Bikies target regional towns in new ice age

BIKIES and rival overseas crime gangs have joined forces in an unprecedented assault on regional Australia, with cities from Wagga to Mildura and Toowoomba to Mt Gambier on the frontline, confidential intelligence reveals.

Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission data shows Victorians in 12 months used almost 2.5 tonnes of the potent methamphetamine.

Bikies are at the centre of ice distribution across regional Australia. Picture: Chris Kidd
Bikies are at the centre of ice distribution across regional Australia. Picture: Chris Kidd

Ice - the purest and most potent form of methamphetamine - is being produced on "an industrial scale", with Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs specifically targeting the bush to the devastation of communities and generations of families.

A leading drug rehabilitation provider said ice was clearly the biggest driver of clients seeking help.

The insidious drug is also a major factor in Victoria's soaring road toll, police say.

Police sources say the surge in ice use has been felt in all areas of violent crime and that its connection to killings continues to be high.

It is linked to homicides in numerous ways, including in its impact on the behaviour of perpetrators and as the cause of fatal disputes between people who know one another.

And the unprecedented targeting of the nation for the meth drug is being largely directed from offshore by Asian and Mexican cartel figures.

The never-seen-before alliances have led to turf wars domestically between bikie gangs battling for distribution rights.

These are the lead findings of confidential intelligence compiled by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission and largely based on Australian Federal Police investigations that confirm Australia's dubious status as the world's leading ice nation as it warns meth now poses the "greatest threat to the Australian public of all illicit drug types by a significant margin".

Wagga Wagga is one of many regional towns hit by the ice scourge. Picture: Gary Ramage
Wagga Wagga is one of many regional towns hit by the ice scourge. Picture: Gary Ramage

Earlier this year, more than $1 billion worth of ice was discovered in Melbourne, hidden inside stereo speakers in the biggest seizure of the drug in Australia.

Police found 37kg of heroin, worth $18.5 million, in the same shipment.

Victoria Police data shows officers charged 5988 people for possessing methamphetamines between October 2017 and September 2018 - more than twice the number charged five years earlier.

Victoria's top drug cop, Assistant Commissioner Glenn Weir, has compared drug dealers to terrorists, ­saying they posed one of the biggest threats to community safety.

But regional areas have been cited as problem zones, from Albury-Wodonga, Mildura and Werribee in Victoria, up the highways through Wagga to Toowoomba and west to regional South Australia.

Authorities have found evidence of users as young as 12, with the drug being given away to get them hooked from the first hit, then offers to "franchise" distribution at street level.

Australia’s new ice age has seen major changes in the way criminal groups operate. File picture
Australia’s new ice age has seen major changes in the way criminal groups operate. File picture

One gram of crystal meth can be priced up to $1200, the highest price in the world.

"It is like a pyramid scheme where they are given the drug to try, the more they sell the more they get," one law enforcement officer said of the regional spread.

According to the ACIC, 65 per cent of all designated high risk criminal targets nationally have shifted their enterprises into the ice trade, creating new alliances particularly with members of some of the 39 OMCGs operating in Australia, with criminal elements dispatched to key regional capitals to "franchise" distribution.

Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Operations Neil Gaughan told True Crime Australia there had been a clear sea change in criminal enterprise.

"What we are seeing now is a total mishmash, basically 'who can get the job done for me and I'm happy to broker that service', he said of the criminal attitude.

The AFP’s Neil Gaughan says ice is having a huge impact on regional communities, but it is hard to quantify. Picture: Kym Smith
The AFP’s Neil Gaughan says ice is having a huge impact on regional communities, but it is hard to quantify. Picture: Kym Smith

"That is one of the reasons we are seeing, particularly in smaller locations like Canberra and Wagga Wagga, really vicious fighting between the bikie groups trying to establish primacy.

"If they are responsible for the distribution, they are responsible for the distribution regardless of where it is coming from, doesn't matter if it's coming from Middle East organised crime groups, Asia or South America they are going to be doing it.

"That's a change I've seen, even criminal groups themselves now work across each other, five years ago you definitely would not see Asian organised crime groups working with others, now we are definitely seeing them work with the Mexican groups specifically, the South Americans more broadly but also working with Middle East groups."

Mr Gaughan said "highly mobile" bikies were never too far from the distribution of the drug, which was ruining generations of families and was a focus of not just State and federal organised crime teams but also national anti-gang strike teams.

"I think there would be very few distributions particularly in regional NSW and regional Victoria that don't touch OMCGs," he said.

"In certain locations, notably the ACT, it is every drug out there has an OMCG touch. The impact it is having on communities, it's not just drug use but the socio-impact from use, domestic violence, unemployment, impact on local hospitals, impact on doctors, impact on policing having to respond to property crime.

"So it's not just the drugs, it's that whole range of things I think we're not able to accurately quantify and measure the impact off."

Wagga Wagga police commander Superintendent Bob Noble is using every tactic available to fight back against OMCGs. Picture: Supplied
Wagga Wagga police commander Superintendent Bob Noble is using every tactic available to fight back against OMCGs. Picture: Supplied

'THEY DON"T REALISE IT FRIES THEIR BRAINS'

BOB Noble is not prone to pumping up his own tyres to brag about his successes.

But he should.

The cop is on the frontline war on ice in Wagga Wagga, a township that is four and a half hours drive from 40 per cent of Australia's population and as such is literally at the cross roads for large-scale ice trafficking on the highways to capital cities.

And clearly some of the gear gets offloaded.

On average Wagga police make one arrest a day related to methamphetamine, but Noble and his officers, including the Region Enforcement Squad, are tackling the issue head on.

Almost four years to the day Strike Force Calyx, one of the largest ever mounted in NSW history, saw 61 people charged with ice supply, with 60 of those pleading guilty.

"It was a bit of an eye opener and not the most pleasant revelation and that was all ice, ice, ice, ice," Noble said of the operation which made a huge dent in the Riverina drugs market.

Bikies are preying on regional towns across Australia and Wagga’s location makes it a key target. Picture: Gary Ramage
Bikies are preying on regional towns across Australia and Wagga’s location makes it a key target. Picture: Gary Ramage

But from that 2015 operation the battle has continued.

"We are not silly enough to think that solved the problem, (a) lot of those people were taken out of circulation, some did sentences, others less serious sanctions imposed and no doubt some of those have stayed out of offending since and maybe got treatment," he added.

"But it is easy to get, cheap to procure, for as little as 20 to 50 dollars a point (tenth of a gram) it can keep you going for three days and what we are up against is the mentality 'what's the drama?'

"That's what we are up against whether it is the Calvary (drug and alcohol service), doctors, nurses, educators at the schools, cops, councillors, this is what we are up against 'what's the big deal?' They don't realise it fries their brains."

Late last year, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, notably including the Rebels and Finks, allegedly sought to franchise distribution in the district.

"We experienced that in the past couple of years Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs deliberately trying to franchise Wagga, the Riverina and through having good intelligence nearly every time we have been on the front foot with that and, I have to say, thwarted that pretty much on every occasion.

"Doesn't mean there are not still some bikies or some associates touring around selling big quantities but we have turned a lot of them away.

"The ones most active have been the Rebels and Mongols and another group, not bikies but ostensibly the same structure of Islander hoodlums out of Western Sydney coming in.

"But what we did see they were coming in and committing acts of fairly extreme violence on persons they viewed to be rivals to them, but we ultimately apprehended them all and placed them before the court on a range of serious charges and for the most part are incarcerated. That was late last year … We don't wait, we don't allow them to get a toe hold, we will use everything within our means appropriately, whether its council ordinance and regulation around the use of a building, enforcement of traffic laws, whether it's firearms prohibition orders, or just high profile policing targeting them every time they move, consorting laws - we use everything."

Brendan McCorry has worked with users as young as 12. Picture: Gary Ramage
Brendan McCorry has worked with users as young as 12. Picture: Gary Ramage

Calvary Riverina Drug and Alcohol Services manager Brendan McCorry said alcohol and marijuana were the big problems in the region, but they had both been taken over by ice. His 500 assessments a year are almost all now related to meth.

He is staggered too by his clients, with the average age of the user in the mid-30s but some as young as 12 and others over 50 years. Equally concerning are the number of female patients, either mothers or pregnant.

"A majority self-refer, they realise they have run out of money, their relationships are gone, they cannot work anymore so they have come to a point where they can't physically or mentally go on any more," he said.

"Most of them report life had got out of control more quickly than they imagined. Most of them didn't realise or think it was as addictive or hard to give up as it was and most people report that unlike when using ordinary amphetamines, people would binge and have couple of days off but now they were reporting daily use of the drugs."

Rickilee is in rehab and determined to get her family back together. Picture: Gary Ramage
Rickilee is in rehab and determined to get her family back together. Picture: Gary Ramage

'I WAS KNOCKING ON DEATH'S DOOR'

RICKILEE has put on 18kgs in the past few months and could not be happier.

While most other women would worry about the sudden weight gain, for the 36-year-old it is a sign she is making her way back from a very dark place.

It is also a sign her children will be coming home soon.

Rickilee said her lowest point was putting her children in foster care. Picture Gary Ramage
Rickilee said her lowest point was putting her children in foster care. Picture Gary Ramage

She was 47kgs, a mother of nine and an ice addict with a $200 a day habit when she was taken into the Wagga Wagga Calvary Riverina drug and alcohol program.

"I was knocking on death's door," the Nowra mother said with no sense of drama.

"Ice is a life destroyer, you have no feelings, I could have watched a close family member of mine hit by a bus and I wouldn't have cared.

"That's what it does to you. If I knew it was like that I wouldn't … I have a saying, you live to use then you are using to live, that's how it is, you can't wait for the feel of it but then it becomes using to live, it's got you."

With the loss of sense and sensibilities and her drug habit cutting deep into her family weekly food shop and opportunities to borrow money from everyone she knew exhausted, Rickilee herself contacted Family and Community Services who came and took her young children away to put them into foster care.

Rickilee said dealers would practically give ice away to get more people hooked. Picture: Brendan Radke
Rickilee said dealers would practically give ice away to get more people hooked. Picture: Brendan Radke

"They say the hardest part of an addiction is admitting you have a problem but it's not. Every addict knows they have a problem," she said.

"My hardest part was when I actually put the children in the car, my youngest child then Soldier, my little boy was five, and he said 'look after mummy', they thought they were going on a holiday, and Koby, he is four, and he said, 'I will be back at 7pm tomorrow night'. But they weren't. It was hard for me because I knew damn straight they were not coming home."

That was in January and Rickilee is now five weeks away from completing her rehabilitation and that means gradual access to her family. She has moved permanently to Wagga, has a job at a bakery, and people around who care about her.

Ice was her coping mechanism after the death of her parents, and she said it was so accessible in Nowra they were practically giving it away to get you hooked.

"I will get my family back together, that's what has kept me going, I have to do this," she said.

The Rebels have more members than other OMCGs.
The Rebels have more members than other OMCGs.

POLICE INTELLIGENCE

- 65 per cent of Australia's highest risk criminal targets (state and federal) are engaged in the methamphetamine (ice) market

- Some of those are OMCG leaders wanted on police warrants operating here and from bases abroad, notably Turkey, Thailand and United Arab Emirates

- According to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), Australia has 39 OMCGs considered as hard core "One Percenters", including 4760 fully patched members, 957 prospects and 4585 associates. The Rebels account for about half the national total

- NSW has the largest membership base from 18 clubs

- The ACT is in the midst of a bikie turf war with almost 100 per cent of illegal narcotics in that Territory related to OMCGs

- OMCGs battling for distribution rights, networked directly with drug cartels in Mexico, southeast Asia and Middle East

- Mexican nationals now working on the ground in Australia to sort drugs shipments, notably into Sydney and Melbourne

- Authorities have noted "large numbers" of OMCG senior members going offshore for meetings with Mexicans, Eastern Europeans to "broker shipment arrangements" of drugs

 

- With Mark Buttler and Aleks Devic



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