The former best friend of Killer Beez gang president Josh Masters has admitted shooting him in broad daylight.
Nearly 12 months to the day after Masters was gunned down in the parking lot outside a Mt Wellington motorcycle shop, Akustino Tae has this morning pleaded guilty to an amended charge of wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm.
The 40-year-old was initially charged with attempted murder, although both offences carry a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.
His guilty plea to the amended lesser charge was entered by a special sitting of the High Court at Auckland where Tae, his lawyer Lorraine Smith and Crown prosecutor Ned Fletcher appeared before Justice Simon Moore by audio visual link.
The Herald understands Masters, once a 115kg kickboxer, was confined to a wheelchair from the injuries he suffered although it's unclear whether his condition has improved.
From day one, Tae had offered to plead guilty to the lesser charge but this was rejected by the Crown up until the upcoming June trial was abandoned because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Because of the likely delay of many months before a new trial date could be scheduled, and the cost saving of no longer having a trial if Tae pleaded guilty, the Crown now accepted the public interest in accepting the plea deal.
Tae wants to have a restorative justice meeting with Masters, which the Crown says Masters is unlikely to agree to, ahead of the sentencing hearing in May.
Mystery surrounds Tae's motivation for shooting Masters, as neither spoke to the police about the events leading up to the 26 April last year, when Tae pulled out a pistol and shot Masters once in the torso.
The pair were once very close friends, part of the tight core of the Killer Beez gang which sprouted up in Otara in the early 2000s as a feeder group to the more established Tribesmen motorcycle gang.
The lines between the gangs were so blurred Masters, once described by a High Court judge as a charismatic leader with undoubted business acumen, also held a senior position in the Tribesmen at one point.
His profile grew to the point John Campbell interviewed him for prime time television, where Masters denied the Killer Beez had any involvement in methamphetamine.
At the time of the interview, a covert police investigation called Operation Leo was already underway.
More than 110,000 communications were intercepted between February and May 2008 when Masters and 43 other Killer Beez and Tribesmen associates were arrested.
Police seized about $500,000 worth of meth and cannabis, $20,000 cash, a large amount of stolen property, and motorcycles and cars under the Proceeds of Crime Act.
At the time of the arrests, Detective Inspector John Tims - now a deputy commissioner - said the Killer Beez tried to portray themselves as "modern-day Robin Hoods".
"They have attempted to achieve status through music and videos in connection with the youth of our community," said Tims.
"Based on the evidence secured throughout this operation and today, in simple terms they are drug dealers who are causing destruction and chaos in our community by their actions."
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For the next four years, Masters dragged out the court case although he was eventually sentenced to 10 years 5 months in prison after pleading guilty to supplying methamphetamine, conspiracy to supply the Class-A drug, and laundering money through his record label.
While the influence of the Killer Beez in the community was greatly diminished by Operation Leo, Masters' army continued to grow inside the prisons where the gang actively recruited.
The "swarm", as members call themselves, now number in the hundreds.
Masters' own behaviour in prison was described as "confrontational and at times intimidatory", according to the Parole Board , while still running the Killer Beez from behind bars.
This was the main reason he was declined release on parole on several occasions until May 2018, when he was no longer considered an "undue risk" to the community.
Less than a year after he walked free from prison, Masters became the victim in a shocking moment of violence glamourised in the rap culture which spawned the Killer Beez; a gangland shooting in broad daylight.
In the middle of the day, 26 April 2019, the now 41-year-old was shot once while at a Harley Davidson store in Mt Wellington. The entire incident was captured on CCTV cameras.
The shooter fled the scene but shortly after midnight handed himself in to the police at the Counties Manukau station, with his longtime lawyer Lorraine Smith.
It was Akustino Tae, now a patched member of the Killer Beez. He was no stranger to firearms violence, losing an eye as a young man when a group of Killer Beez stormed a rival gang member's house in Othello Drive in 2008.
The shootout came at a time of gang tension and fears of reprisal, just as the shooting of Masters did 11 years later.