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.
- 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.
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.
Joe Acquaro found dead on footpath in Brunswick East
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’
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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.
“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
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. 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. 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. 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.
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