Gang operation spotlight falls on driver licensing outlets and former Mt Eden prison guard

A private-sector prison guard and three companies contracted to handle vehicle licensing are under scrutiny after a police operation targeting the Head Hunters raised the prospect government systems and services had been turned to the gang's purposes.

The Department of Corrections and NZ Transport Agency licensing systems were yesterday drawn into the police inquiry into the gang and its involvement in the manufacture of methamphetamine.

READ ALSO: The Big Read: Inside the Head Hunters

Detectives at the Organised and Financial Crime Agency leading the inquiry revealed they were also speaking to a former prison guard at Mt Eden prison about smuggling contraband including tobacco and cellphones.

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It also emerged that two of those charged were inmates at that prison - a flashpoint for controversy this past fortnight over claims of drug use and extreme violence.

Corrections Association union president Beven Hanlon told the Herald his organisation had warned the Government privatising the prison would lead to the problems now being alleged.

It also created an environment in which guards were at risk - particularly when inmates included the likes of Head Hunters associates.

"That's a whole different league of criminal."

He said staff faced intimidation, along with financial inducements, but should feel the full force of the law.

Seven men and one woman appeared in the Auckland District Court after Operation Sylvester led to police raids in Auckland and Whangarei. The accused, aged between 31 and 62, were all granted interim name suppression with three released on bail.

A 1958 Ford Fairlane was among the cars and bikes seized. Photo / Nick Reed
A 1958 Ford Fairlane was among the cars and bikes seized. Photo / Nick Reed

The number of charges each faces ranges from one to 16. They include an array of methamphetamine, organised crime, money-laundering and firearms charges.

One man faces a charge of intending to cause grievous bodily harm to a man through breaking his arms and legs.

Corrections Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga said the allegations would be included in the prison inspector's inquiry into Mt Eden prison.

The Transport Agency said it was unable to comment but was working with police. Police said three companies responsible for licence testing were being looked at over "car and motorbike licences that are suspected to have been fraudulently issued to Head Hunters members and associates".

The operation targeting allegedly large-scale production and supply of methamphetamine by members and affiliates of the Head Hunters gang saw about 180 officers raiding 30 properties, including the Fight Club 88 gym in the Auckland suburb of Ellerslie. Police seized 30 vehicles, including a 1958 Ford Fairlane and a 1964 Ford Thunderbird. They expected to seize about $4 million of assets in total.

Guns haul includes US military-style tactical weapons

A tactical sniper-style rifle that could "shoot clean through a dinner plate" from 2km away was among the guns seized by police from Head Hunters gang members yesterday.

Three gang members were charged with unlawful possession of a range of firearms - including a rifle, pistol, revolver and submachine gun - and ammunition, photos of which police released to the media.

Nicholas Taylor, specialist firearms lawyer, described the cache of guns as "some major kit" and was concerned that they were in the hands of a gang.

Among the guns was a Springfield 308 M1A Socom.

"This was designed for police use in America.

"The military in America also used them in Iraq, Afghanistan and those sorts of places," Mr Taylor said.

Police photograph - Lapuna Military Blazer R93 Tactical rifle in a case with a Smith & Wesson 357 revolver.
Police photograph - Lapuna Military Blazer R93 Tactical rifle in a case with a Smith & Wesson 357 revolver.

They were a powerful rifle with a long range and were "hard hitting".

A Heckler & Koch SL7 was also seized.

"That's a civilian version of the German standard military rifle," said Mr Taylor, who has 17 years' experience with firearms law and provides advice on the Arms Act 1983 to shooters, collectors, firearms dealers and the firearms film industry.

The most powerful gun seized was the Lapua Blaser military style tactical rifle.

"This one is considerably more serious, it's very powerful," Mr Taylor said.

"The New Zealand police and special forces have trialled these guns before.

"They are a tactical sniper rifle - you could easily take out a target at 2000m ... you could shoot through an inch of steel at 1000m.

"It's some pretty major equipment.

"We're talking about being able to shoot clean through a dinner plate at 2km. You could take out another human from that distance and they wouldn't even hear the shot being fired."

He estimated the Blaser to be worth $14,000 at least.

Mr Taylor said all the guns seized could be legally purchased in New Zealand by any person with a standard firearms licence - except the pistol, which needed a special endorsed licence.

However, it was highly likely the firearms were stolen.

Police would now be working out who imported the guns and then would try to trace how they came into the hands of the gang.

Q&A

Who are the Head Hunters?

A motorcycle gang linked with drug trafficking and other illicit activities.

How were they formed?
They began in 1967 and moved to West Auckland in 1978. They were officially established as a motorcycle club in 1985.

Where are they based?
In the North Island, predominantly around East Auckland - headquarters in Ellerslie - with chapters in West Auckland, Wellsford and Wellington.

Why have police targeted them?
The gang has made millions from its crime networks and police say its activities have a community "ripple on effect"