Blog

Major Italian Mafia group churning up political controversy in Australia

Media outlets expose ‘Ndrangheta’s Down Under criminal activities

Italian Mafia boss Frank Madafferi, left, with Labor Party politician Michael Teti. Credit: The Age, Melbourne, Australia

One of the major Italian Mafia organizations is deeply entrenched in the Australian underworld.

Italy’s violent Calabrian Mafia group ‘Ndrangheta allegedly has infiltrated Australia’s top political parties on behalf of a crime chieftain heard on a police wiretap threatening to murder a fellow criminal.

The TV show Four Corners on the Australian Broadcasting Company network detailed how the family of convicted ‘Ndrangheta boss Frank Madafferi used political party donors to influence members of Australia’s conservative Liberal Party to prevent Madafferi’s deportation back to Italy in 2005.

Then a Melbourne newspaper revealed how a legislator with the left-leaning Labor Party had entered into a business arrangement with Madafferi and was seen standing beside him in a photograph. The Labor Party forced the legislator out of office the same day.

ABC’s Four Corners, the government-owned network’s well-known investigative journalism program, produced the segment during a one-year collaboration with Fairfax Media, a chain of newspapers and digital news organizations. The two-part broadcast, “The Mafia in Australia: Drugs, Murder and Politics,” and “The Mafia in Australia: Blood Ties,” aired on June 29.

The TV report included a recording of a graphic phone conversation with Madafferi expounding on what he planned to do to another gangster involved in a drug transaction.

“I’m going to pull his f****n’ head off. I’m going to eat him alive. Tell him that he can go get his f****n’ coffin, get it f****n’ ready because I’m going to go there with a f****n’ 4WD [4-wheel drive] and f****n’ get him and f****n’ take it away.”

During the TV show, a one-time police commissioner from the Australian state of New South Wales described the ‘Ndrangheta, or “honored society,” as “the longest-running crime organization (in Australia) that we’ve ever had. It’s been continuously operating for nearly ninety-three years now and looks as though it’s going to go for another 100.”

The ‘Ndrangheta has become so entrenched Down Under that it once sent what was described as the world’s largest shipment of the drug ecstasy, fifteen million doses, there for trafficking, according to the program.

The gang’s boss in Australia, Madafferi, was convicted and sentenced in Italy on counts of extortion, conspiracy, two stabbings and drug and gun possession on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta before fleeing to Australia in 1989. He has successfully resisted efforts by the Australian government to have him deported since 1996.

Madafferi failed to mention his Italian convictions when he obtained a six-month tourist visa after arriving in Melbourne. He got into the fruit and vegetable trade and later allegedly committed violent crimes on behalf of the ‘Ndrangheta syndicate in Australia. In 2000, the nation’s immigration minister, Liberal Party member Philip Ruddock, ordered the illegal immigrant Madafferi deported back to Italy.

Madafferi’s brother Tony, multimillionaire part owner of an Australian pizzeria chain, tried to overturn the order in court but lost. Tony sent his lawyer to try to lobby Ruddock, who quickly rebuffed the effort. Tony then enlisted a trusted associate and Liberal political donor, Pasquale “Pat” Sergi, a man Australian officials said laundered Mafia drug money through buying and selling real estate back in 1979. Sergi lobbied a Liberal Party senator from New South Wales while other donor friends, at Tony’s behest, lobbied two Liberal members of Parliament. The three Liberals in turn lobbied Ruddock’s successor as immigration minister, Amanda Vanstone, a Liberal, about overturning the order.

In 2004, Tony put together a fundraiser for the three Liberals and personally donated $15,000 Australian ($11,200 U.S.). Vanstone was the guest speaker at the fundraiser. In November, 2005, Vanstone canceled the deportation order against Frank Madafferi, citing humanitarian concerns for his family. Police reported finding no evidence of wrongdoing on Vanstone’s part.

The producers of Four Corners obtained a copy of a confidential report on the Mafia, known by the code name “Cerberus,” prepared by Australia’s National Crime Authority in 1995. In it, the agency said that Tony Madafferi was “named by three sources as being a member of the honored society. Membership of a secret society must be considered as highly probable.”

Meanwhile, the ABC-Fairfax investigation revealed that the son of a reputed Mafia leader had worked as an intern at Australia’s embassy in Rome in 2010 while Vanstone, the former immigration minister, served as ambassador there. There is no evidence she knew of the association, but the embassy at the time was documenting confidential information about narcotics trafficking by the Mafia and police in Australian viewed the intern’s presence as a potential security breach.

The media outlets also claimed that in the early 2000s, a Mafia associate met with then-Prime Minister John Howard, a Liberal, at a fundraiser attended by party officials, although it was not suggested the prime minister was aware of that association.

Other revelations about ‘Ndrangheta chief Madafferi by the Melbourne-based newspaper The Age on July 6 led the country’s Labor Party to immediately expel Michael Teti, a Labor delegate to the Victorian state parliament. The newspaper claimed Teti while in office had secretly worked as Madafferi’s business manager starting in 2013, knowing the man’s background as a Mafia overlord and criminal fugitive. Teti denied the allegations but was nonetheless stripped of his parliament seat.

The Age reported that Teti “was handling Madafferi’s finances, moving money for his fruit shop businesses, Mondo Fruit, placing advertisements for Madafferi in Italian newspapers and importing foodstuffs for the crime boss from Italy. Madafferi has used his fruit shops as a base for his drug trafficking, although there is no suggestion Mr. Teti is personally involved in the illegal trade.”

Teti, who was sentenced to probation in December on a separate gun possession charge, is also suspected of supplying the gun used by a Madafferi soldier named Michael Villeva to threaten a woman in Melbourne, The Age reported.

Fairfax Media also reported that efforts to prevent underworld figures from laundering money at Australia’s biggest casinos have failed because there is no uniform national law excluding them from gambling. Known organized crime members banned from gambling in some Australian states can simply travel to casinos in a state that does not enforce those exclusions, allowing them to transfer proceeds from criminal activity to the casinos ostensibly for gambling but for the purpose of money laundering.

The case in point is Queensland in northeastern Australia that Fairfax says “has become a haven for underworld gamblers.” The Queensland Police Service declines to stop Mafia members from transferring money for high-end gambling at the Jupiters Hotel & Casino on the Gold Coast even though those individuals are banned from gambling by police in the states of Victoria and New South Wales.

Jeff Burbank, a longtime journalist, is a content development specialist for The Mob Museum. Contact him at jburbank@themobmuseum.org.