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Seven people have been charged with a variety of offences after police swooped on Melbourne law firms, accountancy businesses, brothels and tattoo parlours in a money-laundering investigation targeting the wealth of the Comanchero bikie gang.
Forty-four warrants were executed on Wednesday on businesses linked to the gang, including South Melbourne law firm Stanton Grant Legal, the Sin City strip club in Dandenong, an accountancy business in Eltham, and a gym owned by Comanchero president Mick Murray.
Police said they seized a number of items from the properties including motorcycles, drugs, cash, computers and more than $1 million-worth of alcohol stored on pallets.
The Age understands Mr Murray is associated with a self-described "forensic accountant" and high-interest lender, who has helped restructure the gang's financial affairs and conceal assets from the tax office.
It is understood an accountant's office in Melbourne's south-east was part of the raid. The joint taskforce also raided the Alphington home of a property developer who was recently in dispute with the forensic accountant and was recently the subject of a fire bomb attack.
The Comanchero boss and his wife, Debbie Pitman, are facing bankruptcy after being ordered to pay $3.72 million to the Australian Tax Office in December last year.
Not a single member of the gang was arrested during Wednesday's operation.
The Echo taskforce, the National Anti-Gang Squad and Australian Federal Police arrested nine people, the eldest being a 76-year-old Mount Martha woman and the youngest, a 22-year-old woman from Officer.
The younger woman was charged with possessing prescription drugs and cocaine while the 76-year-old was charged with false accounting. Other charges were:
A 41-year-old Heidelberg Heights man was interviewed for possessing a drug of dependence and possessing a controlled weapon. A 41-year-old Kilmore man was interviewed for possessing the proceeds of crime. Both were released.
The raids took place in suburbs including Moonee Ponds, Williamstown, Taylors Lakes Pakenham, Somerville, Mornington, Ringwood, Alphington, Eltham and Heidelberg West.
“The Comancheros are a group we know have traditionally been involved in violent crimes such as shootings, assaults, arson, drug trafficking and extortion," Commander Cindy Millen said.
“While we investigate those crimes, we also recognise that there are opportunities to target OMCGs (Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs) in a way that reduces their wealth and effectiveness."
She said the businesses may look like ordinary firms and shops, but they were an alleged front for organised crime activity and money laundering. Some of their clients, she said, are likely to be unaware they were using the services of a gang.
“As an example, you have people attending gyms owned by OMCG members who have no idea that their fees are contributing to the running of an organised crime group, or that the business is unlicensed and not covered by insurance," Commander Millen said.
“The money generated by what from the outside appears to be like any other businesses is essentially used to fund crime.”
Commander Millen called the operation one of the largest and diverse of its kind executed by Victoria Police in a single day.
Thursday's police action is thought to be unrelated to tensions that have been bubbling away between members in Victoria and NSW after a period of instability in its leadership.
Mr Murray was recently sentenced to a six-month custodial sentence, but The Age is not permitted to publish the reason behind his imprisonment.
Fairfax Media previously reported the conflict began when Mark Buddle fled to Europe last year, but still claimed national presidency. That split members between the offshore leader and Mr Murray, who took over the leadership in his absence.
The conflict was on violent display in a wild brawl amongst NSW and Victorian gang members last August at a Canberra nightspot.
Then, last month, a senior Victorian Comanchero member was shot more than six times as he was being tattooed at a Hampton Park parlour owned by Mr Murray.