The outspoken leader of the Waikato Mongrel Mob has rejected allegations that members of his chapter have been arrested in two recent police investigations targeting drug dealers in the region.
The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom has captured headlines in the past two years for establishing an all-female chapter, guarding their local mosque after the terror attacks in Christchurch and delivering food to 3000 vulnerable people during Covid-19 lockdown.
Their leader, Sonny Fatupaito, a Mongrel Mob member for 33 years, says his chapter walked away from the gang's national council two years ago to forge a new kaupapa (founding values) of empowerment for those marginalised in society.
Police have been openly sceptical of the chapter's "public relations machine", and in the past three months have twice alleged members of the Waikato Mongrel Mob were caught up in drug investigations.
Last week, police announced 100 individuals with organised crime links were arrested during Operation Typhoon, a three-month investigation into methamphetamine manufacture in the Waikato.
In a statement, Detective Inspector Graham Pitkethley said Operation Typhoon also highlighted the "significant working relationship between members of a variety of different gangs and chapters".
"This included Waikato Mongrel Mob and Mongrel Mob Rogue chapter members and associates working together in relation to three of the methamphetamine labs."
This prompted Fatupaito to hit back in his own press release, stating "none of his members have been arrested or have been linked to the offending alleged by police".
"The Waikato Police have negative attitudes and negative narratives that are obstructive to us and our determination to change our lives for the better," he said.
"I can categorically and proudly state that no members or senior leadership of the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom were arrested or associated."
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The press release was titled "Again, Not Us"; a reference to a similar announcement about Operation Kingsville, another methamphetamine investigation in the Waikato.
Back in July, the police issued another press release about the arrests of 29 people "including a senior member of the Waikato Mongrel Mob".
In an open letter to the police, Fatupaito said: "We absolutely refute this assertion, as that person has not been a Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom member for a number of years now".
"It is deeply disappointing ... New Zealand Police continue to use such sensationalism, misinformation and misreporting in an obvious attempt to undermine all the good works and positive community support we have worked hard to achieve," said Fatupaito.
The individual whom the police referred to as the "senior member" of the Waikato chapter - but Fatupaito is adamant has not been involved for a "number of years" - is heavily involved in the powerlifting scene.
With a Mongrel Mob Waikato insignia tattooed across his back, social media posts show the 33-year-old was affiliated with the chapter as recently as February 2019.
Asked why the man was no longer a member of the Waikato chapter, Fatupaito told the Herald he was unable to comment for legal reasons given the Operation Kingsville prosecution.
However, he went on to say "there have been members who had to surrender their patches and are no longer members because they hadn't stuck to Kingdom's code banning involvement in illicit drugs".
The 33-year-old faces charges of money laundering, participating in an organised criminal group, possession of methamphetamine and a glass pipe, as well as possession of anabolic steroids.
Asked about Fatupaito's assertion that none of his members were arrested in either Operation Kingsville or Operation Typhoon, a spokeswoman for the New Zealand Police said: "We stand by our previous statements."
In his open letter to police, Fatupaito said the police has had a "fractious" relationship with different chapters of the Mongrel Mob over many decades, so the police should know the individual chapters are often insular and self-governing.
"Perhaps this is a deliberate ploy to obfuscate what the Mongrel Mob Waikato Kingdom is trying to achieve. Police have negative attitudes and negative narratives that are obstructive to us and our determination to change our lives for the better," said Fatupaito.
"But still we are continually painted by your media section with the same brush as you would other organisations within the Mongrel Mob."
However, propaganda is exactly how the police view the Waikato chapter's community outreach initiatives, according to a police intelligence report released under the Official Information Act.
"New Zealand Adult Gangs are expanding recruitment by promoting the 'glamour' of gang membership as well as an outward shift towards pro-whānau and pro-community outcomes," the July 2019 report says.
"Mongrel Mob Waikato continue to use their public relations machine to raise support, recruit and spread their clean image and their pro-community intentions."
Dr Jarrod Gilbert, the author of Patched: The History of Gang Life in New Zealand, has previously told the Herald he has never seen anything like the Waikato Mongrel Mob.
He believes Sonny Fatupaito and his fellow leaders are genuine in their desire for change.
"I might be proven a fool here but I'm prepared to bet as we stand now - with the right to reserve changing my mind in the face of superior evidence - I have no doubt about that whatsoever," said Gilbert.
"I don't think they're masterminding any nefarious PR strategy. However, does that mean among the hundreds of members are there people dealing drugs? Of course there are."