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501s mean business

Detective Sergeant Ray Sunkel, head of Police’s motorcycle gang unit, has a frontline view of organised crime.

He says the impact of the 501s, so named because they were deported under section 501 of the Australian Immigration Act, will be far-reaching.

Ray said the 501s do things differently. Intergang conflicts in New Zealand tend to be resolved through negotiation – the rival gangs meet, strike an agreement and one side will pay restitution, often in drugs. But in Australia grievances tend to escalate, leading to firebombings, kidnappings and shootings until the gangs run out of puff, as animosities simmer on. “That’s the mentality they have brought with them.”

Ray illustrated his talk with some graphic examples of an assault by a Rebel in Australia, now in custody in New Zealand, and a gang initiation.

He said the biggest evidence of the changing scene was in May 1, 2018 with Operation Weaver. This was an execution in the streets of Mangere. A man was shot dead at point blank range and his wife was forced to beg for her life before being shot as well – she survived.

Ray said when police spoke to local gangs later, they said: “Don’t look at us, mate, that's the Aussies, that's not what we do, you know that.“

He said the Comancheros were the worst of the imports. “The Comancheros, I can assure you, are the devil.”

They are a criminal organisation that exists to make money for a profit. The Comancheros on the streets are just one arm of the organisation. They have an importing arm and a laundering arm that don’t often come together. “If you take out one, you only get one.”

Bandidos also feature among the 501s. They came to New Zealand and established a chapter, but after a fight with the local Bandidos, who said we don’t like the way you operate, they were depatched and joined the Mongols. “The Mongols are violent... colleagues in the US say they are ruthless,” Ray said. “If they decide to bring that mentality in here, we will have warfare.”

The 501s’ arrival means there is no longer an Asian monopoly for bringing in large amounts of precursors because of “the power of the one percenters”. If a one percenter goes to South America, they have already been vetted by an outlaw gang and are trusted. “For them to buy large amounts of meth or coke, it just takes a phone call.”

Ray said a kilo of meth didn't exist in New Zealand in 2010. “It was a mystical figure. If it did, it would cost at least $500,000 wholesale. Now a kilo costs $120,000, and it's coming down.”

The 501s have had another impact as well. The Mongrel Mob who used to pride themselves on being a pack of dirty, smelly hoons have upped their game. They have become swankier, particularly in the Waikato. Ray showed an example of a member wearing a $50,000 jacket and others with buff bodies and “cool” tattoos.

The gangs are beginning to use the media and social media to present a “legitimate” face to the public, and for recruiting purposes, but the rhetoric of becoming legitimate is not backed up by their actions.

Ray said people were starting to see gangs as good guys, and urged police to push back.”My challenge to you is: When we get the opportunity, we need to push back. We’re not pushing back hard enough.”

The likelihood of gang warfare has increased. A gang leader has said the Mob and Black Power should join forces to repel the Australian invaders.

Police are finding bulletproof vests, custom-made pistol holders and shopping lists to build up their firepower. “They are readying themselves for war, armed up to the teeth. It may be only in their minds but it may turn out to be self-fulfilling prophesy.”

Ray said the single biggest risk posed by the 501s was corruption. “They are out there cop shopping at the moment, looking for cops to corrupt.

“I know this because one of the guys tried to corrupt me, had a proper run for me to get me on the books.”

I can happily say that because it didn’t work out for him, Ray said.

A gold-plated Harley, seized from the Comancheros.

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