Saturday, 23 July 2011

Mercanti's jail release could reignite bikie gang violence

It's been 963 long days since Troy Desmond Mercanti tasted freedom.

And while he's been staring at the ceiling of a Casuarina Prison cell, his brothers in the Finks bikie gang have waged a cold war with his former brothers in the Coffin Cheaters gang.

Make no mistake, the war has had its flashpoints, like the brawl at the Kwinana Motorplex last year. But Mercanti's decision to join the Finks after being thrown out of the Coffin Cheaters "on bad terms" is what sparked the war. And his release from jail, scheduled for August 2, is expected to set tempers flaring, which could send the cold war combatants into red hot battle.

It all started almost four years ago when a senior member of the Comancheros bikie gang, who cannot be named because he has an upcoming trial, was spotted by police in Osborne Park with blood pouring from his nose.

He had been bashed by Mercanti - then a senior member of the Coffin Cheaters - and an associate.

As is usual practice in the criminal world, the Comancheros bikie refused to identify his attackers to police. However, operating under the infamous "catch and kill your own" code of the underworld, the Comancheros swiftly meted out their payback.

Less than two weeks later, the Coffin Cheaters' Bayswater clubhouse was attacked. The Comancheros used fuel to torch a secondary building, destroying up to a dozen of the gang's prized motorcycles and causing up to $500,000 damage.

That attack was a very public challenge to the Coffin Cheaters. But the police played it down. The next day, gang crime operations manager Chris Adams said he did not think the arson attack was done by a rival gang. He also said he was not concerned that it would prompt a retaliatory attack by the Coffin Cheaters. Perhaps he wasn't concerned because, in fact, the retribution had already been carried out. At this point, the majority of the Coffin Cheaters had no idea who was to blame for the clubhouse fire. After all, who in their right mind would want to raise the ire of WA's strongest bikie gang?

But Mercanti's friends knew what was happening. Just a few hours after the bikes went up in flames, so too did a Yokine fish and chip shop owned by the beaten Comancheros bikie's brother.

The next shots in the growing war were fired, literally, in Sydney. Three weeks after the arson attacks, a "sit-down" was organised in an attempt to find a peaceful solution. Senior Comancheros bikies met Mercanti's friends from the Finks bikie gang at Grappa Ristorante in Leichardt. Whether Mercanti was present is still not clear, but the meeting ended with the Comancheros' Marrickville chapter president Mahmoud "Mick" Hawi running for his life as bullets whizzed over his head.

Eventually, the Perth-based Sword Boys street gang brokered a meeting between the Comancheros and the Coffin Cheaters in early 2008 that revealed to the Coffin Cheaters the details of the hostilities. It led to Mercanti's expulsion from the gang for going outside the club to do business with the Finks - a breach of the constitution.

Mercanti was lured to a Moore River goat farm via text message to what he thought was a get-together to mark his first 10 years as a Coffin Cheater. There, he was beaten by several bikies and stripped of his Coffin Cheaters memorabilia. Police sources say senior Coffin Cheater Paul Pellegrino Mule, known as Ringo, was instrumental in Mercanti's expulsion.

It took just a few months for Mercanti to join the Finks - another no-no under the Coffin Cheaters' constitution.

And, if his former gang needed any further motivation to go to war, the theft by Mercanti's partner Tammy Kingdon of $54,000 from a trust fund set up for a dead Cheater's family was just the thing.

She spent the money on the Finks' new Balga clubhouse. Nine months after being booted out of the Coffin Cheaters, Mercanti was riding his Harley-Davidson in Wooroloo with two other Finks bikies when shots were fired. Finks bikie Stephen Wallace, a convicted heroin trafficker, fell from his machine when he was hit in the chest, while Mercanti, too, fell from his bike and suffered injuries to his hand and leg.

In December 2008, police came down hard on the bikies, seizing a small arsenal which was hidden inside the Coffin Cheaters' Bayswater clubhouse, including pump action shotguns, semi-automatic handguns and 100 rounds of ammunition. They also raided the Finks' Balga clubhouse and found weapons, including a stun gun and several swords.

But, by this time, Mercanti was in jail for a nightclub assault.

The war turned cold and only the fight at the motorplex in October last year has threatened the uneasy truce during the 2 1/2 years since.

In that incident, the Cheaters, who boast 49 patched members in WA, beat several Finks mercilessly using baseball bats and other weapons. Finks nominee Troy Smith was badly injured, Wallace was stabbed and had three fingers severed and Fink David Marrapodi was shot in the knee.

Police are now bracing for Mercanti's release from jail on August 2. While both sides suffer in any war, the Finks' Perth chapter has less than a quarter of the Cheaters' membership.


Wednesday, 20 July 2011

latest victim of the Gold Coast's Underbelly-style crime wave may have been executed as revenge for sex crimes.

Police are believed to be investigating whether the victim, 36, was involved in crimes including child pornography.

They have not ruled out bikie gang or organised crime links.

The man was slain on one of the city's busiest roads early yesterday in the Gold Coast's third fatal shooting in less than two months.

 He is believed to have been shot in the back and was found slumped by the roadside on Hooker Blvd at Broadbeach Waters.

The killings and a spate of other violent gun crimes have reinforced fears the strip is being over-run by armed thugs and crime gangs, despite police calls for calm.

An intruder bled to death in a Gold Coast hinterland street after being shot by a resident last week, while Gold Coast police officer Damian Leeding was slain during a hotel robbery in May.

Senior police insist the Coast remains safe, but residents have voiced fear at the rising violence.

The police union said shootings and serious crime were a weekly occurrence and "no one is safe".

The shooting came as the State Government admitted it had slashed funding to the Gold Coast police district by $11 million last year.

Regional crime co-ordinator Superintendent Dave Hutchinson expressed concern at the spate of gun crimes but said most were committed by "specific groups" and the public should not be alarmed.


"Every day, we have thousands and thousands of people attend the Gold Coast. They come for the day and they leave without being confronted by any crime whatsoever," Supt Hutchinson said.

"I would reassure the public that the average member of the public shouldn't be concerned and we are putting as many resources as we can into finalising this matter."

But veteran local criminal lawyer Bill Potts said the Coast had become "crime central".

"It's become a sunny place for shady people," he said.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hells Angels bikie gang boss accused of attempting to extort property from a luxury car dealer will mount an 11th hour appeal for bail to attend his own lavish wedding celebration.

Mostafa Jouayde, 30, from Sydney, was refused bail yesterday despite pleas by his lawyer to allow him to attend the A$32,000, 250-guest ceremony at Lidcome on Saturday.

George Thomas, the lawyer, said Mr Jouayde, a former Bandido gang member and the president of the Hells Angels Parramatta chapter, and his wife, Susie Arida, married in September last year in a small religious ceremony but were yet to celebrate the union.

''They have already paid the hip-hop artists, the magicians, the Lebanese band,'' Mr Thomas told the court. ''The $6000 deposit for the bar ... the wedding dresses, the bridesmaids' dresses.

Mr Jouayde's four co-accused were granted conditional bail on the basis that their involvement in the alleged extortion was less serious but magistrate Christopher Longley initially denied Mr Jouayde bail, despite an offer of A$20,000 surety.

Late yesterday afternoon Mr Thomas returned to the court with a greater offer of surety and was given the right to appeal the bail.

He said that he was under immense pressure from the families of Mr Jouayde and Ms Arida.

Police allege Mr Jouayde and the four co-accused went to the racehorse owner Terry Mullens' car dealership on Parramatta Road on Monday afternoon and demanded a silver BMW M3 valued at A$43,990.

All five men have been charged with attempted extortion and participating in a criminal group.

They are also alleged to have been involved in stealing four luxury cars from the dealer on Thursday before returning them undamaged less than two days later.

Mr Thomas said the prosecution case against Mr Jouayde, the owner of a tattoo shop in Parramatta, was weak.

''I would go so far as [to say] a complete wrong charge,'' he told the court.

He said his client went to the Motor Gallery car dealership on Saturday to ''negotiate'' with Mr Mullens over the trade of a motorbike for a BMW.

Ms Arida sobbed in court as the magistrate refused bail for Mr Jouayde.

''We've just lost all our money because of [the magistrate's decision],'' she said outside the court.

The other four men are due to face court again on July 27.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Sydney police have charged five men who allegedly tried to extort money from racehorse owner Terry Mullens.

Police say the men demanded the money at Mr Mullens' luxury car dealership on Parramatta Road at Burwood, in Sydney's inner west, about 3:30pm (AEST) yesterday.

But within 10 minutes police arrived, including officers from the gangs squad, and arrested them.

Police say the men, aged between 24 and 30, have bikie gang links.

They have been charged with demanding property with menaces and participating in a criminal group, and held in custody to face court today.

Mr Mullens' car dealership was also the target of an armed robbery last Thursday afternoon.

Police say a group of masked men took four luxury cars during the raid.

But the cars were found parked outside the dealership in pristine condition the next day.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

POLICE have raided the Comanchero outlaw motorcycle club's headquarters in South Melbourne.

Police executed a warrant on the Thistlethwaite St clubhouse this morning in what is an "ongoing investigation".

Critical Incident Response Teams were involved in searching the premises, which follows another raid last month of a Hells Angels Nomads chapter in Thomastown in which police used explosives to enter the clubhouse.

Several members were arrested in a series of raids.

Outlaw motorcycle gangs are being investigated by a new taskforce codenamed Echo, formed this year.

Mill Park Crime Investigation Unit Detectives with the assistance of Echo Taskforce also executed a number of warrants on properties in northern and northwestern Melbourne this morning.

Early this morning, Mill Park detectives assisted by the Special Operations Group executed a warrant at a residential property in Stirling Parade, East Keilor.

A 32-year-old man from that address was arrested while a business premises in Wedge Street, Mill Park was also raided.

The 32-year-old East Keilor man is currently assisting police with their enquiries.

Coffin Cheaters to face court over Motorplex shooting

Police have charged nine Coffin Cheaters motorcycle gang members and affiliates with giving false and misleading evidence over the shooting and stabbing of members of a rival gang at the Perth Motorplex in October last year.

The Coffin Cheaters members were called before a private Corruption and Crime Commission hearing not long after rival gang members from the Finks, including those injured in the fracas at the popular drag-racing meet, were charged with being in contempt of a similar CCC hearing.

The Coffin Cheaters' six members, including the most senior leaders and three nominees, face 29 charges of giving false and misleading evidence, while two also face charges of disclosing a restricted matter, which relate to the summons to court and potential evidence given.

They face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $100,000 in fines, and a potential further three years jail and $60,000 in fines for disclosing a restricted matter.

Three members are due in Perth Magistrate's Court on July 29 and the others on August 5.

Assistant Police Commissioner Nick Anticich said since police exercised exceptional powers authorised by the CCC, Five Finks members, including Stephen Wallace and Tristan Allbeury, have been jailed for two years over their attempt to keep information from police.

"They are not above the law and hopefully these laws will bring them to heel," he said.

"...Once upon a time they ran wild and free but the world is changing and the code of silence is no longer excused."

He said there were very few Finks left outside jail and he believed the exceptional powers had made a "significant impact" on creating a base in WA.

"There are very few (left) and many are residents at the new club house in the prison," he said.

He said over the past 10 months the police strikeforce squad tasked with targeting outlaw motorcycle gangs had charged 24 gang members and carried out 53 drug search warrants.

They had seized 409 grams of methylamphetamine, 460g of cocaine, 125g of ecstasy, 3 kilograms of cannabis, two vials of steroids, $223,000 in cash, two guns, a Taser, ballistics vest and other weapons.

Also $1.3 million in assets have been frozen, including two houses, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and $30,000 in shares.

Mr Anticich said there was an ongoing concern with the "patching over" of international clubs


Monday, 4 July 2011

man was bashed by a bikie gang member while sitting in his car at Seven Hills on the weekend and required hospital treatment.

The 40-year-old man was sitting in his car on Artillery Crescent, about 10am on Saturday, when he was attacked.

Police said the victim had accidentally bumped his car horn when a man in the passenger seat of a four-wheel drive behind him got out and attacked him.

Officers said the 28-year-old attacker punched the victim in the face repeatedly and kicked his car before driving away.

The attacker, who police said was a member of the Bandidos bikie gang, then returned to the scene and continued to bash the victim while he waited for police and paramedics.

When police arrived they found the alleged attacker nearby and charged him with common assault, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, affray, and breach of bail.

He will appear at Blacktown Local Court this week.


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