The national president of the Mongol Nation motorcycle gang has been arrested after a loaded pistol was allegedly found in the car he was travelling in.
The discovery of a powerful .357 Magnum has fuelled police fears of further conflict between the notorious Australian gang, which set up a chapter in the Bay of Plenty last year, and the Greazy Dogs gang, which has been long-established in Tauranga.
About 20 patched Mongols are believed to be under the leadership of Jim David Thacker, known as JD, who was one of thousands of so-called "501s" - named after the "character grounds" section of the Australian immigration law used to deport them.
Police had warned that Australian newcomers such as the Mongols and Comancheros would radically change the criminal landscape in New Zealand because they were hardened from inter-gang warfare with firearms.
It didn't take long for conflict to arise. A barbershop linked to the Mongols was this year hit by a suspicious fire and, in retaliation, nearly 100 bullets were fired at a home of a Mongrel Mob leader.
This led to a daytime shootout on a rural road in Te Puke, although peace talks between the Mongols and the Mongrel Mob seem to have called a truce of sorts.
However, simmering tensions between the Mongols - marked by their distinctive symbol of Genghis Khan riding a motorcycle - and the Greazy Dogs gang have reached boiling point.
Last Friday, Thacker was in a car with another Mongol, 22-year-old Mokonuiarangi Chong, which police believed was en route to residential homes where members of the Greazy Dogs lived.
The pair of Mongols have jointly been charged with unlawful possession of the loaded pistol found in the car.
Search warrants at another address linked to the Mongols found a homemade nail bomb.
Court documents reveal Thacker was also charged with an aggravated robbery when he appeared in the Tauranga District Court.
Police allege Thacker held a member of the Greazy Dogs at knifepoint on May 24 and took his gang-branded sweatshirt. For a gang member to have their gang colours taken by force is seen as humiliating.
Thacker was also charged with two counts of driving while disqualified, and was denied bail.
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The potential thwarted confrontation between the two gangs comes just a few weeks after a large number of Greazy Dogs recently turned up at the Matapihi home of a senior Mongol, the sergeant-at-arms known as "Wolf".
A fight broke out in which some neighbours reported hearing gunshots, although others say no weapons were fired. No one was shot and police did not find any bullet or shell casings.
Vastly outnumbered, a patched Mongol called Leon Charles Huritu and his family fled by jumping over a high fence at the back of the property. One of the family members suffered a badly fractured ankle from the high drop.
Huritu, 37, is alleged to have been carrying two shotguns, which he stashed on the property of a frightened neighbour for safekeeping.
He was arrested and charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and declined bail when he appeared in the Tauranga District Court.
In April, Huritu was also charged with possession of a military-style semi-automatic rifle and methamphetamine after police investigated tit-for-tat shootings in February, triggered by the suspicious fire that destroyed the Mongols' barber shop in Greerton. Police also seized $40,000 in the raids.
Another Mongol living in the Bay of Plenty, Emile Nooroa Sydney Tangaroa, has also been denied bail on active charges.
The 32-year-old was charged with unlawful possession of an 8mm Bruni pistol and possession of Ecstasy, a Class-B drug, in December last year.
The suspected arson was the latest in a string of crimes involving the Australian gang since establishing themselves in the Bay of Plenty last year.
A few months before the barber shop was vandalised and burned, three cars parked outside the Papamoa home where senior Mongols were living were destroyed in a suspicious fire.
The arrival of the Mongols - who went on to "patch over", or change the allegiances of, disaffected members of their arch rivals, the Hells Angels, in Christchurch - comes at a time of unprecedented growth in gang numbers.
Police data shows gang members now number more than 7000 for the first time, up 50 per cent between December 2016 and December 2019. In the Bay of Plenty alone there are 1439 gang members - the most of any police district.
One reason for the growth is the arrival of the Australian gangs dating back to 2010 - first the Rebels, then the Bandidos and Comancheros - as well as a recruitment drive in response to the newcomers from existing New Zealand gangs such as the Head Hunters, Filthy Few and Mongrel Mob.
Profits from New Zealand's burgeoning and lucrative methamphetamine market is also a factor in the spike in gang numbers, police allege.
"New Zealand isn't a big place. Everyone was sharing the market, taking their slice of the pie," Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said last year.
"But we've seen gang numbers grow, arming up [with firearms], which shows that something has changed."
Last month, the National Organised Crime Group's Operation Nestegg seized $400,000, methamphetamine, three semi-automatic firearms and two shotguns.
Five individuals have been charged and an arrest warrant issued for a senior patched member of the Mongols from Australia.
Police are looking for Brodie Collins-Haskins, 26, who is considered dangerous and should not be approached.
The Mongols were first established in the United States in 1969 and spread to 12 countries, including Australia, where they quickly earned a reputation for ruthless violence.
Law enforcement spokespeople consider the Mongols to be the "most violent and dangerous" motorcycle gang in the US.
A decade-long prosecution ended in December 2018 with a Californian jury finding the Mongol Nation to be a criminal enterprise guilty of racketeering, conspiracy to murder, attempted murder and drug dealing.
The case was the result of Operation Black Rain, in which four undercover agents infiltrated the Mongols to become full-patch members.
Four other agents also went undercover to pose as their girlfriends. The undercover agents developed and maintained biker personas, and had to undergo rigorous scrutiny by the Mongols to be accepted as members.
When one of the agents received his patch, one of the gang's members said: "Being a Mongol promises you one of two things – death or prison."