The silent enforcer
After years of investigation by
authorities, Terrence Tognolini remains a free man.
Tognolini, 41, has been implicated in three murders but never charged. Police say he learnt early that the stock weapons of outlaw motorcycle gangs — intimidation and violence — can be used just as effectively in the world of business and commerce.
The original Australian Hells Angels (the first chapter was formed in Melbourne 31 years ago) have retired to be replaced by men such as Tognolini — a new breed who drift in and out of bikie culture while running seemingly legitimate businesses.
While bikie gangs have long been branded organised crime groups, police now say the gangs have reached a new level of sophistication, moving into mainstream industries to launder existing funds and to exploit new income streams.
But detectives say the drift towards seemingly legitimate work is a Trojan horse tactic, designed to conceal criminal activities.
According to police, key bikies are now using the strategies they developed during a series of bloody internal gang wars to intimidate business competitors — or anyone they perceive as a threat.
Anyone — criminal or cleanskin — deemed to have sided against people such as major bikie leaders are likely to become victims. And few of those victims have ever been prepared to co-operate with police investigations.
In June 2004 Victoria Police seized assets worth $3 million in raids on properties owned by Hells Angels members in Victoria.
Tow truck drivers were called to help impound several high-powered cars, and a safe expert was hired to open one of the gang's safes covered in a police search warrant.
A few weeks later one of the tow truck drivers was pulled over and beaten by unidentified men. He has refused to make a statement to police about his assault.
Less than three weeks after the raids, the safe expert's factory was badly damaged by a deliberately lit fire. No one has ever been charged.
In late 2003 a Richmond lawyer who tired of acting for a member of the Hells Angels eventually sacked his client. The bikie took it badly.
Following the dispute came the almost inevitable payback. There were three attempts to set fire to the lawyer's office. On August 12, 17 and 25 there were fires set at the small office block in Richmond.
He was sentenced to 21 months' jail.
Most organised crime groups crave anonymity. They try to work in the shadows, aware that publicity brings scrutiny from authorities. But bikie gangs wear their outlaw colours with pride. Each act of violence and each news story exposing their ruthless culture helps fortify their reputation as men to be feared. And like all those who choose to stand over others, they find the threat of violence can be a profitable tool.
In many ways stories such as these are self-defeating — designed to expose the truth, they feed the bikie image and reinforce the view that bikies are to be feared and allowed to exist untouched.
Bikies have been used as industrial muscle, both as strike breakers and strike enforcers. They have a growing influence in the security industry, acting as bouncers at some nightclubs and hotels — with the added bonus that they are able to green-light their franchised drug dealers while weeding out the opposition.
Known bikies have been involved in debt collection and have been spotted wearing full club colours at house auctions, clearly intimidating non-preferred bidders to keep their hands in their pockets.
While they are rarely quoted, they manage to feed off their public image as being too dangerous to confront. Even most police would prefer to investigate softer targets.
Bikies like Terrence Tognolini do not seek a high profile but don't shy away from public events.
At the funeral of murdered crime figure Mark Moran, virtually all influential gangland groups were represented. Moran's half-brother Jason, who would also later be murdered, was released from prison to attend the church service in June 2000.
Prison officers could have made him wear handcuffs but as a sign of respect they allowed him to walk into the church as a free man. Those in the church, many with first-hand knowledge of prison protocol, kept their distance. Prison officers would see any physical contact as an opportunity to pass the inmate a weapon.
Police say one man dressed in full bikie colours embraced Jason inside the church. It was Terrence Tognolini.
In October 2005 the media was fascinated with the auction sale of the home of Joe and Maria Korp. Maria Korp died after she was found near death in the boot of her car. Joe Korp was charged with her murder but committed suicide before his trial.
For the past 10 years bikie gangs in Australia have been involved in a sporadic, violent and extended war involving bloody beatings, open battles, bombings and mysterious disappearances.
According to a new book, Angels of Death: Inside the Bikers Global Crime Empire, by international experts William Marsden and Julian Sher, Australia has been in the middle of a bikie battle to control the lucrative amphetamine market since the mid 1990s. "Over the next five years 32 bikies would die and many more would be beaten as the Hells Angels, Bandidos and other clubs fought over the amphetamine trade."
Police say bigger "clubs" have absorbed the smaller ones in unfriendly takeovers, resulting in a rationalisation from 178 to 35 more sophisticated, and dangerous, groups. There are now 17 gangs operating in Victoria.
During this violent decade, Tognolini has remained a key figure for the Nomads — the national enforcers of the Hells Angels. The Nomads, formed in Melbourne in August 1980, is reputed to be among the most violent of all outlaw motorcycle gangs. All groups are assigned areas of "turf" to control. But the Nomads can go anywhere.
In 1995 there was a simmering feud between the Nomads and the Bandidos. Like many crime battles, it began through an act of adolescent stupidity. On May 13 members of the Nomads bashed Bandido members and stole their colours. In August that year police arrested Tognolini and another Nomad enforcer over possession of pistols. During a search of the house where they were staying police found profiles, including pictures, of 14 enemy Bandido members.
In November 1995 a Bandido bikie was struck and deliberately run off the road while riding his motorbike along Whitelaw Avenue, Ballarat, after leaving the gang's nearby clubhouse. The car that hit him drove off but a number plate was found at the scene. Police discovered a female associate of Tognolini rented the car in Nunawading. The 1994 Mitsubishi sedan was later found burnt out in a paddock off the Calder Highway near Diggers Rest. A witness said the driver looked remarkably similar to Terrence Raymond Tognolini.
For more than 10 years police have seen Tognolini as a loose cannon often armed with an illegal handgun. Police say he will attack his enemies, has intimidated witnesses and has been investigated for murder. They say he is ruthless, naturally intelligent and a master tactician. "He is very good at what he does," a veteran detective admitted.
His criminal history shows he has been arrested over cultivating drugs, firearms offences, blackmail and perverting the course of justice.
On August 20, 1995, uniformed police attempted to intercept six Hells Angels on motorbikes in Clarendon Street, South Melbourne. All scattered and Tognolini crashed in nearby City Road. He was found to be in possession of a semi-automatic pistol.
Four months later, on December 22, 1995, a minor altercation between two drivers in Glenbarry Road, Campbellfield, soon escalated to blows. One of the drivers was Tognolini. The second was Mustafa Yildirim.
Yildirim says he committed the sin of tooting his horn when Tognolini passed him at more than 120 km/h. Police say the Nomad followed Yildirim to his work, parked and asked him: "Have you got a problem?"
According to Yildirim, he said "no" — which was apparently the wrong answer as he was immediately punched in the face. The two men fought until they were separated. Then Tognolini is alleged to have walked back to his car, grabbed a handgun and said: "I'm going to kill you now."
A police report states: "He then fired a number of shots towards Yildirim, missing him on each occasion."
Police raided Tognolini's home and found five cannabis plants in the backyard. He was charged with unlawful assault, assault with a weapon, making threats to kill, possessing cannabis and cultivating a narcotic plant. He was bailed to appear at the Broadmeadows Magistrates Court on March 18, 1997.
In what was to become a pattern, the case against Tognolini collapsed when the star witness refused to testify after being repeatedly harassed.
About 10 weeks after the alleged assault the victim was sitting outside a milk bar in Bluff Road, Hampton, when four members of the Hells Angels drove past on their Harley-Davidson bikes. If the victim thought it was a coincidence, he soon realised it was a message. Four times they drove past — he got the-none-too subtle hint.
A few months later he was at a friend's car repair works in Campbellfield when a man he knew came up and started talking. The acquaintance was a professional kick-boxer, so Yildirim knew it was wise to listen. The fighter told him that he knew of the road rage incident, then warned him "not to mess around with these people … these people will hurt you".
The Turkish kick-boxer said it was only because they shared an ethnic background that it hadn't been handled "in a different way".
The frightened Yildirim moved house, quit his job and began working at a new smash repair shop. But four months later the persistent kick-boxer found him again. He was told if he gave evidence against Tognolini he should "go to the Fawkner Cemetery and reserve a grave for himself".
He was asked for the phone numbers of two other prosecution witnesses and offered $2000 if he pulled out of the court case. He again moved house and quit his job.
Tognolini was charged with blackmail and attempting to pervert the course of justice, but eventually the Director of Public Prosecutions dropped all charges when the terrified victim refused to give evidence.
According to police Yildirim has since fled the country.
It is almost standard practice for bikies to attempt to frighten victims and witnesses from testifying. But if witnesses did stand up to the pressure, some bikies move to the next phase — attempting to nobble juries. One drug trial in Melbourne failed to reach a verdict after a member of the jury was corrupted. One of the bikies involved later admitted a juror was given a "suitcase full of money". In another interstate rape case police were stunned when they failed to gain conviction. It was only later that they learned a bikie associate had visited one of the jurors and shown her a picture. It was of her children at school.
THE hydroponics business in Australia is an expanding industry that is leaving police with mounting concerns. There are legitimate products such as hydroponically grown tomatoes, but increasingly health experts are confirming what police have been claiming for years. Hydroponically fuelled super dope has caused an explosion in cannabis psychosis — mental instability triggered by the use of the powerful new strains of marijuana.
Many drug distributors prefer to deal in marijuana because it does not attract the same severe jail terms and community contempt as illegal pills and powders. But the profits are just as staggering.
One healthy female marijuana plant can grow to just under two metres and can yield nearly a kilogram of cannabis with a retail value of about $6000. And an indoor hydroponic set-up can cultivate a crop every 12 weeks, regardless of the weather or seasons. But wherever there are big profits to be made from criminal activities, the sharks will always gather.
Police say it is no coincidence. They believe Terrence Tognolini and associates have used intimidation and violence as part of a plan to develop a major stake in the hydroponic industry.
Police have a dossier of unsolved cases where they believe Tognolini, or those close to him, have used bullets, fists, mace, firebombs and threats to force his enemies, real or imagined, to comply.
Yet the victims, some of whom have lost their businesses and self-respect, have been too frightened to give evidence against him. One has left the cut-throat trade to move into the more calming business of selling tropical fish — believing real piranhas to be less vicious than the human form.
Tognolini operates a wholesale hydroponic supply business called Nefarious in Thomastown. It is just two doors from the Nomads' headquarters.
There is also a body that claims to represent the industry — the impressively titled Australia Hydroponics Supplier and Manufacturers Association. Its objectives include to: "Join people of a like nature and business interest together … Ensure fairness between members of the AHSMA (and to) arrange meetings, seminars and mediation." Its spokesman is Terry Tognolini.
The bikie turned businessman hardly struggles. The former president of the Nomads regularly travels overseas to Hells Angels meetings, is said to own five properties in Melbourne and is rumoured to have investments in Spain.
Outside the Nomads' clubhouse is a large honour board with the names of about 30 local businesses that sponsor the club. Occasionally bikie members will contact local companies urging them to make a "donation" for a bikie function. One has been known to point at the board and tell potential sponsors that those companies "never have any trouble".
When approached by The Sunday Age, Tognoloni said his company "had nothing to do with the club. It's my own business." He declined a request to be interviewed, saying: "I wouldn't be able to trust a word you wrote … We don't give comments to anybody, you know that. You have a lovely day."
MANY people, from surgeons to motorists, have learned to fear Tognolini — but none more than Vicki Jacobs. A false name and a new life would not be enough to save her after she gave evidence against her former husband over a Hells Angels sanctioned double murder.
In 1992 she married former stamp collector turned criminal journeyman Gerald Preston. They separated two years later after the birth of their only child, a son. They remained friends of sorts and when they saw each other, Preston was relaxed enough to talk frankly. That was his mistake.
And when he implicated himself in the murder of two men in Adelaide, she eventually agreed to give evidence against him. That was her's.
Police say Vicki Jacobs was killed, not because she turned bad, but because she tried to reform.
Gerald David Preston was sentenced to 32 years after he was found guilty of killing Tim Richards and Les Knowles in an Adelaide auto repair shop on August 15, 1996. He used a rare wartime German Luger pistol, stolen in Victoria years earlier.
The South Australian Supreme Court was told in 1998 that a Melbourne Hells Angels member paid Preston $10,000 to kill the men. The High Court later reported: "The prosecution case was that the killings were carried out at the request of one Tognolini."
The prosecution claimed Preston bought the 9mm Luger for $1500 from Tognolini, who authorised the double murder contract on behalf of the Angels. Detectives say the Adelaide killings were ordered for the usual bikie reasons — money, drugs and power.
Police found $70,000 at the murder scene inside the garage, which came as no real surprise. Knowles was a successful drug dealer with a criminal history of violence and dishonesty who made the fatal mistake of trying to expand into the Hells Angels' patch.
Preston was identified within days as a likely suspect. Nearly a month after the double murder, police tracked him arriving at Tognolini's Melbourne house, where he stayed for just under an hour. He then left and drove back to South Australia.
Vicki Jacobs was one of more than 100 prosecution witnesses, but one of the most important. She gave unwavering evidence over four gruelling days that produced 500 pages of damning court testimony. She said Preston told her about the murders and she was also able to implicate the Hells Angels in the plot.
Tognolini travelled to Adelaide for the trial but he was there not just to provide "moral support" for his mate. Police investigated him for attempting to intimidate witnesses in the murder prosecution. But, not for the first time, the case against him collapsed when witnesses refused to testify about the approaches.
On a Saturday morning, July 12, 1999, a killer who'd almost certainly watched her for days slipped into her unit in Wood Street through the laundry door and shot her in six times in the head and body as she slept on a fold-down settee with her son. No one heard the shots, leading police to believe the gun was fitted with a silencer or that the bedding muffled them.
Certainly police know that Preston did not shoot Vicki Jacobs and they also know the gunman was not Tognolini — who was overseas at a Hells Angels convention. After his conviction it is unlikely Preston would have had the power or the network to order the murder of his former wife from within a high-security cell in Adelaide's Yatala jail. But the bikie world is filled with men with warped senses of loyalty and violent dispositions.
After the murder, Preston placed a death notice in the Herald Sun that read: "Soul mates once, you gave us a beautiful healthy son and blossomed as a proud, devoted mother. Truly. And while we grew apart I always admired your strength and never stopped missing you. You will always be in our hearts."
But the notice was just for show. His prison diary showed he hated his former wife for what he saw as her betrayal. "My dog of an ex-wife is playing serious access games with my beautiful young boy — what should be her punishment?" he wrote.
So if the police theory is right, Jacobs was killed in an act of cold-blooded revenge. She had already given evidence and Preston had been sentenced. Police believe it was as much a statement to others never to give evidence. There is a $1 million reward for information leading to a breakthrough in the Jacobs case. In 2004 Jacobs' best friend, Colleen Hunter, told a coroner's inquest the former witness believed she was likely to be murdered and remained terrified of Tognolini.
"She knew he would be the go-between between Gerry and the person who murdered her," Hunter told the court.
Coroner Phillip Byrne was told that police suspected she was killed on the orders of the Hells Angels as a payment for Preston remaining silent over the gang's involvement in the Adelaide double murder.
Byrne said: "At the subsequent trial, the Crown alleged Gerald Preston shot the two men with a 9mm Luger pistol purchased earlier from Terrence Tognolini. It was further alleged that Preston and Kevin Gillard (whose conviction was later quashed) were in effect employed and paid by Terrence Tognolini on behalf of the Hells Angels motorcycle club to kill Knowles because of his involvement in the drug trade.
"Ms Jacobs was apparently convinced attempts would be made on her life, however she declined to enter the witness protection program, being determined to make a new life for herself and her son.
"It is difficult to think of a more callous act than to shoot dead a woman with her child sleeping beside her.
"The focus of the investigation soon turned to Gerald Preston, Ms Jacobs former husband, and his connection with Terrence Tognolini with whom he forged a relationship while in prison.
"The fingers of suspicion point squarely at Gerald Preston, Terrence Tognolini and his associates as implicated in the death of Ms Jacobs. No alternative motive has been established."
It would not be the only time Tognolini would be involved in a coroner's inquest.
After the death of a child when a heart operation went wrong due to medical misjudgement in 2000, a doctor from the Royal Children's Hospital gave evidence that a grief-stricken Tognolini said to him: "I've been involved in various murders doctor, and you shouldn't think you are immune."