says the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has reviewed its brief of evidence and decided there is not a reasonable prospect of securing a conviction against Mr Johnston or anyone else linked to the company.

Lack of money ends Firepower investigation

Updated 21 May 2012, 9:48am

Firepower’s liquidator believes the former head of the fuel technology company, Tim Johnston, could have stashed millions of dollars offshore.

The liquidator Bryan Hughes has also confirmed that an investigation into the collapsed company is closed because investigators can no longer afford to bankroll it.

He says creditors are unwilling to put more money into it.

Firepower collapsed in 2008 with debts of at least $100 million owed to more than 1200 investors.

Mr Johnston was declared bankrupt last year.

Mr Hughes says trying to find out exactly where the money is, is not worth the cost of continuing.

“I believe there is some money offshore, we can prove it in a commercial sense,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to prove it to the requirements required by law to substantiate it but the trouble is we can track it so far.”

Worrell is the forensic accountancy firm that was doing the investigating but Mr Hughes says they cannot continue doing so any longer.

“They have no further funds,” he Mr said.

“They’ve approached all creditors, including myself, as to whether we have any funds to contribute to their investigations into his [Mr Johnston’s] bankruptcy and his personal estate.

“We don’t and obviously other creditors are disinclined to contribute funds.”

Mr Hughes says this effectively ends the chances of private investors recouping money from Mr Johnston.

“It’s in third parties, it’s in offshore jurisdictions, it’s in other companies,” he said.

“And, until somebody can find exactly where it all is and how that sheets home to Mr Johnston, it wouldn’t be worth the cost of doing it.”

Mr Hughes says the difficulty of investigating the collapsed company highlights flaws in Australia’s business framework

ASIC bans Firepower boss for 20 years

Updated 21 Jul 2011, 5:10pm

The Federal Court in Perth has banned the founder of the discredited fuel pill technology company Firepower from managing companies for 20 years.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) brought action against former Firepower chairman Tim Johnston after the company collapsed in 2008, leaving investors more than $100 million out of pocket.

Justice John Gilmour said Mr Johnston should be excluded for a very long period of time from having access to or control over shareholders’ investments.

He said it was the kind of conduct which diminishes investor and public confidence in the commercial markets.

Mr Johnston’s investment manager Quentin Ward has been banned from managing a company for six years.

Mr Johnston did not turn up in court today to hear the decision


7-Eleven operators given $150,000 fine for underpaying workers-But what will they get?

Melbourne 7-Eleven operators given $150,000 fine for underpaying workers, court hears

4.19pm 21/04/16

The former owner-operators of a Melbourne 7-Eleven store have agreed to pay a $150,000 fine for underpaying 12 “vulnerable” workers, a court has heard.

A Federal Circuit Court hearing has been told husband and wife Haiyao Xu and Yiran Gu have repaid employees of their former Parkville store $84,000 in wages they were owed.

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) took legal action against the couple after an audit revealed they paid their staff as little as $12 an hour in the year to September 2014.

The amount is well below the minimum casual wage of more than $22 an hour, and as much as $46 an hour for overnight and weekend shifts.

FWO lawyer Fiona Knowles told the court 11 of the 12 employees were on visas and had recently arrived in Australia.

“Those employees worked all hours of the day and night … but they did not receive the minimum wage, let alone any additional penalties,” she said.

The court was told the couple also manipulated the 7-Eleven pay roll system by entering that employees had worked fewer hours than they actually had in order to pay them less.

During the time they were underpaying staff, the couple bought another 7-Eleven store on Spencer Street in the CBD. An audit has revealed staff at that store were owed $106,000.

Couple apologised to underpaid staff, court told

Ms Knowles said the couple had made full admissions and cooperated with the FWO’s investigation fully.

They had also sent letters of apology to the employees who had been underpaid.

Defence lawyer Matthew Minuchi said at the time of the offending, 7-Eleven’s head office was taking 57 per cent of its franchisees gross profits.

“The profit of the store of $27,000 for that year was not enough to cover the underpayments,” he said.

Mr Minuchi told the court 7-Eleven had since changed their franchise agreement to allow for the appropriate payment of employees.

The couple and the FWO have agreed on the $150,000 fine but a Federal Circuit Court judge is yet to agree to the penalty.


Mother confesses to murder of her daughter Sanaya Sahib

What a tragic situation, the precious little Sanaya who was abducted has been found in the creek nearby.Anyone who could do that needs to be locked up and the key thrown away!

Update : Taking an awful shift with investigators actions.Sadly this could become some else all together. I hope not

THE mother of 14-month-old Sanaya Sahib has confessed to the murder of her toddler after she was charged by homicide detectives earlier today.


Post mortem reveals Sanaya Sahib was smothered

IT HAS been revealed that an ambulance was called a week before the murder of toddler Sanaya Sahib because the little girl had suffered a seizure.

Sanaya’s body was found in a creek early Sunday hours after her mother Sofina Nikat claims a shoeless African man smelling of alcohol abducted her 15-month-old daughter while she was walking with her in Melbourne’s Olympic Park on Saturday afternoon.

A post mortem is expected to show she died of smothering, however police media said the results have not been finalised.

Meanwhile, her uncle Habib Ali has told the Herald Sun an ambulance was called to his Heidelberg West home, where the mother and daughter had been staying, a week before her murder because Sanaya suffered a seizure.

Mr Ali dismissed the episode as “nothing really”, but paramedics were worried the seizure had been triggered through a lack of oxygen via smothering, the Herald Sun reported.

Sanaya Sahib, 15 months, with her mother Sofina Nikat. Picture Facebook

Sanaya Sahib, 15 months, with her mother Sofina Nikat. Picture Facebook Source:Supplied

Sanaya Sahib. Picture: Facebook

Sanaya Sahib. Picture: Facebook Source:Supplied

Memorial for 15 month old baby Sanaya Sahib, murdered at Darebin Creek.

Memorial for 15 month old baby Sanaya Sahib, murdered at Darebin Creek.Source:News Corp Australia

Habib Ali, brother of Sofina Nikat and uncle of Sanaya Sahib. Picture: Hamish Blair

Habib Ali, brother of Sofina Nikat and uncle of Sanaya Sahib. Picture: Hamish BlairSource:News Corp Australia

Police have not commented on what — if anything — was captured on CCTV cameras located have near the park where the abduction took place.

No independent witnesses have come forward to confirm the 22-year-old mother’s account. She is being kept in an undisclosed location and hasn’t yet been interviewed by homicide squad detectives.

She is said to be “hysterical”.

Ms Nikat gave chase after the alleged abductor but then returned home with the stroller.

Mr Ali told media outside his home Sanaya “didn’t deserve” what happened to her. She’s such a cute little kid … I don’t know why this happened. Whoever done it, shame on him, he is a coward.”

Ms Nikat and Sanaya had been living with Mr Ali after she split with Sameer Sahib, Sanaya’s father.

He said Ms Nikat was shocked and “crying a lot”.

“She doesn’t know what to do or what’s going on, obviously.” He said the family still did not know what had happened to Sanaya or how she died.

Darebin Creek, where Sanaya’s body was found early on Sunday morning.

Darebin Creek, where Sanaya’s body was found early on Sunday morning.Source:News Corp Australia

He said the family had a lot of sympathy for Mr Sahib, who is struggling to understand what has happened.

Fairfax reported on Tuesday two men that Sanaya had contact with in recent days were facing serious criminal charges, including family violence and assault.

Victoria Police have not commented officially on the inquiry for almost 24 hours, other than to confirm no arrests had been made. But according to The Age, detectives were expected to investigate the links the men had to the slain toddler.

The tributes for Sanaya continued last night with soccer players from Heidelberg United Football Club last night observing a minute’s silence for Sanaya before their match against Port Melbourne.

Dozens of people have also left flowers and cards for the toddler near the creek where her body was found.

One crying woman said she didn’t know the family bit couldn’t believe something so tragic could happen in their community.

“RIP sweetheart. So very sorry for your family, our heart breaks with them,” read one of the many cards left alongside a soft pink toy.

—additional reporting: AAP

Update 10am 11/04/16

Police make desperate appeal for information about toddler Sanaya Sahib’s death

Police have made a desperate appeal for information as they hunt for the person responsible for the death of Melbourne toddler Sanaya Sahib.

The 15-month-old girl’s body was found in Darebin Creek, Heidelberg West, in the early hours of Sunday.

Sanaya’s mother, Sofina Nikat, 22, said her daughter was snatched by a stranger from her pram.

Police have searched a home in Heidelberg West where Ms Nikat had been staying.

On Sunday afternoon, police were seen searching through bins and leaving with forensics bags.

It is understood Ms Nikat is helping police with their inquiries.

Police said the only suspect is the attacker, described as a barefoot man with dark skin between the ages of 20 and 30.

He was wearing black pants and a black zipper top, and smelled heavily of alcohol, police said.

Detectives are investigating all possibilities and will today doorknock streets in Melbourne’s north-east.

The body was found just before 3:00am Sunday by a local family who had once lost a child and wanted to assist.

Heidelberg West residents left a floral tribute near the scene, which is less than a kilometre away from the Northland shopping centre.

The Mayor of the City of Banyule, Craig Langdon, said the community was grieving.

“I know the area well enough to know the area will be grieving greatly because it’s a very close community,” he said.

“My thoughts are with the family. It would be a tragic loss to any family, to find a child like that in the Darebin Creek, I can not imagine the grief they’re going through.”

Mr Langdon said counselling would be made available through the council to anyone who needs it.

No charges have been laid over Sanaya’s death.

A post-mortem examination will be carried out on the body.

Any witnesses have been urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

Body found in search for toddler missing from Olympic Park, Heidelberg West


THE GRIEVING mum of toddler Sanaya Shaib has left her home as investigators continue to hunt for the 15-month-old’s killer.

The police forensics team are now searching a home address of the mother of the dead toddler. They have been joined by members of the homicide division. Forensics Police said they were expected to stay at the house for several hours.

Local residents paid tribute to the 15-month-old with flowers and teddy bears near where her body was found.

Forensic police have started their search of the house by checking discarded rubbish near the property and in the back garden.

Homicide Squad detectives were investigating after the discovery of the body at Heidelberg West this morning. The body was found in the Darebin Creek by four people searching together, about 2.45am.

Earlier police said the only suspect in the toddler’s death is described to be a man of African appearance, between the ages of 20 and 30, six-feet-tall, wearing black pants, a black hooded zipper top, no shoes and smelling heavily of liquor.

Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bailey said parents in the area should be alert and mindful of what they do.

“This is obviously extremely concerning for Victoria Police if this is a random abduction,” he said.

“We think it’s completely random at this point in time.

“We need to be careful and alert, given what’s taken place at this present time.”

The warning comes after the body of a child, believed to be that of Sanaya, was found in a creek in Melbourne’s north-east at 2:45am this morning.

The body was found by a family of four, including a child, who were searching for the girl after seeing a Facebook post requesting help from volunteers.

The family, who had also lost a child in the past whom they later found alive and well, found the toddler partially submerged as they were walking along the western side of Darebin Creek. The child will be taken back to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine for a postmortem today.

Sanaya Shaib with her mother Sofina Nikat. Picture: Supplied.

Sanaya Shaib with her mother Sofina Nikat. Picture: Supplied.Source:Supplied

Sanaya was abducted from her pram in Olympic Park yesterday. Senior Sergeant Bailey said the toddler’s mother, Sofina Nikat, noticed the suspect walking towards her around 10:10am.

“That male has then folded behind her and has then pushed her to the ground, taken the child from the pram and run in a south-westerly direction on the eastern side of Darebin Creek, and crossed over a footbridge that takes you to the Northland Shopping Centre area and then pershaps towards Wood St,” he said.

“Once the child has been abducted, she (the mother) has chased the offender for a short period of time, realised she wasn’t making any ground there, so she has returned back to her home with the stroller and notified authorities there.

“We notified both the mother and father at 6:45am this morning (that the body had been found) and they are obviously in an extremely distressed state.”

Police don’t know how long the body had been in the creek.

A body has been found on the banks of Darebin creek. Picture: David Crosling

A body has been found on the banks of Darebin creek. Picture: David CroslingSource:News Corp Australia


Crews armed with torches scoured Darebin Creek in Heidelberg West until late last night. Ms Nikat was assisting police, but they stressed she was not being held in custody.

Inspector Paul Tymms urged anyone who knew the location of the child to come forward. He said authorities were hopeful Sanaya was still alive.

Ms Nikat’s older brother, Habib Ali, said the family had been supporting the young mother after she ­recently separated from her partner. He said his sister had taken an unsettled Sanaya out for a walk but ­returned home soon after with dirt on her clothing.

Mr Ali said: “She came screaming and crying, she said, ‘Somebody’s snatched my baby’. She was mumbling out of ­control.

“I just pray to God that whoever’s done this, please ­return the baby.”

The mother’s family claimed her daughter had been snatched from her pram at a popular park in Melbourne’s northeast.

Inspector Paul Tymms confirmed on Saturday evening that the disappearance was being treated as suspicious.

Sanaya’s uncle Habib Ali told the Herald Sun his sister had been hysterical when she arrived home from a walk without the baby.

“I’m devastated,” Mr Aly said. “This is shocking … why would anyone want to hurt this little girl?

“We just don’t know what to do.”

Sanaya and her mother were visiting Mr Aly’s Heidelberg West home for the day, he said.

He said his sister told family that as they sat down on a park bench she noticed a man watching her.

“She said someone was standing and watching her … but she didn’t make anything of it,” Mr Aly said.

The man then undid the clips in the toddler’s pram, picked up the girl and ran away toward Northland shopping centre, Mr Ali said he’d been told.

Next-door neighbour Melynda Smith said the family were quiet and she had not heard any disturbances.

“We’re just terrified,” Ms Smith said.

“We are shaken up over the situation.

“You hear it in other states, you hear it in other countries … you don’t expect it to happen in your own backyard.”

She said the family was close and had hosted Sanaya’s first birthday party at Mr Aly’s Perth St home.

“They support each other,” Ms Smith said.

“I always see the mother out walking with her, getting fresh air … they are always spending time with the bub and the bub is never out of the mum’s sight.

“She is a very well cared for and looked after little girl.”

Mr Aly said he and his family had been supporting his sister through her separation from her partner, who lived in Hallam.

He said his sister and Sanaya had been staying in Mitcham but visited his home regularly.

The toddler was last seen wearing a short-sleeved white top with pink and yellow hearts, koala print pants, socks, and a black necklace with an oval locket.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at


12.16pm 10/04/16

A toddler who was found dead in a creek in Melbourne’s north-east this morning was snatched from a pram while walking with her mother in a park yesterday, homicide detectives say.

Police said 15-month-old girl Sanaya Sahib, who had been missing since yesterday morning, was found in Darebin Creek in Heidelberg West by four people searching together just before 3:00am.

Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bailey said the toddler was with her 22-year-old mother, Sofina Nikat from Mitcham, at Olympic Park about 10:00am, when the little girl was grabbed and taken.

“[Ms Nikat] noticed a male walking towards her, that male has folded in behind her and has then pushed her to the ground, has taken the child from the pram and run in a south-westerly direction on the eastern side of Darebin Creek,” he said.

“He crossed over a footbridge that then takes you into the Northland Shopping Centre area and perhaps towards Woods Street.

“This is obviously extremely concerning for Victoria Police if this is a random abduction.”

Detective Senior Sergeant Bailey said police believed it was a random attack.

The man has been described as between 20 and 30 years of age, about six feet tall with short dark hair and not wearing shoes.

Police said he was wearing black pants and a black zipper top.

They said he had dark skin and smelt heavily of alcohol.

Detective Senior Sergeant Bailey said Ms Nikat had tried to chase the man, but was unable to and returned to her friend’s home and contacted police.

He said authorities had worked hard to find the girl when she was reported missing, but she was found in the early hours by a local family who had once lost a child and wanted to assist.

Police said clothing on the body found in the creek matched that reported on the missing toddler.

Heidelberg West residents Michelle and Faye left a floral tribute near the scene and said they knew of the family.

“I just wanted to put flowers for the baby,” Michelle said.

“I couldn’t sleep knowing she was out here somewhere.

“I was hoping she was alive.”

Anyone who saw the incident has been urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

From other news sites:

Vic kidnapped girl’s body found in creek | SBS News

A toddler who was snatched from her pram in a Melbourne park has been found dead in a nearby creek.

Police say 15-month-old Sanaya Sahib was with her mother at Olympic Park in Heidelberg West about 10am on Saturday when she was grabbed by a man who smelt strongly of alcohol and was not wearing shoes.

Sofina Nikat, 22, told officers she was pushed to the ground by the man, who ran off with her daughter towards a nearby shopping centre.

Ms Nikat gave chase but when she realised she couldn’t catch him, she raced home to alert police.

She never saw the face of the man, who is described as being of African appearance, between 20 and 30 years old and about six feet tall.

The toddler’s body was found in Darebin Creek just before 3am on Sunday by a family of four who had seen social media posts about her disappearance and wanted to help.

The family, who had once lost a child who had later been found, spent the night looking for little Sanaya.

Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Bailey said it wasn’t known how long the body had been in the water.

“It is obviously extremely concerning for Victoria Police if this is a random abduction,” he told reporters at the scene on Sunday.

“We need to be careful, alert, given what’s taken place at this present time, but we’ll wait and see how the investigation unfolds.”

He appealed for anyone who saw the incident, the child or her blue and yellow pram to come forward.

It’s believed Sanaya and her mother, from Mitcham, were staying with friends in Heidelberg West near the former 1956 Olympic Village following a separation from the tot’s father.

A large orange tarpaulin was erected on Sunday morning around a part of the creek where the girl’s body was found.

An air ambulance hovered above as police, positioned at the southern end of Northland shopping centre, diverted traffic, cyclists and pedestrians from the area.

Sanaya’s tiny body, on a large stretcher, was later taken away by forensic police.

Both parents have been helping police and are said to be extremely distressed.

The tot is yet to be formally identified and a post-mortem examination will be carried out later on Sunday.

Dieter Pfennig, on trial for the murder of Louise Bell, sucking sytem dry as trial dribbles along

No wonder no bastard can get legal aid or a quick trial when snakes like this bloke suck the life out of the system. No excess payments when flogs like Pfenning need treatment.No expense sparred for legal help either. He must have cost the Government an easy 500,000 dollars so far.That do not include the estimated 90,000 a year per grub in jail. I have a relative that cannot afford the same operation and he has worked all his life paid taxes and never put a foot wrong…

Louise’s alleged killer ‘doing crossword puzzles’

Dieter Pfennig, who is on trial for the murder of Louise Bell.

THE man accused of murdering Louise Bell is conscious and “doing crossword puzzles” in his hospital bed following a heart attack, a court has heard.

Defence counsel, however, have questioned whether Dieter Pfennig is fit to stand trial after his ordeal — prompting a judge to request his cardiologist come to court and give evidence.

Pfennig, 67, suffered a heart attack in his Yatala Labour Prison cell last week and spent time recovering in a medically-induced coma.

The emergency threw his trial, over one of the state’s most enduring cold case mysteries, into doubt — but on Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard the case may be back on track.

Prosecutor Sandi McDonald, SC, said the prognosis from the Royal Adelaide Hospital was positive.

“As of Friday, Pfennig had further surgery … he was sitting up doing crossword puzzles in hospital and was about to be moved into a ward (from the emergency department),” she said.

“Sometime in the next 24 hours, he will return to Yatala.”

Pfennig has pleaded not guilty to abducting Louise, 10, from her Hackham West home on January 4, 1983, and murdering her at some time before March 1 that year.

He is currently serving a life sentence for the 1989 murder of Michael Black, 10.

Neither child’s body has ever been recovered, and witnesses claim Pfennig has said they are buried together.

Pfennig’s trial, in the absence of a jury, started on September 20 last year and has run for almost 50 days over the past six months.

Louise Bell, left, and Michael Black, right.

He has challenged DNA evidence that, prosecutors claim, provides a one-in-one-billion link between him and Louise’s discarded pyjama top.

That challenge was the trial’s first major stumbling block, with Pfennig’s team claiming it needed a six-month adjournment and another $250,000 in legal aid funding to run it.

Those requests were denied, prompting changes in Pfennig’s representation — this month, he changed solicitors at the 11th hour in a bid to avert a mistrial.

Under state law, the trial can continue in his absence if he is deemed medically unfit and, were he to be found guilty, he would be detained in hospital instead of jail.

On Tuesday, Paul Charman, for Pfennig, said he knew no more about his client’s status than prosecutors did, and so the question of fitness had yet to be answered.

“We are arranging for my instructing solicitor to go see him in hospital this afternoon — clearly, we need to form a view as to whether he can provide us with instructions,” he said.

“Even if he doesn’t have cognitive issues, we need to know whether he will be fit to attend court and provide instructions.”

Mr Charman suggested obtaining medical reports, but Acting Justice Michael David said there was a quicker way for the court to be informed.

“A series of reports goes back and forth and could be messy — I’d like to call his cardiologist or specialist into court to give an opinion,” he said.

“After whatever the cardiologist tells us, it’s up to you to make whatever application you want to make.”

He adjourned the hearing until Wednesday, when the cardiologist will be called to give evidence.

Louise Bell was abducted from her home in January 1983. Now a man, Dieter Pfennig, is about to stand trial for her murder.

FOR 32 years the family of Louise Bell have waited for answers.

Their daughter and sister was abducted from her bedroom in her Adelaide home in the middle of the night in January 1983. Her body was never found.

They could now be closer than ever before to finding out what happened that night with confirmation a Supreme Court murder trial will open next week.

The accused, former teacher Dieter Pfennig, has had his identity suppressed ever since his arrest in 2013. Secrecy around his name ended today when a judge revoked the suppression order because Pfennig has opted for a judge-alone trial.

The cold case was one of the South Australia’s most gripping and troubling and has seen many twists over the past three decades, including the arrest of another man, Raymond John Geesing, 10 months after the disappearance.

Defence counsel for Dieter Pfennig, now aged 67, opted for a trial by judge alone.Source:News Limited

Louise Bell was taken from her Adelaide home. Her body has never been found.Source:Supplied

He was eventually freed after the conviction was overturned. For years the case remained unsolved until advances in DNA testing provided a breakthrough.

It was a pyjama top, found on the front lawn of a neighbour’s property, that proved crucial to the case. It was sent to the Netherlands for testing in 2013 and, in November of that year, now 67-year-old Pfennig was charged with the murder.

Prosecutors will allege Pfennig broke into Louise’s bedroom, which she shared with her sister, and abducted her on the night of January 4, 1983.

It wasn’t noticed she was gone until the next morning when her mother Diane couldn’t find her. A flyscreen had been cut to get into the home.

The case took other dramatic turns, apart from the arrest of Mr Geesing, who also lived close to the Bell family. The grieving family were targeted by an extortionist who wanted $30,000 in exchange for the safe return of Louise.

The Louise Bell mystery was one of South Australia’s most enduring cold cases.Source:News Corp Australia

And the neighbour who found the pyjama top on her property — which later proved so crucial — was phoned in by an unknown man asking for medical advice, apparently relating to Louise. The same man is believed to have called police and told them where to find her earrings.

During the trial the judge will visit the home Louise was taken from and also that of Pfennig’s home at the time, which is located a few streets away.

It isn’t the first time the home has come under investigation. It was extensively searched in the past by investigators looking for clues — including in 1991, when the entire backyard was excavated and timber floors in several bedrooms ripped up, reports the Adelaide Advertiser.

A radar penetrated the ground, but nothing was found.

An inquest into Louise’s death was held in 1985 and concluded she had been murdered for “sexual purposes”.

The trial is expected to last several weeks.

Former teacher accused of murdering schoolgirl Louise Bell ‘told an inmate’ he dumped her body in the same place that he buried a boy he was convicted of killing

  • Dieter Pfennig, 67, has pleaded not guilty to murdering Louise Hall in 1983 
  • Pfennig allegedly told an inmate her body was in the same place as a boy
  • He is currently serving a life sentence for murdering Michael Black in 1989
  • Bodies of Adelaide children Louise and Michael have never been recovered

A former teacher accused of murdering schoolgirl Louise Bell told an inmate her body was in the same place he buried a 10-year-old boy he is convicted of killing, a court has heard.

The Supreme Court of South Australia has heard details of a conversation between Dieter Pfennig and an inmate at Mount Gambier prison in which he spoke of both Louise and Michael Black.

Pfennig, 67, was sentenced to life in jail after he abducted and murdered Michael in January 1989, Adelaide Now reports.

The Supreme Court of South Australia has heard details of a conversation between Dieter Pfennig and an inmate at Mount Gambier prison in which he spoke of both Louise Hall and Michael Black

The Supreme Court of South Australia has heard details of a conversation between Dieter Pfennig and an inmate at Mount Gambier prison in which he spoke of both Louise Hall and Michael Black

He was arrested at Port Lincoln Prison and is currently facing trial over Louise’s murder in 1983.

Pfennig allegedly spoke of both Michael and Louise at Christmas in 2006 when he was smoking cannabis with another prisoner, prosecutor Sandi McDonald told the court on Wednesday.

Pfennig is accused of murdering Louise Hall after she was abducted from her Adelaide home where she slept with her sister on January 4, 1983

Pfennig is accused of murdering Louise Hall after she was abducted from her Adelaide home where she slept with her sister on January 4, 1983

‘Pfennig started to talk about Michael Black, how he had murdered him,’ she said.

‘He said he couldn’t tell anyone where Michael Black was ‘because there is a chick there’.

‘The other prisoner asked ‘what chick?’ and Pfennig replied ‘Bell’.’

Pfennig has pleaded not guilty to murdering Louise after she was abducted from the bedroom of her Adelaide home where she slept with her sister on January 4, 1983.

Her body has never been found.

Michael’s body has also never been recovered after he disappeared while fishing with his dog.

Craig Warman, the first police officer on the scene when Louise was reported missing, told the court on Wednesday he found her bedroom window open and the flyscreen torn from its frame.

‘It (the flyscreen) had been torn from the aluminium frame, all the way across the bottom to about three quarters of the way up,’ he told the South Australian Supreme Court on Wednesday.

Mr Warman, then an officer at Christies Beach, said Louise’s parents were ‘distraught’ when he and his partner arrived at about 6.30am on January 5, 1983.

Louise’s disappearance sparked an extensive search over the following days.

‘When I was on shift the whole staff would be out searching,’ Mr Warman said.

‘My house was actually searched.’

Prosecutor Sandi McDonald (left) and Justice Michael David (right) spent Tuesday visiting several locations central to Louise's murder case, including the girl's home where she was last seen by her parents

Supreme Court Justice Michael David spent Tuesday visiting several locations central to Louise's murder case, including the girl's home where she was last seen by her parents 

Supreme Court Justice Michael David spent Tuesday visiting several locations central to Louise’s murder case, including the girl’s home where she was last seen by her parents 

Ms McDonald

The team of law officials drove over the Onkaparinga river to have a better view of the significant location

Louise’s grade five teacher, Priscilla Grace, also gave evidence by video from New York and said the young girl was particularly well-mannered and shy.

‘She was quite unique. She didn’t want to go out and play with other children, she just loved helping me in the classroom,’ Ms Grace said.


  • The disappearance of 10-year-old Louise Bell in 1983 is one of SA’s most enduring cold cases.
  • Former maths and science teacher Dieter Pfennig, 67, has pleaded not guilty.
  • The Crown says it has DNA evidence linking Pfennig to the girl.
  • The Crown alleges that while Pfennig was in jail for other offences he told fellow inmates he had killed the girl.
  • The court has heard how a phone call made by a man after Louise went missing led them to find her earrings under a brick near where she went to school.
  • Louise’s father Colin Bell has told the court how he last saw his daughter after he put her to bed on the night she went missing.
  • The Supreme Court trial before Justice Michael David is sitting without a jury.

‘If I was out on yard duty she would come out with me and hold my hand and walk around.’

Supreme Court Justice Michael David spent Tuesday visiting several locations central to Louise’s murder case, including the girl’s home where she was last seen by her parents.

Prosecutors allege Pfennin admitted killing the girl to fellow prisoners while in jail for other crimes.

‘The accused then said ‘I did it. I took her’,’ Ms McDonald told the court on Tuesday.

According to Ms McDonald, Pfennig told fellow prisoners the 10-year-old’s death was ‘eating me up’.

DNA evidence from Louise’s pyjama top – which was found in a neighbour’s mailbox shortly after she went missing – would link Pfennig to the crime, Ms McDonald said.

The pyjama top was a ‘one in a billion’ match to Pfennig, she said, adding that the item of clothing had been torn and it appeared that someone had tried to ‘remove it from a child, particularly if her hands were bound’.

Ms McDonald told the court Pfennig had confessed to two inmates, telling one of them that he had been smoking cannabis at the time and Louise’s death had been an accident.

Pfennig – who was married with two daughters at the time of the alleged crime – reportedly said he was not going to tell police where the schoolgirl’s body was located.

‘I’m not going to make it out of prison, why should I should bother?’ Ms McDonald said, quoting what the 67-year-old allegedly told fellow inmates.

Louise’s father Colin Bell gave evidence on Monday, telling the court his daughter had been shy and obedient.

Mr Pfennig frequently went canoeing at Onkaparinga River, located about six kilometres east of Louise's home

Algea found on Louise's pajama suggests it was submerged in water, said Ms McDonald (fourth right)

Algea found on Louise’s pajama suggests it was submerged in water, said Ms McDonald (fourth right)

Mr Bell – who was the last person to see Louise – said she loved music and reading, and was wary of strangers.

He said he checked in on Louise and her sister in their bedroom several times throughout the night because they’d been arguing.

‘It was my usual habit to kiss them, but I can’t remember whether I did or not that night,’ Mr Bell told the court.

He said it was his wife who discovered Louise missing the next morning.

Pfennig was charged in 2013 after a comprehensive review of the cold case.

The teacher – who had lived with his family two blocks from the Bell home when Louise disappeared – had his property searched twice during the time he was a suspect.

Police found nothing in either the 1991 or the 2012 searches.

A property which once belonged to Pfennig had floorboards pulled up and part of the back yard excavated in the first search, and during the second, a ground penetrating radar was used to help excavate other areas of the back yard.

The trial is continuing.

Police searched Pfennig's former home in Adelaide in 2012 but didn't find any evidence

Police searched Pfennig’s former home in Adelaide in 2012 but didn’t find any evidence

The team spent two hours at the various key locations associated with Louise Bell's disappearance 

The team spent two hours at the various key locations associated with Louise Bell’s disappearance 

Gayle Woodford death: Dudley Davey charged with murder appears in Port Augusta Court

A dedicated Nurse working hard, surely underpaid and suffers the indignity of being killed this way. FOLLOW this story closely. Never let it be undermined by bullshit excuses from the communities of the indigenous communities she dedicated herself too to save one of their own people!

A dedicated Nurse working hard, surely underpaid and suffers the indignity of being killed this way. FOLLOW this story closely. Never let it be undermined by bullshit excuses from the communities of the indigenous communities she dedicated herself too to save one of their own people!

March 29, 2016 3:55pm

Rural nurses push for more protection

THE man charged with the murder of outback nurse Gayle Woodford is the target of payback threats by other inmates, a court has heard.

Dudley Davey appeared in Port Augusta Magistrates Court today charged with the murder of Mrs Woodford at Fregon in the APY Lands early last Thursday.

Davey, 34, wearing a black T-shirt, stood silently in hand cuffs flanked by two sheriffs officers throughout the hearing.

His duty solicitor urged Magistrate Clive Kitchin to impose a suppression order on Davey’s name and image.

Dudley Davey, 36, has been charged over the murder of nurse Gayle Woodford. Picture: Channel 7

He argued that publication of Davey’s name could lead to him being harmed inside the prison system by Aboriginal inmates who are angered at what he is alleged to have done.

However, prosecutors argued that Davey’s identity was already well known throughout the APY Lands and had been broadcast by some media outlets.

Mr Kitchin said he was not prepared to make such an order, noting that hardship to an accused person was not a basis for suppression.

“This accused is facing potential retribution from prisoners in custody and other members of the community,” Mr Kitchin said.

“The chances of him getting bail on this matter are remote, and the chances that his name will not be known by other inmates inside prison is also remote.”

Prosecutors told the court that the investigation into Mrs Woodford’s murder was well progressed, after forensic experts completed their assessment of the shallow grave where her body was found and surrounding areas.

The body of Outback nurse Gayle Woodford was found in a shallow grave two days after she went missing from her Fregon home about midnight on Thursday.

Davey, of Mimili, also faces a charge of theft for allegedly stealing the ambulance which Mrs Woodford drove.

He was arrested in Coober Pedy on Thursday morning after police used the ambulance’s GPS data to pinpoint its location.

Davey allegedly lured Mrs Woodford from the home she shared with her schoolteacher husband Keith.

It was only after Mrs Woodford failed to appear at work and the ambulance was noted missing that the alarm was raised about 10.30am Thursday.

Dudley Davey arrives at the at the Port Augusta Magistrates Court on Tuesday. Picture: Simon Cross

The court did not hear any details on how Davey allegedly murdered the 56-year-old mother-of-two or how he was able to lure her from her home.

Davey made no application for bail and was remanded in custody to face court in June.

MELBOURNE gangland lawyer Joseph Acquaro executed -$200,000 bounty revealed

A garbage truck driver found the body of Joe Acquaro on a footpath in St Phillip St, about 100m from Gelobar, at 3am.

Court documents revealed there was a $200,000 murder contract put out on Mr Acquaro, 55, last year.

Update 17th March 2016

Tony Madafferi behind $200,000 bounty on Melbourne lawyer Joseph Acquaro, police told court

A businessman with alleged mafia links, Antonio ‘Tony’ Madafferi, was suspected by police of putting a $200,000 bounty on the head of Joseph Acquaro after he formed the apparent belief the slain lawyer was leaking information about him to a journalist, the ABC have confirmed.

Key points:

  • Police told Tony Madafferi they believed he put contract on lawyer’s life
  • Mr Madafferi denies any knowledge of the contract
  • Former client with organised crime links believed Mr Acquaro had not adequately represented him

Mr Acquaro, also known as ‘Pino’, was gunned down in what detectives believe was a targeted attack near his business in Brunswick East in the early hours of Tuesday.

The 54-year-old had previously represented a number of prominent Italian-Australian crime figures, and had strong links to the Calabrian community.

Supreme Court Judge John Dixon has lifted an order suppressing reporting about Mr Madafferi, Mr Acquaro and the alleged contract, which was originally disclosed in affidavits filed for a defamation case Mr Madafferi launched against journalist Nick McKenzie and Fairfax.

The affidavits said detectives visited Mr Madafferi at his Noble Park fruit shop and told him they believed he was soliciting a hit on Mr Acquaro, warning him if anything happened to the lawyer, Mr Madafferi would be top of their list of suspects.

Mr Madafferi vehemently denied the allegation.

The ABC does not suggest Mr Madafferi is involved with Mr Acquaro’s death.

Police also warned Mr Acquaro of the alleged contract, and advised him to beef up his personal security, which he apparently declined to do.

Do you know more about this story? Email

Accusations against Madafferi ‘fanciful’: lawyer

Mr Acquaro represented Mr Madafferi’s brother, Frank, an alleged mafia heavyweight who was jailed with a number of other men linked to the Calabrian mafia in 2014 over the world’s largest ecstasy bust.

He also represented at least one of Frank Madafferi’s co-accused in that case.

It is believed Mr Acquaro fell out with the Madafferi brothers over business dealings, and over the belief Mr Acquaro’s adult sons were becoming close to the Madafferi brothers, which their father did not want.

Soon afterwards, Fairfax reporter McKenzie wrote a number of articles about the Madafferi brothers, their alleged organised crime links and their ties to Liberal politicians.

Tony Madafferi formed the view Mr Acquaro was providing information to McKenzie, and as part of a still-running defamation suit against Fairfax, tried unsuccessfully to force McKenzie to reveal his sources.

McKenzie said in an affidavit he had been warned by police Tony Madafferi was trying to place him under surveillance, and that he was deeply fearful of what could happen to his sources if their names were revealed.

In reply, Tony Madafferi’s lawyer, Georgina Schoff, said it was “absolutely fanciful” somebody would try to “knock off” one of McKenzie’s sources.

Acquaro’s former client ‘furious’ over trial result

In a separate potential lead for police, Mr Acquaro had made an enemy of a former client with organised crime links who believed Mr Acquaro had not adequately represented him at a major criminal trial.

The ABC understands the man, who has strong ties to the Calabrian mafia in Australia, is canvassing legal avenues to appeal against his heavy sentence, but is believed to have been furious with Mr Acquaro over the result of his trial.

The falling out between Mr Acquaro and his client illustrates the difficulty for police in finding the killer of a man who had apparently made many enemies.

Victoria Police announced earlier on Thursday that Purana Taskforce, which was originally set up to investigate Melbourne’s notorious gangland killings, would join the homicide squad in investigating the death of Mr Acquaro.


 Gangland Lawyer dead

Joe Acquaro found dead on footpath in Brunswick East

Mark Buttler, Anthony Dowsley and Anthony Galloway Herald Sun

A garbage truck driver found the body of Joe Acquaro on a footpath in St Phillip St, about 100m from Gelobar, at 3am.

Court documents revealed there was a $200,000 murder contract put out on Mr Acquaro, 55, last year.

Police at the crime scene in St Phillip St. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Police at the crime scene in St Phillip St. Picture: Nicole Garmston Source: Herald Sun

Emergency crews outside Joe Acquaro’s cafe, Gelobar, in Lygon St this morning. Picture: AAP

Emergency crews outside Joe Acquaro’s cafe, Gelobar, in Lygon St this morning. Picture: AAP 

Young lawyer Joseph Acquaro outside court in 1995.
Young lawyer Joseph Acquaro outside court in 1995.

Mr Acquaro was a former lawyer of Francesco Madafferi.

Madafferi is in jail after being convicted of large-scale drug trafficking for his connection to the importation of 4.4 tonnes of ecstasy tablets hidden in tomato tins in 2007.


Mr Acquaro had more recently been representing accused underworld figure Rocco Arico.

He appeared for Arico in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court last week where he was answering extortion and assault charges.

Francesco Madafferi.

Francesco Madafferi. Source: News Limited

Rocco Arico.

Rocco Arico. Source: News Corp Australia

Detective Inspector Michael Hughes said Mr Acquaro had closed Gelobar on Lygon St about 12.40am and was walking to his car when he was attacked.

“We have an early report that a witness has heard a car travelling down that street (St Phillip Street) away from Lygon St at reasonably high speed,” he said.

“So if anyone has seen cars in the area prior to the shooting, or just after the shooting please contact Crime Stoppers.”

He would not say how many gunshot wounds Mr Acquaro suffered or what type of gun was suspected in the murder.

“It’s always a concern when someone meets their death like this in a public place,” Det-Insp Hughes said.

The garbage truck diver who found the body speaks to the detectives. Picture: Nicole Garmston

The garbage truck diver who found the body speaks to the detectives. Picture: Nicole Garmston Source: News Corp Australia

Gelobar workers and associates at the scene. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Gelobar workers and associates at the scene. Picture: Nicole Garmston Source:News Corp Australia

Det-Insp Hughes said police were investigating whether Mr Acquaro’s death was linked to a fire at Gelobar in January.

“That appears to be a minor dispute, so we don’t necessarily believe it is connected but we will certainly look at that possibility,” he said.

“There’s a number of possibilities we will obviously look at.

“He (Mr Acquaro) is certainly known to police but he is certainly not a convicted person. He is known to police through other associations.”

Homicide squad detectives remain at the scene.

Gelobar workers and associates speak to detectives. Picture: Nicole Garmston

Gelobar workers and associates speak to detectives. Picture: Nicole Garmston Source: News Corp Australia

Nearby business owner Giovanni Di-Micco described Mr Acquaro, who also served as head of Melbourne’s Reggio Calabria Club, as a “top bloke” and a “very good man”.

“I was upset (when I heard), I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

“I’m renting out a shop just here, I’ve known him for four or five months.

“He was a very good man, he always had time for everybody and that’s just the kind of guy he was.”

Business owner and friend George Mirabella, who had known Mr Acquaro for most of his life, said he had no idea why he was killed.

“I’m upset. My staff are crying in my office,” he said.

“I’ve known him on a personal scale, we’re friends from many many years ago. His mother and his father – beautiful people.

“He was just a down-to-earth guy like all of us. It’s an impossibility that such a thing can happen.”

If you have any information about the shooting contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Melbourne gangland lawyer shot dead in ‘targeted attack’

Updated 33 minutes agoTue 15 Mar 2016, 1:20pm

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

Video: Melbourne businessman shot dead in ‘targeted’ attack (ABC News)

Melbourne businessman and gangland criminal lawyer Joseph ‘Pino’ Acquaro has been shot dead in a targeted attack in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick East, Victoria Police homicide squad detectives say.

  • Acquaro’s body was found at 3:00am on St Phillip Street by a garbage truck driver
  • A car was heard driving at speed away from scene
  • Acquaro represented a number of Melbourne gangland figures

Mr Acquaro, 54, was found at 3:00am by a garbage truck driver, on St Phillip Street, just a few hundred metres from a popular cafe strip in the inner-city Melbourne suburb.

He was a prominent criminal lawyer who has represented several Melbourne gangland crime figures.

He was also a past president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and was involved in the Brunswick Reggio Calabria Club.

Mr Acquaro was a director of the popular ice-cream and Italian cake shop, Gelobar, around the corner from where his body was found.

Detective Inspector Mick Hughes said Mr Acquaro was shot while walking to his car after shutting his business about 12:40am.

“A witness has heard a car travelling down that street away from Lygon [Street] at a reasonably high speed,” he said.

“If anyone has seen cars in the area prior to the shooting [and] just after the shooting, please contact Crime Stoppers.

Detective Inspector Hughes believed it was a targeted attack.

“It’s always a concern when someone meets their death in a public place,” he said.

“From a safety perspective, it does appear to be targeted and as our investigation unfolds today, and over the next few days we’ll probably know more about that.

“But certainly at this stage it certainly looks as if it’s a targeted attack.

“The other possibility we’ll certainly look at is robbery.”

Detective Inspector Hughes said Mr Acquaro was known to police “through other associations”, not because he had been convicted of any crime.

Gelobar was damaged by a suspicious fire two months ago.

“There was a previous incident here that police were aware of,” Detective Inspector Hughes said.

“From what I’ve been told, it appears that was a very minor incident that wouldn’t result in something as tragic as this.”

A woman who is understood to run the shop arrived at the scene and was visibly distressed.

SES workers conducted a line search in the area where the body was found.


Mafia lawyer and gelati bar owner Joseph ‘Pino’ Acquaro gunned down on Brunswick East street

March 15, 2016 – 11:59AM

A Melbourne cafe owner’s body is found in a Burnswick East laneway, in what is believed to be a professional hit. (Vision courtesy Seven news Melbourne)

A Melbourne criminal lawyer allegedly wanted dead by the mafia has been gunned down in Melbourne’s inner north in what is believed to be a professional hit.

The murdered man, Pino “Joseph” Acquaro, had been warned by police that his life was in danger and told that he should take measures to protect his safety. Mr Acquaro refused.

The 54-year-old criminal lawyer, who represented several prominent Melbourne gangland and Calabrian crime figures, was gunned down while walking to his black Mercedes parked in St Phillip Street, Brunswick East.

Forensics officers examine the man's body on St Phillip Street.Forensics officers examine the man’s body on St Phillip Street. Photo: Eddie Jim

It appears he had just locked up for the night at his gelateria and cafe Gelobar in Lygon Street when he was shot by a single gunman just after 12.40am.

Witnesses heard shots and the sound of a car travelling along St Phillip Street away from Lygon Street – the wrong way up a one-way street.

A rubbish truck driver found Mr Acquaro’s body at 3am and phoned emergency services. He was already dead when paramedics arrived.

Police and SES volunteers at the scene.Police and SES volunteers at the scene. Photo: Eddie Jim.

Homicide Squad detectives and forensic police have been on the scene all Tuesday morning. Police found a mobile phone under a car in St Phillip Street not far from the body just after 11am.

Detective Inspector Mick Hughes confirmed the victim, who he would not name, had died from gunshot wounds.

He would not comment on how many times Mr Acquaro was shot, nor what type of weapon was used.

Gelobar was severely damaged in a suspicious fire in January.

Detective Inspector Hughes said that fire was over a “minor dispute” and though there was no clear link to the murder, it would be investigated.

He would also not rule-out that robbery was a motive.

Police block St Phillip Street in Brunsick East after a man's body was discovered.Police block St Phillip Street in Brunsick East after a man’s body was discovered. Photo: 3AW

Mr Acquaro, a father of three adult sons, had severed ties with many of his former Calabrian mafia clients after a falling out.

He was the past president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and, given his Calabrian heritage, was a passionate advocate of his culture and business in Melbourne.

He was strongly involved with Brunswick’s Reggio Calabria club.

He was known in the Calabrian community as a lawyer and businessman who would help disadvantaged community members with their affairs, continuing a tradition started by his father, a Melbourne accountant.

But Mr Acquaro also facilitated the business affairs of notorious Calabrian community members, reputed to be in the ‘Ndrangheta or Honoured Society.

Detective Inspector Hughes said the dead man was known to police but had no convictions.

George Mirabella, owner of Mirabella Lighting nearby, said he had known Mr Acquaro his whole life, from attending Italian social functions together in Melbourne as children.

He said he was a generous, well-loved member of society who was a “total gentleman”.

“He was so down-to-earth, everyone loved him, I’ve got my whole staff in tears,” Mr Mirabella said.

The last time he saw Mr Acquaro was when he came into his store and bought two globes.

“And he bought in some cannoli. That’s the type of gentleman he was. I can’t believe it.”

Mr Acquaro started operating Gelobar about five years ago, when Salvatore Scullino, who owned the business with his wife Rita, died.

Ms Scullino had been inconsolable outside the business on Tuesday morning, and did not speak to the media.

 Her employees gathered on the corner opposite Gelobar, stunned by the death of their boss, as other mourners arrived in shock.

Several stacks of chairs and three tables remained on the footpath outside the gelataria on Tuesday morning, as though the cafe was not completely packed up before closing.

The street was reopened about 12.50pm.

Police are now assessing CCTV footage from a camera mounted outside Gelobar, which points directly at the intersection of Lygon and St Phillip Street, but not as far as where the shooting is likely to have occurred.

The camera view of the intersection appears to be partially obscured by two outdoor umbrellas, but detectives are hopeful it will show the car used by the hit man.

A witness said they heard a car driving the wrong way up St Phillip Street about 12.40am, but did not see the car.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

– With Marissa Calligeros

Ingleburn shooting: Wayne Williams kills one, shoots himself dead after feud over a sign

Update 11/05/2016

Bail denied for Chantelle Strnad who is charged with murder after Ingleburn, Sydney, shooting

Chantelle Strnad is taken away by police from her western Sydney business that was the scene of a siege in March Warren Barnsley

A SYDNEY woman charged with the shooting murder of a man during a business dispute at a Sydney factory has been refused bail.


An emotional Chantelle Strnad, 31, appeared in Campbelltown Local Court on Wednesday charged with the murder of her client, 44-year-old Michael Bassal, who was shot dead at an Ingleburn sign factory in March.

Strnad, who was already on bail having earlier been charged with concealing a serious indictable offence in relation to the matter, was arrested on Tuesday.

She also faces a charge of being an accessory after the fact to murder.

Mr Bassal was shot dead during a six-hour siege at the western Sydney factory, of which Strnad is the owner and operator, in what police believe was a business dispute.

His brothers Terry and Mark were with him at the time and were wounded.

The court heard the gunman, 33-year-old Inline Signs employee and Strnad’s former partner Wayne Williams, turned his assault rifle on himself at the end of the siege.

Prosecution lawyer Clint Nasr told the court on Wednesday that Strnad lured the victims to the premises.

Police at the Ingleburn siege. Picture: Channel 9 News

Police at the Ingleburn siege. Picture: Channel 9 NewsSource:Channel 9

Strnad allegedly told Williams to “come and sort these guys out. I am going to f***ing kill them”, Mr Nasr said.

Mr Nasr said that was “clear evidence of her intention”.

He also said she was aware the rifle used in the crime was in Williams’ possession and was “loaded and ready to go”.

Strnad will remain in custody after Magistrate Robert Rabbidge agreed with the prosecution about the seriousness of the alleged offences.

Ingleburn shooting victim Michael Bassal. Picture: Facebook

Ingleburn shooting victim Michael Bassal. Picture: Facebook Source: Facebook

Wayne Williams.

Wayne Williams.Source:Supplied

Mr Rabbidge said Strnad was “hell-bent” on undertaking the alleged “criminal enterprise”.

“We have one dead and two who almost died,” Mr Rabbidge said. The court also heard Strnad collected the rounds from the rifle after the shooting.

Strnad’s defence lawyer, Karen Watson, argued her client should be granted bail because she had not broken her previous bail conditions and her business had suffered considerably due to the March incident.

She also said the case against her client was weak.

But Mr Nasr warned a number of prosecution witnesses were her employees at the sign factory.


March 8, 2016 12:00am

A CRAZED gunman who shot three brothers and held three bystanders hostage for six hours killed himself last night in the bloody final act of a feud believed to be over a sign.

Wayne Williams had opened fire on the Bassal brothers at 10.45am at Ingleburn’s Inline National Signage and Property Services after police believe they went to the business to complain about a sign they had ordered.

Father-of-one Michael “Mick” Bassal — who was friends online with Rebels ­bikies president Alex Vella — died on the grass verge outside the business. His two brothers were taken to Liverpool hospital, where one ­required emergency surgery.

Police today charged a man and woman who were led from the building by police at the height of the siege.

Ingleburn Shooting victim Michael Bassal. Picture: Facebook
Ingleburn Shooting victim Michael Bassal. Picture: Facebook

The 52-year-old man, reported to be Williams’ father Peter, was charged with discharge firearm in a public place and conceal serious indictable offence.

He has been refused bail to appear at Campbelltown Local Court today.

Tonna was so traumatised she could barely walk as police helped her from the warehouse, where three bystanders were taken hostage.

Police believe she knew Williams, who had connections with the Finks bikies gang and who could be heard yelling at police negotiators for hours.

Detectives were last night piecing together the dispute that led to Williams opening fire with a high-powered rifle but one line of inquiry was that the brothers were ­unhappy with sign work.

During the siege heavily armed police armed with ­assault rifles surrounded the business and evacuated nearby premises.

At one point Detective ­Inspector Mark Brett said that the situation had reached a “delicate stage”.

The three terrified hostages were freed from their hiding places just after 5pm by police in “bear cat” armoured truck and reunited with ­anxious family members waiting in a nearby street. The men were checked by paramedics before they were taken to Macquarie Fields police station to be interviewed about their ordeal.

The owner of the sign-making business, Chantelle Tonna, is led away from the scene by police. Picture: Melvyn Knipe

Williams was found inside the property and was believed to have shot himself.

One worker told of his terror as he ushered his wife, who came to visit him at work, into an outside toilet as a ­volley of shots rang out. Machine operator Gurjinder Girn, who has worked at the Heald Rd site for five years, and his wife Navjot Kaur heard a man shouting, “Come out, come out, come out”.

They then heard six shots.

“Nothing like this has happened in front of my eyes with me or this company. It was very terrifying,” Mr Girn said.

“By chance we went outside to go to the bathroom.

“I know there were three other employees inside who were hiding from the gunman.”

The couple heard police arrive about 10 minutes after the shooting and they were soon escorted to safety.

A man in handcuffs, second right, is taken to a police vehicle / Picture: AP
A tactical police officer close to the scene at in Ingleburn. Picture: Richard Dobson
Police patrol the scene outside the incident. Picture: Richard Dobson

Mark Callaghan, owner of nearby A & A Equipment in Shaw Rd, said he heard a commotion at the time. “I heard a woman hysterically screaming down the road. It was a muffled scream and I couldn’t understand the words,” he said.

Family and friends of Mr Bassal gathered at Liverpool Hospital last night to support his two injured brothers.

One of the men was critically injured while the other had superficial wounds.

Police outside the scene at Inline National Signage and Property Services / Picture: Channel 9
A body can be seen covered in a white sheet as police move into position. Picture: Melvyn Knipe
One man was shot dead and two were injured.


10.45am: Triple-0 emergency call reports three people shot at Inline National Signage and Property Services at the corner of Heald and Stennett Rds, Ingleburn. Neighbours report hearing up to five shots. Police find three people with gunshot wounds. One man dies at the scene. Two men are taken to Liverpool Hospital, one suffering superficial wounds and another with gunshot wounds to the lower part of the body. Police surround the printing company.

11-11.30am: Police set up a 1km exclusion zone and nearby companies are told to close their doors. Some go into lockdown while others evacuate.

11.25am: Police issue a warning to the public to avoid the area.

11:55am: Heavily armed tactical police can be seen with guns drawn at the door of the printing firm.

12.05pm: The $400,000 police “Bear Cat” armoured truck arrives at the rear of the premises.

12.25pm: Police confirm three people have been shot and one man is dead.

2pm: A man is arrested for “hindering police” near the scene.

2.30pm: Macquarie Fields crime manager Detective Inspector Mark Brett confirms the dead victim was 43 years old.

5pm: Armed tactical response police storm the building and free three hostages, who are taken to safety and attended to by paramedics. The gunman, 33, is found dead at the scene.

Police locked down Moorlands Road and Stennett Road. Picture: Melvyn Knipe
Armed officer inside the BearCat at the scene. Picture: Melvyn Knipe
An armed police officer takes cover behind a car. Picture: Melvyn Knipe


Relief… Hostage Seksane has spoken of his ordeal. Picture: Kristi Miller

ONE of the three workers held hostage in yesterday’s deadly Ingleburn siege has revealed he was on the first day of his new job.

Seksane had only been at Inline Signage for a few hours when gunman Wayne Williams opened fire, killing Mick Bassal and wounding two of his brothers.

He was trapped in the building after armed police arrived to begin a lengthy standoff with Williams.

“I don’t know – I (was) still working,” he said, adding he was “pretty much okay”.

“That’s the first start to the job, today.”

Ingleburn shooting: Shooter’s father charged after siege in Sydney’s south-west

Updated 47 minutes ago

The father of a man who took his own life after a fatal shooting at Ingleburn in Sydney’s south-west has been charged.

Key points:

  • Business dispute may have led to Sydney industrial estate shooting
  • Gunman shot three brothers, held three bystanders hostage
  • Shooter’s father and woman charged with offences, shooter dead
  • Police say shooting not related to outlaw motorcycle club

Three brothers were targeted in the shooting and subsequent siege at Inline National Signage, in an industrial complex, about 10:45am.

Wayne Williams, 33, shot at the trio when they arrived at the workshop and one of them, Michael Bassal, 43, was killed.

Mr Bassal’s two brothers, aged 41 and 34, were also shot with a semi-automatic weapon but survived.

Wayne Williams’s father Peter, 52, has been charged with discharging a firearm in a separate shooting earlier in the day.

He and a 30-year-old woman were charged with not assisting police with their enquiries.

The pair were taken out of the area by police by force early on in the investigation.

Police said they were investigating whether a business dispute led to the shooting and the siege that followed at Heald Road in Ingleburn.

A police spokeswoman said there had been ongoing tensions at the workshop all day which eventually led to the shooting.

Officers probe outlaw motorcycle club links

Officers said Mr Bassal was shot dead on the grass verge when he went to the premises with his two brothers.

The two brothers were taken to Liverpool Hospital and the 41-year-old brother had to undergo emergency surgery.

Police said the 34-year-old brother suffered only minor injuries.

Wayne Williams then held three male hostages for three hours as police worked to resolve the situation.

Officers managed to free the hostages about 5:00pm and found Wayne Williams’ body inside the property — he is thought to have shot himself.

A police spokeswoman said at this stage it did not look like the matter was related to outlaw motorcycle club conflicts.

But she said that some of the people involved were members of the clubs.

“It doesn’t look like anything to do with bikie gang wars, it looks like a business dispute at this stage,” she said.

Peter Williams was refused bail and will face Campbelltown Local Court today, while the woman was granted strict conditional bail and is due to appear at the same court on April 4.

Macquarie Fields Police Detective Inspector Mark Brett said on Monday they had yet to determine the motive of the alleged shooter.

Police said they did not believe the shooting was terrorism related.

Witnesses from nearby businesses said they heard five gunshots ring out.

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