– The undercover detective didn’t need to check official records to identify the heavy lurking in the corner of the pub, there to protect one of Australia’s biggest speed dealers.
Just a few weeks earlier, the policeman, along with 60,000 other fans, had watched the big man burst through packs and charge down the MCG wing in the AFL match of the day.
A quick check showed that the drug squad target, who sold drugs in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria, was a friend of the player’s father. The footballer was conscripted to add a little muscle so the promised cash-for-powder deal would be carried out in the suburban sports bar without a hitch.
The speed dealer was later charged but the player’s role was never made public – the trafficker was killed in a car crash before the case went to court.
It is not as rare an event as some would think. Some of the biggest stars in football wouldn’t know their names are securely held in police intelligence files due to the colourful company they have kept.
A multi-premiership player was photographed by surveillance police having a smoke (possibly not of the Rothmans variety) with underworld boss Carl Williams, outside a five-star Melbourne hotel.
When Carlton recruited interstate stars three decades ago, their first lodgings were usually with the club’s long-term doorman Leo Brooks at his terrace home.
Brooks was a prodigious receiver of stolen property and was known as a man who could get anything. Many a player had their own house furnished with items sourced from Brook’s Drummond Street home.
Brooks’ daughter was the colourful Judy Moran – now serving time for murdering her brother-in-law Des “Tuppence” Moran.
And Moran’s grandkids, Jason and Mark, were fixtures around Carlton until they were both murdered in Melbourne’s gangland war. In a victory lap following a Carlton premiership more than 20 years ago, a young Mark can be seen on the ground enjoying the celebrations.
The Morans weren’t just Carlton crazy – Jason struck up a bizarre friendship with gun North Melbourne centre half-forward Wayne Carey, who even gave character evidence for the gunman at one of his many court appearances. To an outsider, the only thing they seemed to have in common was they were both pretty good shots.
Now it has come to light that in 2003 and 2004, present Essendon coach James Hird received (no doubt innocent) dietary and fitness advice from the mysterious Shane Carter, who back then worked with a pharmaceutical company.
At the same time, Charter became of interest to the Victoria Police Clandestine Laboratory Unit after he made repeated trips to Malaysia. It would later be established he posted large numbers of pseudoephedrine tablets to a series of runners via FedEx packages marked as vitamin B.
When he was arrested by police after a sting operation he chose to use his one phone call to ring his accountant rather than a lawyer.
Police found a briefcase in his garage which contained $52,000 and later opened his Collins Street bank safety deposit box to find a lazy $500,000. He was jailed on drug offences.
Now he has surfaced as the provider of supplements to Essendon, the club now at he centre of a performance-enhancing drug probe.
Charter, know as Dr Ageless (surely he must be a Batman villain) allegedly provided Essendon with supplements valued around $30,000 including, it is said, vitamin B and C shots delivered off-site. At the chemist across the road from The Age (original research no less!) you can get three vitamin B12 shots for $16.95. At that price some of the Bombers must have left the off-site clinic looking as if attacked by an acupuncturist on angel dust.
No one knows where the investigation will lead, but what is certain is the AFL will introduce a fit-and-proper person test for all club officials and contractors. Convicted drug traffickers need not apply.
AFL franchises are a strange hybrid of multi-million-dollar organisations and old-fashioned footy clubs. A mate of a mate type recommendation still has currency, which means undesirables can slip under the radar. In one case a large number of players, key supporters and officials lost a substantial amount of their savings when a financial adviser, who was seen as a good bloke, was found to be anything but.
Inside a club there are the selfless and selfish – millionaires and volunteers, as well as the modest and the flash Harrys. Some just appear from nowhere and find a little niche with no one really knowing what they do.
Once your correspondent managed to march out with the Hawthorn coaching group onto the MCG during the preliminary final warm-up. A senior policeman, somewhat unkindly, said that once he recognised the trespasser he considered calling in the snipers.
In a page one report in The Age on Thursday (an exposure sure to excite the interest of both Pulitzer and Nobel peace prize judges), we revealed that police believed organised crime is attempting to infiltrate top-level sport and many codes are wickedly unprepared.
This was supported by the Australian Crime Commission report released later that day that said: “Professional sport in Australia is highly vulnerable to organised criminal infiltration through legitimate business relationships with sports franchises and other associations.
Now gangsters love trophies. There is no point getting filthy rich if you can’t show off the fruits of your non-labour. There are the flash cars, the girls whose surgically enhanced breasts defy both belief and gravity and, best of all, the occasional chance to be part of the in-crowd.
And in sports-mad Australia, sports stars are A-grade celebrities – our version of Hollywood.
After all, more people would recognise Buddy Franklin walking down the street than Geoffrey Rush – particularly filthy interstate recruiting officers with giant cheque-books and nasty little pin heads.
The ACC report, quoting European law enforcement authorities, said: “Sport provides a powerful route for criminals to become celebrities.”
A few years ago, Collingwood forward Alan Didak got chatting with a mad keen Collingwood supporter by the name of Christopher Hudson inside a girlie bar. It ended with the forward back at the Hells Angels headquarters, shots being fired, a near confrontation with police and a mad dash down the Tullamarine Freeway.
A few days later, Hudson shot three people in the city, killing solicitor Brendan Keilar, a decent man who was only trying to stop the bikie hurting more people.
Star footballer Jimmy Krakouer was befriended by drug dealer John William Samuel Higgs. The crook helped the naive footballer invest in several projects that went guts up. Then Jimmy was recruited to do a drug run back to Western Australia for the syndicate, which ended with him sentenced to 16 years.
In a number of criminal investigations footballers have been recorded on phone taps buying drugs. Police long ago decided to target traffickers, not low-level users, and will not go after sports stars just because they would provide headline-making busts.
The trouble is that as the material comes from phone taps, police by law can’t tell the football bosses even in general terms that they have a problem. This means police may know a star player spends half his time more juiced than a Mildura orange but can’t do anything about it.
Occasionally, though, a policeman may let a little information slip out the corner of his mouth, which is precisely what happened in the sad and sorry tale of Ben Cousins – the boy with the rock star looks and the rock star drug habits.
Long before Cousins admitted to a drug problem, he started to be seen and heard with some of Perth’s most colourful gangsters. Police tipped off the club officials who confronted Cousins, who simply lied through his teeth.
The club couldn’t say they knew he had been caught on phone taps and could do precious little.
When another player was confronted he told the club he would choose his own friends and they could butt out. At least he was honest about having dishonest mates.
The Australian Crime Commission this week made it quite clear that professional sport is under siege from match fixers and dopers.
The AFL can get things horribly wrong (Hawthorn’s fixture, for example. Only Hitler had a tougher six weeks after invading Russia) but it really is at the front of the class when it comes to integrity protection.
And as it is not an international sport it doesn’t attract the crooked Asian betting syndicates circling soccer, cricket and tennis.
Which make it particularly galling that it is now caught up in a performance-enhancing controversy that everyone hopes turns out to be a false alarm.
The ACC report shows disturbing connections between high-performance coaches and illegal stimulants. The by-product of this will be a radical power shift in AFL clubs.
The new breed of fitness gurus with designer tracksuits, Donny Osmond teeth and wrap-around sunglasses will be back in the gym and out of the front office.
From now on, old-style doctors in tweed jackets who prefer stethoscopes around their necks to oriental snake tattoos will be calling and injecting the shots – John Silvester