April 18, 2005 Monday
As the time neared for his release from Paremoremo prison, Andrew Sisson could content himself with the knowledge that waiting for him was his lifestyle property on the fringe of Riverhead forest.
The same property where in 1997 $97,000 cash was found buried in one spot while a recipe for methamphetamine was hidden in another.
The same property that was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act after Sisson and his wife, Vikki Thorne-George, were found guilty in 1999 of conspiring to supply methamphetamine and of money laundering.
The same property bought in Thorne-George's name in 1993, months before Sisson was convicted for importing $200,000 of methamphetamines hidden inside a vehicle transmission.
Sisson, big, strong and macho, is a rarity: a big fish Hells Angels motorcycle gang member who got caught.
Hells Angels is rated the most influential organised crime group in New Zealand, and also the hardest to catch. With members who are older and wiser than their counterparts in other gangs, Hells Angels are risk-averse, seldom adding new patched members.
"Ses", as Sisson is known, became a patched member in 1982 and is the gang's sergeant-at-arms, responsible for rules and discipline. One-time Hells Angels world secretary, he is trusted internationally, particularly in the United States. Sisson, like many of his colleagues, is a regular international traveller, sometimes attending to business for Hells Angels world HQ, based in California's San Fernando Valley. Often paying cash for his ticket, his itineraries include the US, Canada, Europe, South Africa and Australia - half a dozen trips a year.
His convictions need not stop such globetrotting. Judicious use of his New Zealand and Australian passports makes travel possible without his criminal history being identified.
Sisson's story illustrates many aspects of organised crime in New Zealand.
First and foremost is that gangs - motorcycle and ethnic, such as the Mongrel Mob and Black Power - are at the heart of the illicit drug market, particularly manufacture and distribution.
They have international connections and co-operate with other domestic gangs, including increasingly active Asian groups. The main players know each other. Christmas cards are exchanged. It's a small affluent club. Many members have become rich from the trade.
Once caught, it's another battle to strip them of the fruits of their crimes, as Sisson's story shows.
When he and his wife were arrested in 1999, seized along with their 3ha Dairy Flat property were two Harley Davidson motorcycles, a Holden Executive Club Sport car, an Isuzu Bighorn, a truck, two jetskis and "certain ostriches or interests therein in Canada".
At the trial, the Crown alleged Sisson - who has listed his occupation as greenhouse builder and cabinetmaker - had unexplained income of more than $250,000.
Yet under the deal finally reached, the Crown settled for half that: a motorbike, the Bighorn plus $108,000 cash.
The deal was done by the time Thorne-George got out of jail in December 2000, followed a year later by Sisson. They came out to the rural block on which they have built a house, and presumably to the Harley, the V8 Holden, the truck and jetskis, to say nothing of the ostriches "or interests therein" up in Canada.
Operation Shovel was significant in that it provided direct evidence of Hells Angels involvement in making methamphetamine, something suspected since the early 1980s. Analysts believe the gang were among the first to manufacture it here, having been taught by brother Hells Angels in the United States.
Also instructive were the links Operation Shovel revealed. Seventeen people were arrested or sought for questioning, among them methamphetamine cook Tony Jacomb.
The operation revolved around police bugging Sisson's house. Sisson and Jacomb were the cooks, making the drug over several days at Jacomb's Albany address. Police listened as Sisson discussed progress with his wife.
By trial time three patched Hells Angels and six associates were in the dock.
Part-way through the case, the judge ordered the jury be locked away in a hotel because of "information" he had become aware of. All were acquitted except Sisson and Thorne-George, who were convicted of conspiring to make the drug and of money laundering.
The jury said not guilty on charges of actual manufacture and supply, a verdict which found the pair guilty of the before and after - planning the operation and washing the proceeds - yet not guilty of the middle crimes in the chain of tasks in the business of drugs.
Besides the buried loot and recipe, a search of Sisson and his wife's rented house turned up another $18,000 cash and 49g of methamphetamine, worth about $49,000.
There were other interesting items: brochures on counter-surveillance, military-standard night vision equipment, photographs of police and a restricted police document about the Bandidos' plan to merge with New Zealand's Highway 61.
The Bandidos, along with the Hells Angels, are one of the world's four dominant motorcycle gangs but have yet to gain a presence here. The prospect of their taking over a significant New Zealand gang such as Highway 61 would pose a challenge to Hells Angels' control here.
Another police document - a how-to guide on video interviewing suspects - was found when police took a search warrant along to the Hells Angels headquarters on a spacious section, behind a neat stone wall, among the villas in leafy Mt Eden. The gang's president, Doug Jay, had $19,500 in cash seized from him as a result of the raid.
Another house searched was that of Peter "Pedro" Cleven, who was a senior member of the Head Hunters, a gang rated with the Angels in organised crime. The reason for the police interest in Cleven was an intercepted conversation in which Cleven and Sisson allegedly discussed manufacturing methamphetamine.
This was 1997. Within a year P, a potent smokeable form of methamphetamine, had flooded onto the market.
The conversation was an indication of what is now clear: gangs which were once rivals are co-operating, having realised there is enough money for all in the illicit drug market.
No methamphetamine was found at Cleven's home but a recipe for the drug, and a stun gun, were discovered.
The conversation, the recipe and Cleven's Hollywood lifestyle resulted in "Pedro" becoming the focus of a new inquiry. Listening devices were placed in the kitchen of his Titirangi mansion, with its spa, sauna, solar-heated swimming pool, tennis court, beach access, the ubiquitous Harley Davidson and powerboat bearing the name "Seahunters".
Police waited for Cleven to arrive at the wheel of his Mercedes Benz convertible before pressing the record button.
There were boasts of drug-dealing prowess: "Over the years, I used to deal 100lb of dak [cannabis with street value today of $500,000 ] ... And, I'll just tell you this to give you some idea - I've done $1 million worth of this a year."
Cleven's property was raided, his assets seized and his bank accounts frozen.
He was accused of making a fortune from drugs but acquitted after two controversial trials in 2002.
In the first, the jury couldn't reach a unanimous verdict. The second jury was sequestered, guarded around the clock and locked away for 17 nights at a secret location.
Despite these investigations and charges, Cleven has only ever been convicted of driving charges and two assaults - one of a female.
After his drugs trial, Cleven dismissed his talk of big-time drug dealing as baseless boasts to impress a "sexy" woman, snorting sounds caught on tape as hayfever, rather than drugs being inhaled, as was alleged, and he said his wealth was hard-earned in enterprises such as goat farming, property dealing and his Fort St peep-show, Three Wise Men.
Cleven, however, made an interesting choice in having Michael Joseph Cavanagh testify as to his good character. Cavanagh was unmasked earlier this month as one of the biggest methamphetamine cooks yet discovered. He's to be sentenced next month for manufacturing and supplying the drug.
His drug fortune is reckoned at $2 million, including a $330,000 house. Found in safety deposit boxes, a lock-up storage unit and Cavanagh's home were neatly packaged bundles of banknotes, gold and silver bars, jewellery, expensive watches, share certificates, bonus bonds, thousands of dollars worth of pre-paid international debit cards, cars and several motorcycles - including the ubiquitous Harley Davidsons.
Enough chemicals and methamphetamine precursors were found to make $2 million of the drug.
Cavanagh said his wealth was due to his ability to spot opportunities such as selling cellphones to Zimbabwe for fabulous profits, an explanation rejected by the jury. It wouldn't have helped his argument that when captured - after seven months on the run - he had $10,000 worth of methamphetamine.
Police described Cavanagh as a senior figure in the drug trade but, in the wider context of organised crime, he is a bit player, valued by the gangs as a willing, capable and prodigious methamphetamine cook.
Such people are prized by the gangs, says Darryl Brazier, a detective sergeant who until recently ran Auckland's organised crime squad.
Cavanagh was under the wing of the Head Hunters, so it may be no great surprise that Head Hunters' Christmas cards - the sort companies send to valued business associates - were found among his belongings. They were from Cleven, signed "your pal Pedro".
"These guys are interlocked, they all know each other," says Brazier, who has spent 11 years investigating organised crime. "There is a small number of people who control the business.
"I've run surveillance on Head Hunters and witnessed them being visited by members of the Hells Angels and Black Power. I've run ops on Highway 61 and they have been visited by members of Black Power and the Head Hunters. These are traditional rivals. They are visiting each other for one reason - business."
Warring between the gangs is now as rare as it once was common. They've come to realise the riches available from the drug trade and are consequently more careful to avoid attention.
"In the 1980s there would be a gang confrontation every Friday, usually between the ethnic gangs [Mongrel Mob and Black Power]. But they have seen the outlaw motorcycle gangs get rich, their members riding brand new Harleys, and the penny's dropped."
One of New Zealand's most notorious criminals, bankrobber-turned-drug dealer Waha Saifiti, summed it up, telling in a conversation intercepted by police of how he'd bumped into a policeman while doing his banking. The policeman had asked whether Saifiti was casing the bank. "I sell methamphetamines now," Saifiti said he told the policeman. "It beats robbing banks, I tell ya." Saifiti is serving nine years' jail for his part in a Head Hunters meth ring.
Robberies are now mostly done by drug customers to pay for their habit.
By Brazier's reckoning, 90 per cent of drug crime is linked to motorcycle gangs.
While many gangsters spend money as fast as they get it, some besides Sisson and Cleven have accumulated impressive assets. Tribesman vice-president Graham Nathan made the top three in money forfeited under proceeds of crime law, the Government confiscating a total of $654,000 of cash, four Harley Davidson motorbikes, four late-model cars and a boat. A loaded pistol and $400,000 cash was found hidden at a relative's pensioner flat during raids on his operation.
The biggest forfeiture is $1 million from chemist-turned methamphetamine maker William John Wallace, whose drugs were distributed by Highway 61.
He kept his money stuffed in carrier bags, biscuit tins and shoeboxes and paid cash for real estate, a racing car and other expensive vehicles. Almost $100,000 was spent on a stone fence for his Mt Albert home.
When Head Hunter David O'Carroll was busted, he was found with 27g (worth $27,000) of the drug in a film canister between his buttocks. Ammunition and $70,000 cash was found elsewhere. His money, he claimed at his trial, came from such work as carpetlaying.
Other well-off gang members include Bruce Roberts, a former Hells Angels' president. He sold his house in Parnell for $900,000 in 2003 and paid $820,000 for a 3.4ha lifestyle property not far from Sisson's block, though Land Information New Zealand records a mortgage facility of up to $750,000.
Some gang members have businesses which they say is the source of their money. The police suspect many are fronts: financed with crime money, they provide the appearance of legitimacy and a way of laundering illicit cash.
According to Herald searches of land and companies registers, Head Hunters boss Wayne Doyle has an interest in two Auckland properties and apparent links to a tow truck company.
One of the wealthiest is former Highway 61 president Kelly Robertson, who has a methamphetamine conviction. Police estimate his assets at $2 million, most in real estate, which will be waiting for him when he is released from jail sometime next decade for killing fellow gang boss Kevin Weavers.
Forfeiture procedures were begun against Robertson but abandoned. The Herald has not been able to discover, officially, the reason but has been told by a source it was due to an administrative error.
Just as companies seek to grow through takeovers and partnerships in the legitimate business world so, too, do motorcycle gangs.
The Head Hunters are pushing north, adding a chapter based in Wellsford to two in Auckland, and are recruiting aggressively, giving patches mainly to people met in prison.
Hells Angels has taken over gangs in Hastings, Wanganui and Palmerston North, and had considered working with South Island gang the Road Knights in the 1990s before backing away. Noted attending the Road Knights' mystery bus pub crawl in 1996 were three Hells Angels leaders, including the president of the time, Roberts, along with several Head Hunters and members of the Filthy Few and Matamata gang the Titans.
The Hells Angels are regarded as savvy and risk-averse, whereas the Head Hunters are characterised by their propensity for violence. They are consequently either respected or feared by other organised criminal groups.
A fearsome reputation aids standover operations, a gang money-spinner by which a cut of profits is demanded from independent crime groups under threat of being shut down. It is also useful for "taxing" - stealing assets from those who cross the gang.
The most powerful Head Hunter is Wayne Doyle, president of its east chapter, headquartered in Ellerslie's Marua Road, the location for high school after-dance parties the gang hosted. He is a convicted murderer and carries his fearsome reputation like a badge - along with a personalised Head Hunters card which reads: "You have just met Wayne".
In this world, pumping iron is common. Doyle recently won a national bench press title, setting a masters division record. The glory was short-lived, however. He refused to give a urine sample - raising the possibility of steroid abuse - and has been banned for two years by the NZ Powerlifting Federation. But not without some nervousness. "Some people in the federation were in fear of their lives," a sports source said.
Such set-backs are unlikely to faze Doyle. He told a detective who policed gangs that scrutiny was welcome: "You make the strong stronger and the weak **** off, and that's good for the club."
Prison is seen as an occupational hazard - a chance to network. The smart ones know they have ways, means and assets awaiting them on release.
Sisson, for example.
A recent photograph shows the Hells Angel astride a gleaming V-Rod Harley Davidson. It has a $38,000 price tag and is the fastest of the Harley Davidson family.
Perfect for those who like to make a statement.
The gang rap sheet
* Head Hunter Wayne Doyle convicted of wounding with intent.
* Head Hunter Graham Te Awa convicted of rape, wounding with intent.
* Head Hunter Dave Smith convicted of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
* Head Hunters acquitted of abduction, rape, sodomy of a 17-year-old girl. Complainant intimidated.
* Head Hunter acquitted of rape, assault and abduction of a 16-year-old girl. Complainant intimidated.
* 83 sachets of heroin found concealed in ceiling of Head Hunters headquarters.
* Doyle and Te Awa convicted of murder of King Cobra Siaso Evalu, who was beaten to death in a Ponsonby street by a group of Head Hunters.
* Smith becomes president when Doyle jailed.
* Woman alleges she was raped by four men at Hell's Angels headquarters. Three, including current president Doug Jay, acquitted at a second trial after first jury failed to reach a verdict.
* Head Hunters kidnap a man at gunpoint, torture him with pliers and an electric drill. William Hines, David O'Carroll and two gang associates convicted.
* Head Hunter Ian McCluskie jailed on LSD charges.
* Head Hunters prospect acquitted of raping woman at gang headquarters. Complainant intimidated.
* Three Head Hunters convicted of raping a woman at gang pad, two others of bribing a witness. After she made a complaint the word "blood" was written on the victim's car, gang members made veiled threats to her and her family and $5000 was paid to her in an attempt to dissuade her continuing with her complaint.
* LSD and cannabis found in Paremoremo prison cell occupied by Doyle.
* Head Hunter prospect Andrew Maaka reported missing. Last seen at gang pad. Police believe he was murdered.
* Highway 61 leader Kevin Weavers convicted of theft and receiving 30 cars valued at $950,000.
* Jay convicted of conspiracy to supply class B drug.
* Hines, O'Carroll and a third Head Hunter confront, interrogate and threaten an undercover policeman with a knife. Subsequently convicted.
* Malcolm Munns (Nomad) murdered by Highway 61 members.
* Hell's Angel Sisson arrested, he and his wife later convicted of conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine and money laundering. Four other gang members charged but not convicted.
* Te Awa and fellow Head Hunter Aaron Hiley attempt to collect a drug debt owed to international drug smuggler Brian Curtis who at the time was on the run having escaped from Paremoremo.
* A business partner of a senior Head Hunter commits suicide. Police receive information the man had been caught stealing from the business.
* Head Hunter demands $500 a week to allow an independent tinnie house (neighbourhood drug supermarket) to continue to operate.
* Senior Head Hunter suspected of stealing Harley-Davidsons and selling them back to the owners.
* Forty Five gang member Terry Jones jailed for six years on methamphetamine charges. Meth, manufacturing equipment, 112 cannabis plants, a list showing $45,000 in drug sales, were seized along with a bag containing $20,000 he threw from his car while being chased by police.
* Meth ring busted involving Head Hunters William Hines and David Dunn, King Cobra associate Fa'afete Taito, and career criminal and former bankrobber Waha Safiti.
* Highway 61 and Filthy Few working together in methamphetamine ring. Ex Highway president Kelly Robertson and notorious Filthy Few James Henry "Little Willie" Wilson jailed along with career criminals Peter Francis "Pete The Terrorist" Atkinson, and Kevin John Williams, of the 1970s Mr Asia gang. Ring netted $300,000 in a few months, money not recovered. Wilson murdered Tauranga woman Jo-Anne Van Duyvenbooden while on bail. Judge said Wilson killed her because of her "freelance drug activities".
* Head Hunters-run methamphetamine operation busted. O'Carroll and two other patched members arrested along with meth cooks Tony Jacomb, Michael Cavanagh and Ian Clegg.
* Highway 61 president Kevin Weavers killed. Ex-president Kelly Robertson jailed for manslaughter.