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April 2, 2011
Peter Hewat leaves the Victorian County Court in 2007. Photo: AAP
THE Hells Angels tried to extort almost $1 million from one of Australia's biggest construction companies during a dispute featuring Melbourne underworld bosses.
The dispute - in which a Hells Angels boss, Peter ''Skitzo'' Hewat, threatened a senior Hansen and Yuncken manager - exposes the continuing presence of corruption in Victoria's building industry, as well as the failure of state and federal agencies to combat it.
It also raises questions about the role of a high-ranking building union official who intervened in the dispute alongside a ''fixer'' for the Hells Angels.
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The Hansen and Yuncken dispute occurred last year, after building company Alutech demanded about $800,000 from the construction giant.
Alutech is run by Jason Smith, an associate of the Hells Angels, an outlaw bikie gang. Alutech claimed it was owed the money to cover labour and materials it had supplied as a subcontractor on the Victoria University site in Footscray, a $64 million redevelopment managed by Hansen.
The dispute is one of several examples uncovered by The Saturday Age involving well-known organised crime figures with roles in major construction projects. They include:
■Building firm Elite Cranes, co-owned by alleged crime boss Mick Gatto, which is working on the state-government-backed desalination plant pipeline.
■Gatto's business partner John Khoury representing mostly small to mid-tier builders seeking money from larger contractors.
■The Comancheros and Hells Angels running construction waste disposal companies in Melbourne.
The Hansen and Alutech dispute turned ugly after Hansen refused to pay Alutech the $800,000. The Hansen senior manager was asked by Alutech to attend a meeting in the CBD office of Tom Karas, a suspected money launderer who works for Gatto.
This was followed by another meeting called by Gatto at a steakhouse in Carlton, attended by several people including Hells Angels boss Peter Hewat (pictured). After that meeting failed to reach a resolution, a senior Hansen manager was called on the phone by Hewat. While that manager has refused to speak to The Saturday Age, multiple sources confirmed that the call in late July 2010 was highly threatening and that Hansen and Yuncken took steps to ensure the security of staff.
The next meeting in the dispute took place after Shaun Reardon, vice-president of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, asked the Hansen manager to come to the CFMEU headquarters in Carlton. When the manager arrived, Mr Reardon was waiting with industry fixer Mario Amenta. Mr Amenta confirmed his links to the Hells Angels during his later dealings with Hansen. In 2005, Mr Amenta provided a character reference for his ''friend'', crime boss Mario Condello, during Condello's murder trial.
When The Saturday Age asked Mr Reardon about his role in the meeting with Mr Amenta and Hansen, he said: ''If a subcontractor is claiming they are owed big dollars from a builder, if they have hit a wall and can't get it, they often utilise us (the CFMEU) to try and retrieve monies. At the end of the day, they employ our members. If they can't afford to pay our members, we have a direct concern.''
Asked about the background of Mr Amenta and Alutech's links to the Hells Angels, Mr Reardon said: ''I am probably better off having no comment.'' Mr Amenta also refused to comment.
Mr Amenta has appeared in other union-facilitated meetings, including a 2009 meeting between the CFMEU and Buildcorp. An industry source said of Mr Amenta: ''He has been used (in union-facilitated meetings) as 'muscle' to intimidate people, but is seen as a bit of a blowhard.'' In a statement, the CFMEU said it intervened in the Hansen dispute to protect the rights of members. It stressed that the union had not engaged any ''external consultants''. ''The CFMEU does not or has never employed third parties in disputes.''
Hansen and Alutech settled their dispute in September 2010 after Hansen paid $140,000 to Alutech's administrator - a move that led Mr Amenta to try to take a cut.
Gatto and Khoury run a business in which they resolve disputes in the building industry in return for large payments. Hewat received a suspended jail sentence in 2007 for threatening a witness to a Hells Angels crane accident.
The Australian Building and Construction Commission has extensive powers, but is limited to upholding industrial laws and has failed to have an impact on organised crime.
Policing agencies have also failed to clean up the industry, often because potential witnesses refuse to testify. The police are aware of the Hansen dispute.