More than A$2.5 million, drugs and a cache of firearms were seized after the arrest of an alleged Sydney drug dealer linked to the money laundering activities of the Comanchero motorcycle gang in New Zealand.
Auckland lawyer Andrew Neill Simpson was sentenced to two years nine months in prison last month after pleading guilty to 13 money-laundering charges laid in Operation Nova, a covert police investigation targeting the gang.
Father-of-five Simpson, 42, set up trusts for members of the gang and channelled $1.2m into the trust account of his law firm. The money was used to buy luxury cars and real estate for senior Comancheros.
One of those was Tyson Daniels, the gang's vice-president, who also admitted money laundering and wore a designer Versace top in Comanchero colours of black and gold while standing in the dock at the High Court at Auckland.
The nine charges for Daniels came from buying a swag of expensive vehicles for himself and others in the gang.
There were four Range Rovers - with price tags of $175,000, $255,000, $218,000 and $280,000 - a $200,000 Mercedes-Benz, a Lamborghini for $285,000, and two Rolls-Royces, which cost $364,000 and $595,000.
The expensive vehicles were seized in April last year but within a month of his arrest, Daniels bought another Mercedes-Benz for $215,000 while he was on bail, and another $247,000 was found in the home.
In sentencing the 30-year-old to four years and eight months in prison, Justice Gerard van Bohemen said Daniels played a crucial role overseeing the gang's drug-dealing operations for significant personal gain.
"Your place in the Comancheros hierarchy means you were one of the directors of this serious offending, which exemplifies how organised criminal groups can obtain significant financial benefit from offending without putting themselves directly at risk," said Justice van Bohemen.
But Simpson only got $18,000 for facilitating the money laundering scheme.
Foolishness, not selfishness or greed, was the reason for Simpson's astonishing fall from grace, according to his lawyer Guyon Foley.
Simpson had been suspicious about where the money had come from, but Foley said a pair of "front men" for the Comancheros assured the lawyer the cash had nothing to do with drugs.
Their conversations about a shared Christian faith, church mission trips, and basketball pulled the wool over Simpson's eyes.
"He thought the money was from cash jobs for concrete pours," said Foley, referring to a contracting company linked to Daniels.
Although he accepted Simpson did not know the money was from drug dealing, like Daniels did, Justice van Bohemen said the disgraced lawyer's criminal culpability went further than naivety.
"You knew that things were not right. You say you had doubts as to the veracity of the assurances you were given that the funds came from business activities, gambling or the sale of luxury cars. But you chose to continue."
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The High Court judge mentioned one transaction where A$32,000 was deposited into Simpson's trust account by an alleged Sydney-based drug dealer, who was the subject of a New South Wales police investigation.
Police raids found more than A$2.5 million, firearms and large quantities of Class-A and B drugs in May 2018, said Justice van Bohemen.
Court documents released to the Herald on Sunday reveal the alleged Sydney-based drug dealer is Valovalo Peter Vaiusu, who was dramatically arrested after stepping off a plane from New Zealand.
He was involved in a scuffle with police from the specialist Strike Force Raptor gang unit as he was handcuffed, as well as swinging at a television camera crew as he was filmed in the airport.
The NSW police allege Vaiusu is connected to the storage unit where bags of cash, 13 firearms - including five AR-15 semi-automatic rifles - and several kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamine were found.
Vaiusu, who was 34 at the time of his arrest, was charged with supplying prohibited drugs, possessing ammunition, aggravated firearm offences, dealing in the proceeds of crime and participating in a criminal group.
He was remanded in custody and is due to stand trial in Sydney District Court in June.
The crossover between the Australian and New Zealand investigations illustrate the strong links between the Comanchero chapters on each side of the ditch since the gang established in Auckland two years ago.
A New Zealand chapter was "inevitable" after the deportation of 14 Comancheros from Australia, including Pasilika Naufahu who is the president here, Detective Superintendent Greg Williams told the Herald on Sunday at the time.
They were among the "501" deportees - so nicknamed because of the "character grounds" section of the immigration law used to remove them from Australia.
"It's concerning. Like the other Australian gangs, the Rebels and the Bandidos, we expect the Comancheros will attempt to establish themselves in the drug market within New Zealand," said Williams.
Given some of the extreme violence between rival Australian gangs, which can spill into the public, Williams acknowledged the potential for the same to happen here.
"The reality of gang life, whether it's seen by the public or not, is one of violence. When dealing with gangs, we're finding people with all sorts of firearms," Williams said.
"And there is friction when gangs try to move into an established drug market. So there may be [violence] that comes out of this. To date, there hasn't been.
"It will be interesting to see what happens."
Just one month later, in April 2018, an Auckland man was shot in the head in an execution-style killing on the orders of the Comanchero gang.
Epalahame Tu'uheava and his wife Yolanda were shot several times in Māngere.
Tu'uheava, a 28-year-old father also known as Hame or Abraham, died within minutes but miraculously his wife survived by playing dead, despite being shot twice in the head.
Viliami Taani, a Comanchero member described by Yolanda as the "main guy", admitted charges of murder and attempted murder and will serve a minimum of 17 years six months behind bars.
The surprise admissions of guilt by Daniels and Simpson come as others, including Pasilika Naufahu, have maintained their innocence of drugs and money laundering charges.
A High Court trial is scheduled for September.
Others arrested in Operation Nova include an accountant and media personality, who have interim name suppression.
The raids across Auckland in April last year was the second phase of Operation Nova, an investigation into the gang, the alleged importing of drugs into New Zealand and the laundering of millions of dollars.
The first phase was announced in February 2019 with no mention of any links to the Comancheros.
Customs officers found 5kg of methamphetamine hidden inside cooking appliances, leading police to find another 6kg of the Class-A drug.
A 50-year-old New Zealander, a 33-year-old Chinese national, a 60-year-old Canadian national and a 19-year-old from the United States were arrested in Auckland.
Police believe the methamphetamine was smuggled from the USand was likely to have been manufactured in Mexico by cartels.
The arrested Canadian man had a son living in Fiji, where two detectives from the National Organised Crime Group were sent to work with local police.
They found 39kg of cocaine at one address in Suva with a street value of about $20 million.