CORRECTION: In the March edition of Tracker magazine, we published an article entitled A Cautionary Tale: land deals and brown paper bags. The article reported at length on the recent Independent Commission Against Corruption hearing into alleged corrupt activities associated with the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council. On page 32, the article contained an incorrect assertion that in 2003, the former Board of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council was sacked because of “corrupt activities”. The former Board of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council was never sacked for corrupt activities. Tracker magazine acknowledges that the Board was dismissed by the NSW Government for management shortcomings, and that the NSWALC Board at the time strongly contested that reasoning. Tracker magazine unreservedly apologises for the error, and for any harm caused to former NSWALC Board members.
TOP L-R: Fortunato "Lucky" Gattellari, Rod Medich, Vanessa Mason. BOTTOM L-R: Ken "KJ" Foster, Ron Mason Snr, Vivienne Mason.
NEW SOUTH WALES: If nothing else, the story of how a wealthy property developer came to be working with a small Far South Coast Local Aboriginal Land Council over a series of land deals that potentially would reap millions is a cautionary tale. It’s a story of rich white developers; of organized crime figures; of poor black land council officials; of corruption; of deceit; and ultimately betrayal. It’s even got a brown paper bag, full of cash. CHRIS GRAHAM reports on the recent ICAC hearing into allegations of corruption that have rocked the Wagonga Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Fortunato Gattellari, a former Australian boxing champion, may be ‘Lucky’ by nickname, but he’s certainly not by nature.
When he and Ronnie Binge, an Aboriginal man with connections throughout the NSW Aboriginal land rights network, set off from a mansion in Sydney’s ultra-wealthy suburb of Point Piper in April 2005, they hadn’t travelled more than a few hundred metres when they were stopped by police.
Unfortunately for the hapless duo, there’d been a series of break-ins in the area, and the place was crawling with cops. It seems that when burglars start robbing the homes of the nation’s elite, police have a way of re-focusing their resources. Also unfortunately for Gattellari and Binge, they had a brown paper bag in the back seat, stuffed full of cash.
About $53,000, all up.
Even more unfortunate for Binge, his license was a fake. He’d been suspended from driving quite a few years earlier, so changed his identity to ‘Ronnie Jeffries’ in order to win a job.
Binge was promptly arrested, while Gattellari was left to explain where all the cash had come from.
At the time, it probably didn’t seem like such a big deal to Gattellari. He was, after all, a man with extensive links to organised crime. And he had a perfectly reasonable explanation for driving around with so much cash: he and Binge were on their way to the south coast towns of Narooma and Nowra to strike up some deals with two Local Aboriginal Land Councils.
The money was for deposits for development deals, he told police.
Gattellari and Binge had just left the home of multi-millionaire property developer Rod Medich, a former BRW 200 Rich Lister and one of the wealthiest men in the country.
Medich, Gattellari told police, could confirm the whole story.
Ron Medich (AAP IMAGE)
Police knocked on Medich’s door, and that’s precisely what he did.
On the surface at least, it seemed Gattellari’s luck hadn’t run out after all.
Things were looking up for Binge too. He was released later that night. Gattellari picked him up, and they continued on their way down south.
But as is the habit of police, they recorded the encounter on what’s known as the COPS database – a massive filing system which keeps track of every activity by every officer in NSW.
Apart from its crucial importance to crime statistics, COPS is also used by investigators to make all sorts of weird and wonderful links, sometimes long after an actual event.
And that’s, at least in part, how Lucky Gattellari’s luck eventually ran out.
His presence outside the home of Medich, and his car full of cash, would later become a key piece of evidence in an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry staged late last month into his dealings in Narooma.
Lucky’s downfall really began more than a year earlier, when he was arrested for the murder of North Shore property developer Michael McGurk.
Apparently, McGurk owed Ron Medich – Gattellari’s business partner – a great deal of money. At least that’s what Medich had told the courts. McGurk argued that it was Medich that owed him.
Whatever the truth, in September 2009, McGurk was shot in the head outside his palatial Cremorne home.
His 10-year-old son was standing beside him.
For obvious reasons, the killing drew enormous media attention.
Police formed Strike Force Narrunga, and finally, 13 months after the murder, police raided Gattellari’s home and office.
Gattellari was charged with soliciting McGurk’s murder, and according to media reports promptly rolled over and provided police with a 250-page statement implicating some of the nation’s most powerful law-makers in any number of scandals.
Already, former Labor minister Ian Macdonald has faced an ICAC inquiry into allegations he accepted bribes – and prostitutes – courtesy of Medich and Gattellari.
Thanks to the police raids, which unearthed a mountain of documents, Gattellari also provided police with extensive details about his land dealings with Local Aboriginal Land Councils.
It seems Gattellari had been travelling up and down the coast of NSW, trying to strike deals.
Ron Medich’s luck would also eventually run out. He was arrested two weeks after Gattellari, also for soliciting the murder of McGurk.
Gattellari, police alleged, wasn’t the triggerman. He’d simply organised the hit.
Medich, it’s alleged, paid the bill, reportedly $300,000.