A senior Comanchero and two other members of the outlaw bikie club barged into the family home of one of Australia's leading builders in a suspected standover attempt to force the construction firm owner to pay a disputed debt.
Master Builders Association federal vice-president Trevor Evans was at his suburban Melbourne home when the bikie trio, led by Comanchero serjeant-at-arms Norm Meyer, entered his house through an unlocked door and confronted him over money that a subcontractor claims he is owed.
Dramatic vision of what police have labelled an extortion attempt was recorded on CCTV cameras and has been obtained by Fairfax Media, prompting the Napthine government to say it was "gravely concerned" about alleged infiltration of the building industry by "criminal elements".
The head of Victoria Police's anti-bikie taskforce Echo, Detective Superintendent Peter De Santo, told Fairfax Media that what Mr Evans had endured was one of several examples of bikie gangs and other crime groups being used to collect disputed debts or to deal with industrial disputes in the building industry.
"This is not the only one, and Echo are being proactive in the building industry around dealing with outlaw motorcycle gangs and the recovery of debts," Supterintendent De Santo said.
“Their attendance in a Comanchero shirt is intimidatory and well beyond community expectations. If they appeared at my front door I'd be very concerned, which is why you have to come and speak up to the police," he said.
In 2011, Fairfax Media revealed that the Hells Angels had been used by a subcontractor in a stand-over bid on a senior manager from building firm Hansen Yuncken.
That case and Mr Evans' story highlight the role of organised crime in the building industry and the difficulty that police and regulatory agencies have in confronting it. In both cases, the victims of the alleged standover tactics were disappointed with aspects of the policing response, having also been told that agencies such as the federal government's building commission were powerless to deal with criminality in the industry.
It is understood that the use of bikies in the industry is also increasing in NSW, fuelled by the willingness of some industry figures to hire crime figures and the fact that debt collectors do not need to pass a "fit and proper person" test.
Superintendent De Santo said Meyer – who is the enforcer for the club's Williamstown chapter – worked in the building industry and was a member of construction union the CFMEU. Fairfax Media has also obtained a photo of the bikie near the front of last month's CFMEU rally on workplace safety.
"I would have thought there there is a public perception about that photo and I would have thought that public perception is something the CMFEU would probably want to deal with [in respect] of how they portray themselves to the community. Having said that, the majority of bikies are still employed in various industries where their trades are," Superintendent De Santo said.
CFMEU Victorian secretary John Setka said he did not know Meyer or that he was connected to a bikie gang until alerted by the media. He said he had not noticed an increased presence of bikie gang members or crime figures in the state's building industry.
"If there was we'd be concerned because it's likely that our members could be the target of threats," he said, stressing that the CFMEU had banned any bikie gang colours from being worn on building sites.
Mr Evans said building company owners and staff should not have to deal with standover tactics and called on the state and federal governments to confront the problem.
He said the law should be overhauled to ensure that debt collectors were licensed and of good character.
Mr Evans also criticised the way in which police initially dealt with the approach by the Comancheros. While uniformed police were quick to arrive at his house after a triple-zero call was made, Mr Evans had to make multiple calls to his local station in the following days to follow up on the police investigation. While he was waiting for police to respond, Mr Evans paid part of the disputed debt to the subcontractor whom police believe hired the Comancheros.
"They [the local police] were pretty bloody hopeless. They were telling me they were under-resourced, but that wasn't much help to me. If police had advised me properly, I wouldn't have paid part of the debt," he said.
Mr Evans learnt later that local detectives had failed to alert the Echo taskforce, which only found out about the attempted extortion several weeks after it occurred. Mr Evans said he was pleased with Echo's response but that it came too late.
Echo has told Mr Evans that his part-payment of the disputed debt meant that it would be difficult to charge the Comancheros or the subcontractor involved in the matter.
Superintendent De Santo conceded there was "room for improvement" in how police had initially handled the incident but insisted that Echo was proactively tackling the problem.
Mr Evans, who owns a mid-tier construction firm, is now trying to recoup his debt through civil proceedings.
In 2011, when a senior Hells Angels member was investigated for demanding Hansen Yuncken pay a disputed debt to a subcontractor, police launched a major investigation. But the victim of that suspected extortion bid later learnt that some of those involved in the debt recovery process had discovered that police were investigating.
It is understood that the office of Premier Denis Napthine has been briefed about the Hansen Yuncken case and the incident involving Mr Evans by the state construction industry regulator, Nigel Hadgkiss.
Underworld figure Mick Gatto, who runs a debt collection and industrial mediation business and maintains close ties to building companies, union leaders and the Comancheros, was also involved in negotiations tied to the Hansen Yuncken debt recovery.
Police suspect that Mr Gatto continues to be paid by certain building companies to help them deal with industrial or commercial disputes. Superintendent De Santo said that Mr Gatto had publicly acknowledged his association with Comanchero leaders and that police were closely monitoring all bikie groups.
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