December 20, 2019

Cocaine syndicate: how the alleged gang bungled five attempted imports

As night fell on Christmas Day, a small dinghy motored into tiny Parsley Bay near Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury River.

Fisherman and one-time brothel proprietor Simon Spero, 56, was the only person on board but he allegedly carried a precious cargo: 500 kilograms of cocaine.

As he pulled into the boat ramp, fisherman and father-of-four Reuben John Dawe, 41, and well-known Ulladulla fishing boss Joseph "Joe" Pirrello, 68, were there to meet him with a ute and a trailer.

The Dalrymplye fishing vessel is raided at the Brooklyn Marina

However, dozens of heavily armed police were also waiting in the bush and pounced on the trio as they allegedly unloaded three sports bags loaded with drugs.

Their arrests on Christmas night were the culmination of a two-and-a-half year investigation into the largest alleged cocaine smuggling syndicate Australia has seen.

On Thursday, the syndicate was blown open as suppression orders were lifted and the last of 15 alleged members were charged.

They included several commercial fishermen, former rugby league player John Tobin, Vaucluse entrepreneur Darren John Mohr, Double Bay businessman Richard Lipton and members of a well-known Ulladulla fishing family.

After the three arrests at Parsley Bay, police raided the commercial fishing vessel Dalrymple docked at the nearby Brooklyn Marina and arrested Victorian fisherman Stuart Ayrton, 54, New Zealand citizen Graham Toa Toa, 42, and Mr Tobin, 57, who played 125 games for the Eastern Suburbs Roosters in the 1980s.

The Dalrymple had docked at the Sydney Fish Markets for a month before leaving on December 3 for the Central Coast.

Marine police monitored the Dalrymple from afar as it met the dinghy, travelled out to sea then returned to the Central Coast and allegedly transferred the drugs to Mr Spero before beginning its return to Sydney.

Police believe the crew may have waited until Christmas Day in an attempt to throw off authorities.

In the three days since Christmas, nine more men have been arrested in Sydney, Tasmania and Queensland in an alleged syndicate said to have had tentacles across every state on the east coast of Australia.

Police will allege the syndicate, headed by a commercial fishing boss, would attempt to send vessels out to sea to meet a larger ship carrying drug shipments from Chile.

Every shipment was monitored by NSW Police, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force after a tip-off to the NSW Drugs Squad in July 2014 from a member of the public who had seen one of the men acting suspiciously.

On Thursday, AFP acting assistant commissioner Chris Sheehan described the syndicate as "robust, resilient and determined".

However, Fairfax Media can reveal all five of the syndicate's alleged shipments were thwarted, often due to the group's own blunders.

One attempted shipment was thwarted because the syndicate punched in the wrong GPS co-ordinates and couldn't find the larger ship out at sea.

In another attempt, an innocent captain became aware he was part of a drug smuggling plot and abandoned ship.

In December 2014, Fijian authorities intercepted a 32-kilogram shipment of heroin destined for the Hawkesbury. In March this year, French authorities intercepted 606 kilograms off Tahiti.

Seemingly undeterred, the syndicate allegedly continued to arrange the 500-kilogram shipment from Chile. The combined haul, worth more than $360 million, is the largest ever seized in Australia.

Police will allege veteran fishermen and maritime workers around the country helped the cargo reach shore while several eastern suburbs businessmen were to ensure its distribution in Sydney.

One of the alleged ringleaders was Joe Pirrello, head of large Australian fishing company Seafish Tasmania, who earned notoriety in 2013 when he tried to bring the super trawler Abel Tasman to Sydney. After a public outcry, the government banned the trawler.

Mr Pirrello previously ran a company that had operations in Ulladulla, Portland in Victoria and Hobart as well as a distant water vessel off the coast of New Zealand.

Ulladulla brothers and fisherman Michael and Francesco "Frankie" Pirrello were arrested in the south coast town on Wednesday. Their family insisted Joe Pirrello was not related and said on Thursday he was "scum".

"We are very, very upset by what's happened," the brothers' grandmother said.

Mr Dawe and Mr Ayrton, friends who attended the Australian Maritime College, met Joe Pirrello while working on the Tasmanian trawler Megisti Star.

Fellow Tasmanian fishing company owner James Collins, 63, was arrested in the waterside Hobart suburb of Rokeby on Wednesday and Peter Spero, 49, was arrested in the Brisbane suburb of North Lakes.

In the days after the Christmas night sting, police raided several properties across Sydney.

They arrested Mr Mohr, 42, Mr Lipton, 37, a former Cranbrook student and Double Bay business development manager, Kingsford businessman Frank D'Agostino, 54, Greenacre entrepreneur Benjamin Sara, 31, and 29-year-old Bella Vista man Jonathan Cooper.

Mr Mohr, the previous owner of the Bondi Rescue HQ cafe and Bucklers cafe in North Bondi, recently moved out of the Vaucluse apartment that he decked with Versace cushions and an exotic macaw named Paris.

He dates a bikini bodybuilding champion and displays a love of expensive motorcycles, exotic cars, power boats and tattoos on his social media profiles.

He has posted pictures this year of holidays to the Monaco Grand Prix, weight-training retreats in Thailand and a motorcycling trip across India. A luxury boat linked to him was also raided at a Double Bay dock.

Mr Sara, who recently returned from his honeymoon on Thailand, shared an interest in exotic cars and recently posted a positive review of the television series, Narcos, about Columbian cocaine syndicates.

The syndicate met each other through fishing circles and had separately been involved in drug-related investigations prior to this one, police will allege.

Police will allege the entire group has been taken out and that no shipments were successful.

"This job started with a thread of information," said NSW assistant commissioner Mark Jenkins. "As a result, over one tonne of drugs has been prevented from reaching the streets."

Mr Sheehan said police were still investigating leads in South America and "around the distribution networks and how that would have gone had they been successful".

All the men have been refused bail on charges of import and conspiracy to import drugs.

Original Source: Click Here

Hugo Aston

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