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.

 

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