Stacy Paora was a big deal in the Head Hunters.
A giant of a man, tall and wide, Paora dished out physical beatings to members of his crew who failed to meet his high standards. Once, when one of his prospects said a drug dealer accused him of being a police informant, Paora gave him some menacing advice.
"You should have said 'bro, f***ing people I hang around with f***ing kill people for that sort of thing...f***ing put people in holes for less than that'."
The brawn of the patched Head Hunter was fearsome, to friends and foes, but it was his brain which made Paora such a valued member of the outlaw motorcycle gang.
When recruiting for the gang, he talked strategically about the difficulty of finding suitable prospects, keeping some loose units under control but also fostering the talents of members for the benefit of "the Club".
He was full of praise for one particular intimidating prospect who "terrorised" people, which in turn contributed to the reputation of the Head Hunters, but also discussed the merits of having physically smaller members who can be the "stabbers and shooters".
As far as criminal tradecraft, Paora was smart, and kept his distance physically from his crew and the drugs they were moving.
Paora switched phones to thwart police efforts to listen to his conversations, gave instructions to associates through a chain of messengers, or if he did want to meet in person, made his prospects walk through back alleys to avoid surveillance.
He ran several businesses in Tauranga (all in his wife's name) including a moving company which he admitted to an undercover police officer was nothing more than a front to launder money, and move drugs.
Paora boasted of making $10,000 a day; a police reconstruction of his financial affairs showed he wasn't far off the mark, with more than $1 million in unexplained cash income over a three-year period.
When a gang associate in the Far North died, Paora chartered a small plane to fly to the funeral.
Another time, the 35-year-old paid $1900 in cash for a single night in the presidential suite in the Hilton Hotel so he could attend a music concert.
Paora ran his crew along traditional business lines where he was the chief executive officer who kept his hands clean - the leader, enforcer and major benefactor of the lucrative drug syndicate of which he was in charge.
It was a business likely to still be distributing methamphetamine today if not for the elaborate undercover sting in Operation Centurion, leading to his 12-year, 1-month prison sentence this month.
It was clear that, at the time of the covert surveillance, Paora was a highly regarded senior patched member of the Head Hunters.
Yet, Paora - who was just 30 at the time - had only joined the gang two years earlier with a handful of minor convictions.
• From Harley Davidson to wheelchair: Inside the downfall of Killer Beez boss
• Patching over: Mongrel Mob leader's brother, nephew join rival Comanchero
• Gangs of New Zealand: Why gang numbers spiked by 50 per cent
• Inside the gang tensions which brought Tauranga to a standstill
• How a Sydney airport brawl changed NZ's gang scene forever
• The rise and fall of Josh Masters and the Killer Beez
• Inside the comedy of errors in NZ's biggest drug bust
He was a baby, relatively speaking, in comparison to some of the other names in the Head Hunter pantheon who had gone down on serious methamphetamine charges in the past five years or so: David "Little Dave" O'Carroll, Brownie Harding and William "Bird" Hines.
Paora's rapid rise up the ranks can be partly explained by his individual talents, particularly his leadership abilities, but also a subtle shift in gang hierarchy nationwide as gangs have expanded exponentially.
For the first time, there are now more than 7000 gang members according to police data; an increase of 50 per cent between December 2016 and December 2019.
Some of the growth is down to the arrival of Australian motorcycle gangs, such as the Comancheros and Mongols, when senior members were deported to New Zealand following a change to Australia's immigration policy.
They are small in number but have a disproportionate influence because of their transnational organised crime links and sophisticated tradecraft, including use of encrypted phones.
In response to the Australian invasion, in part, nearly all the established gangs like the Mongrel Mob (2548 members), Black Power (1590) and the Head Hunters (441) have grown very quickly.
This has led to well-publicised acts of violence and retribution in recent years, after a long period of relative stability in the gang scene.
According to a 2019 police intelligence report, one of the drivers for this "uncontrolled growth" is a change in gang organisation to "cells", rather than the traditional hierarchical structure.
To bolster the recruitment drive, members are also spending less time as "prospects" - essentially apprentices who have to prove their loyalty - and becoming patched at a younger age.
While gangs are commonly bound together by familial, ethnic, or social links - relationships to foster trust and recruitment - the intel report states the formal gang hierarchy (with a president, vice president, sergeant-at-arms and so on) is now more a "formality" than an indication of how a modern gang will operate.
"It is likely that the older, chapter-and-pad-based model is being gradually superseded by shared allegiance to the 'brand' or 'franchise' stated on their top rocker," says the intelligence briefing (the top rocker is part of the gang patch).
"Modern gang leadership sets the direction and business priorities of a gang, and junior
members and prospects operate within the resulting boundaries. Under this system members tend to operate more independently."
Essentially, this means not every senior member of a gang is aware of what other members are up to.
This is illustrated quite clearly in the case of the East Chapter of the Head Hunters, based at 232 Marua Rd in Mt Wellington, established by Wayne Doyle in 2002 after his stint in prison for murder.
Evidence given by a police gang expert at the trial of "Bird" Hines in 2017 said the chapter, which is the epicentre of the gang's power, was actually run by "committee".
While Doyle was the national president - who later had $6m of assets frozen by police despite no criminal charges being laid - he did not make decisions unilaterally.
The "committee" was headed by Doyle and "Bird" Hines, who essentially controlled the chapter, along with other "captains", or senior patched members.
While each Head Hunter might not know what their peers are up to, every patched member or prospect is expected to carry out the orders of their "captain" to further their own interests.
These personal interests do not always align with the aim of the gang, said the police expert, which means it's difficult to attribute the activity - sometimes criminal - of one captain with the gang as a whole.
He went on to say the "basic privilege" of a patched member is to carry out his life and business, with the backing of the gang. In other words, he is now in a position to use the 'name' of the gang to back him in whatever he does, and to direct lower ranked members of the gang to assist him in whatever he requires, be it his own interests or that of the gang as a whole."
Whether a "cell" in a gang moves from a "collection of frequent offenders" to an organised criminal group, according to the 2019 intelligence report, depends on whether their leader is dynamic.
"The most significant factor in the organisation of gangs is the willpower, charisma or physical strength of individual leaders."
Just like Stacy Paora. His family have urged him to leave the Head Hunters, in order to return and lead his iwi on his release from prison.