How police listened in on gangland war
The origins of the conflict were based around control of the illicit drug trade. They could be traced back to the Painters and Dockers Union in the post-war days on Melbourne's waterfront. The warring entities consisted of the Moran family, including the Carlton Crew, and the Williams family, comprising the Sunshine Crew. However, the loyalties were not always clear.
The relationships were very complex indeed, with most players having some kind of connection.
Carl Williams was a significant player in the gangland hostilities and, as such, a significant person of interest for Purana. We were tasked with installing a listening and tracking device in his vehicle.
Obviously, investigators were aware of his place of residence, and physical surveillance was able to confirm his daily activities. The problem we had was finding a period when he would be away from his vehicle long enough for us to gain access and install the equipment. With the assistance of the State Surveillance Unit-or the dogs, as they were affectionately known, we followed Carl in his car for several days until a telephone intercept gave us the opportunity we were looking for. Carl and his gang of merry men were planning to go to a restaurant in the city. They'd booked a table for midday. All we needed was for the car to be parked in a suitable location.
We didn't want him to park in one of the limited spaces directly outside the restaurant. To mitigate this, we decided to load all the spaces with our vehicles and ensure there were no parking spots available.
On the day, we positioned ourselves in the vicinity, ready to gain access to his car. We had some members from the Special Operations Group in position to provide protection should the need arise. The arrogance of Carl was such that he didn't even drive to the restaurant but parked in a disabled parking spot around the corner, a good five-minute walk to the restaurant.
We had a number of surveillance operatives secreted in the restaurant, posing as customers. They would call once Carl and his cronies were settled, and we'd commence our install.
About ten minutes later we got word that the heavies were ensconced in the restaurant with beers all round and menus in hand. We couldn't perform the necessary work on the vehicle without drawing attention to ourselves, so utilising specialist equipment, we gained access to the car and drove it a couple of kilometres away to a nondescript location.
Meanwhile, one of our own vehicles pulled into Carl's disabled parking space to ensure we had access to the exact same spot when the work was done.
After completing installation of the necessary surveillance equipment, we got word from the surveillance operatives inside the restaurant that our targets were preparing to leave. I jumped into the driver's seat of Carl's car and hit the accelerator. The challenge was to get the vehicle back to its spot before Carl returned. As I travelled down Bourke Street wearing overalls, carrying no identification and driving a vehicle belonging to one of Victoria's best-known criminals, I suddenly realised the predicament I could be in if a fellow officer decided to intercept me.
Heart pumping, I raced towards the location where Carl had left his car.
Now I heard over the covert communications that Carl was leaving the restaurant and heading back towards his car. I was only a couple of hundred metres from the parking spot. All I had to do was turn left at the intersection ahead and pull into the disabled park on the left when our car had pulled clear. Carl was approaching the intersection on the footpath as I entered the intersection, his view conveniently blocked by a truck that was stationary at the busy intersection. I tooted the horn, so the driver of our car knew to move, allowing me to park. I jumped out of Carl's car and ensured it was secured before jumping into the passenger side of our vehicle. Carl wandered across the road and hopped into his car none the wiser.
Another successful install.
LEWIS GUNNED DOWN
In early 2004, Lewis Moran, father of the now infamous Jason and stepfather to Mark, was a person of interest to the Purana Task Force, and we were tasked with placing surveillance technology on to his vehicle. Early in the afternoon of 31st March, with the assistance of the State Surveillance Unit, we started following him from his home address. It was a hot evening and daylight saving was coming to an end.
In the late afternoon, Lewis pulled up outside the Brunswick Club in Sydney Road, Brunswick. After he entered the club, we drove past to see if an install was feasible, but the car was too exposed. We retreated to a side street and hoped for another opportunity, eating souvlakis while the surveillance unit moved clear of the club waiting to catch the target on departure.
As I was spilling garlic sauce down my front I heard a siren approaching along Sydney Road. A short time later a second then a third siren were heard. Changing the police radio to the local channel, we discovered that there had been a shooting inside the Brunswick Club. Masked gunmen had entered the bar area and shot and killed Moran and wounded his associate Bertie Wrout. The gunmen had then escaped.
I telephoned my senior sergeant and told him we no longer needed to install equipment on the vehicle as our target had been shot and killed. Lewis had been warned by police that there was a contract out on his life, but he'd refused to believe it. Three men were arrested several years later.
They claimed they had accepted a contract for $150,000 from the infamous Tony Mokbel, who at the time had links to Carl Williams. Mokbel went on to have his own issues when he absconded while on bail for drug matters. He was eventually arrested in May 2008 and extradited to Australia. In 2009, Mokbel was charged with Lewis Moran's murder, having arranged the contract.
In 2004, the Purana Task Force received information that Carl Williams and his gang were targeting Mario Condello, the legal brains and moneyman behind the Carlton Crew. They planned to assassinate him as he walked his dog. Mario was warned that his life was in danger, but he ignored the advice and refused any form of police assistance, including protection. To ensure we could keep an eye on him, we installed a tracking device on his Mercedes while he was attending a wedding in Elsternwick.
The information we had was that Carl had engaged the services of his cousin Michael Thorneycroft and Sean Sonnet to kill Condello for a fee of over $100,000. We tried to gain access to Thorneycroft's vehicle, but he was a heavy drug user and erratic in the hours he kept. We made several attempts with little success.
We then focused on Sean Sonnet. He was one of the most irrational and bizarre individuals I ever worked on. His driving was erratic at best, and in our efforts to get a tracking device on his car we observed countless road rage incidents with other drivers. We followed him for several days hoping to find a pattern that would enable us to fit a tracking device on his car. Eventually we got word that Carl and his cousin Michael had had a falling out. Carl felt that Michael was unreliable because of his excessive drug appetite, and a new player had been brought in to assist Sean. Gregg Hildebrandt was known to police but was something of a surprise recruit in the Williams plan to eliminate Condello.
We received additional information that they had stolen a red hatchback, which they intended to use in the job. With the assistance of the State Surveillance Unit, we followed Hildebrandt as he drove the hatchback and Sonnet as he drove his vehicle in convoy, looking for an opportunity to "trick up" both cars. Once, they pulled into a shopping centre carpark but were too close to the main entrance for us to undertake the work. The surveillance operatives followed them into one of the department stores within the complex and watched as they purchased a cheap pair of walkie-talkie, handheld radios. Being quick off the mark, the operative purchased a similar pair, which enabled easy monitoring of their conversations. It was a simple matter of being in close proximity to them when they used them, and no conversation could be considered private.
Several days later, when the red hatchback was parked near Hildebrandt's house, we had an opportunity to install our tracking device. Not wanting to be overt and in the public eye, we waited until the early hours of the morning before pushing the car down the street to a nearby park, where we were able to install the necessary technology. We returned the vehicle to the exact same position a short time later, and Hildebrandt was not aware the following morning when he returned to the vehicle. While we were installing the equipment in the red hatchback, we found a number of jerry cans containing fuel, in the back of the car. They had intended to douse the car with petrol and torch it after the hit, to eliminate any evidence. To circumvent this, we drained the fuel and filled the cans with water, just in case it ever got that far.
On the morning of 9th June 2004, evidence from physical and electronic surveillance led investigators to the Brighton Cemetery in North Road, Brighton, about one hundred and fifty metres from Condello's house. Waiting for an arrest signal, heavily armed Special Operations Group members were poised in several secreted locations ready to pounce. After a couple of false starts-the two targets didn't have any clear idea as to what their intended victim looked like-the signal was given, and the Special Operations Group reacted. Hildebrandt and Sonnet were arrested without incident.
At the time of the arrests, surveillance was being undertaken on Condello, who was at his apartment in the city. Later that day a phone intercept captured him big-noting himself, saying that if he had known they were outside waiting for him, he would have gone out in his pyjamas and confronted them. A big call, given he was hiding himself twenty kilometres away at the time!
Mario Condello was shot dead in the driveway of his Brighton home in February 2006. To date, no one has been charged with his murder.
This is an edited extract from Andrew Atkinson's book Copper! A Life in Law Enforcement. RRP: 24.99. Get the book HERE.
Originally published as How police listened in on Victoria's gangland war