Gang seeks new HQ with loss of their 'spiritual homeland' in Ponsonby.
New Zealand's oldest gang has been moved out of its "spiritual homeland" of Ponsonby after a presence of nearly 50 years in the suburb.
The King Cobras Samoan/Tongan gang has been weakened by the imprisonment of several of its senior members and has lost some of its financial clout.
For years members have fought off rival gangs like the Head Hunters but they have struggled to combat the gentrification that has transformed Ponsonby from one of Auckland's poorest neighbourhoods into one of its wealthiest.
Serious crime squad detectives say it is only a matter of time before they set up a new headquarters in the upmarket inner-city area.
But senior members are languishing on lengthy jail terms for armed robbery, violent crime and for manufacturing P. The president of the West Auckland chapter, Bert Jury, is awaiting trial for large-scale cocaine dealing.
Gang members left their $110,000-a-year Pollen St warehouse headquarters several weeks ago. Former neighbours said they were pleased to see the gang go and that the area had become an open-air drug-dealing market.
Those who dared park in front of the barbed wire-enclosed HQ were subjected to threats with baseball bats - in one instance hot chicken was smeared on a car's windscreen.
The gang is understood to have left the premises after the property owner decided not to renew their lease.
Police were reluctant to comment as they did not want to increase the gang's profile.
But Detective Senior Sergeant Mark McHattie, head of the serious crime squad of Auckland Central CIB, said: "My understanding is that they are still active in the area, they just haven't got a pad at the moment. It's not as if they are moving out - in fact they are very territorial. They are looking for a new headquarters."
The premises are owned by Pollen Street Freehold. The sole director of the company is Layne Kells, who was behind the failed $250 million Soho Square redevelopment on Ponsonby Rd. Kells is facing bankruptcy in the High Court at Auckland.
A police source said the King Cobras were not invited to renew their 12-month lease when it expired. The source said the gang had between 20 and 30 lifetime members, each of whom had a full King Cobras patch tattooed on his back.
The headquarters, which was kitted out with a bar and pool table, hosted raucous parties every weekend during which time neighbours complained of smashed windows and noise.
Ewan McEwan, owner of Auckland Engine Rebuilders, said the gang intimidated customers who dared to park in front of the HQ.
"We came out and there was this guy rubbing hot chicken across the windscreen."
But there were some benefits to having notorious neighbours.
"In a way it was almost like a bit of security for us," said McEwan. "No one was going to try and rip us off when there are those guys hanging round outside." Another neighbour said he was threatened with a baseball bat. Cars would scream up at night and vodka bottles were thrown through windows.
"It's not exactly the kind of thing you expect in Ponsonby," said the neighbour. "I spoke to a guy called Scoobie, he was a massive guy. We didn't have too many issues after that."
The gang was borne out of poverty-stricken Samoan migrants who arrived in Ponsonby in the 1950s.
University of Canterbury sociologist Jarrod Gilbert, a gang expert, described the area as "their spiritual homeland".
"They have an incredibly long history in the area."
Members banded together out of feelings of cultural isolation - and the need for protection. "Before the spectre of organised crime existed these gangs were about camaraderie and brotherhood."
But National MP Todd McClay, author of a private members bill to ban gang insignia from public-service departments, wants to see gangs driven out of every neighbourhood in the country.
"For anybody who thinks they're just there for camaraderie and brotherhood, I say they should go and join a Rotary Club."
TIMELINE OF MURDER AND MAYHEM
* 2011: King Cobra gang leader Ulaiasi "Rocky" Pulete, already serving a 14-year sentence at Paremoremo, is convicted of conspiracy to supply methamphetamine. Pulete also eventually pleaded guilty to supply charges near the end of a three-month trial.
* 2010: Armed police fire tear gas into a Ponsonby home while looking for Daniel Vae. They warn the gang's weapon of choice is now the semi-automatic handgun. Vae is eventually arrested in August.
* 2003: Three members murder associate Michael Heremaia, 15, stabbed to death in Mangere while running a gang tinnie house.
* 1985: King Cobra associate Siaosi Evalu is killed in a brawl with the Head Hunters on a Ponsonby backstreet.
BRAIN DISEASE BUYS NAME SUPPRESSION FOR ACCUSED
A King Cobra gang president, Bert Jury, and a gym owner are to stand trial in connection with a multimillion-dollar drug ring, allegedly run out of an Auckland fitness centre.
The gym owner was granted interim name suppression this week after telling the court he had a degenerative brain condition. The man has still been turning up to his gym and has been coaching a sports team.
He is charged with Class A-drug supply for allegedly allowing large quantities of cocaine to be sold on the premises.
Police alleged that deals worth up to $120,000 were conducted at times.
Defence lawyer Barry Hart told the court his client was suffering from a brain condition and had experienced suicidal urges.
On Tuesday, the man was granted interim name suppression until the start of his trial, set to be heard next year.
He will be tried alongside Jury and a third man, Kindness Agwu.
The gym owner's battle for name suppression has lasted nearly seven months.
He appealed to the High Court after Manukau District Court judge Charles Blackie rejected his initial bid for name suppression.