Dark secret of Queensland's tattoo industry and link to bikies
November 26, 2011
BIKIE Inc's ugly bootprint on the tattoo business is the dark secret of a $100 million a year industry.
Thousands of customers inked in Queensland parlours are unwittingly lining the pockets of organised crime figures, who include convicted arsonists, heroin traffickers, ice dealers and notorious underworld hard men, the Courier-Mail reported.
While Bandidos and Finks outlaw motorcycle club bosses win celebrity endorsements from footballers and US rappers for their Brisbane and Gold Coast parlours, their non-bikie "civilian" rivals are all too often targets for extortion, intimidation and violence.
Tattooists have suffered collateral damage in Sydney's bikie wars, with a dozen attacks in parlours in the past 18 months - including a shooting death, firebombings, ram raids and bashings. Insurers are refusing to cover studios elsewhere as a result.
The tattooists' peak body in Queensland insists bikie harassment is a non-issue.
But police say it is so common that new parlour owners now routinely consult Taskforce Hydra, the police squad targeting bikies, before opening their doors.
Often police install surveillance cameras in new parlours to capture evidence of intimidation and attacks.
"We ... have to set their shops up," a police source said.
"I couldn't count how many we've had this year alone. They're getting smarter about it, though. There was one on the Gold Coast who came and saw us a few weeks before he started up. Sure enough, a week later he came back and they'd paid him a visit."
A Queensland tattooist, who lives under the protective gaze of police-installed cameras at work and home after being threatened by a senior bikie, said the issue was "the elephant in the room" for the industry.
"No one wants to talk about it. The tattoo magazines tell you not to make yourself a target by raising the issue in print. The straight tattooists keep a low profile, avoid going to the big tattoo shows and so on," he said.
A Gold Coast parlour owner who repelled bikie threats with police help declined to comment for fear of provoking more "attention".
While top studios turn over $1 million a year, industry veterans said bikie-owned parlours were often fronts that did little trade and struggled to employ experienced tattooists.
A veteran parlour owner said many artists had fled overseas after cutting ties with bikie bosses who believed they "owned" their apprentices.
"If you try and leave, the first thing they'll do is take your equipment, then they'll threaten to break your legs if you work for someone else."