By David Amoruso
Antonio Madafferi, an honest and successful businessman or senior leader of the ‘Ndrangheta crime clan in Melbourne, Australia? It depends on who you ask, but police are quite certain that Madafferi runs one of the country’s most powerful criminal organizations, one that moves record-breaking amounts of drugs and has connections to high-placed politicians.
The question whether he is or isn’t a legitimate businessman, worries Madaferri. Yet it is a question that has been asked time and again since the 1980s when he operated a fruit shop at Melbourne's Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market in Footscray Road. Back then the market was controlled by Calabrian mob boss Liborio Benvenuto. According to several news articles, Madafferi worked as an associate of Benvenuto, who nicknamed him “Blondie” because of his lightly colored hair.
Until his death in 1988, Benvenuto (left) ran a lucrative racketeering operation that demanded taxes from vendors. The Wholesale Fruit and Vegetable Market houses over 600 grower and wholesaler stands and 140 wholesaler trading units. Where there is illegal money, there will be blood. Mobsters frequently fought for control of the racket and in 1992 Madafferi was questioned by homicide detectives about one murder. He denied involvement, provided an alibi, and was never found guilty of any wrongdoing or crime in that case.
Steven Ralph wrote several detailed pieces on the ‘Ndrangheta’s hold on the market for Gangsters Inc. Read them here.
But witnesses kept naming Madafferi during investigations into criminal activity. In the early 1990s, they alleged he was involved in the murders of two fruit and vegetable industry men. Again, the allegations were dismissed and Madafferi was never convicted or even arrested for involvement in any of these crimes.
When recent Australian media reports continued to label him as a mob boss and gangster, he launched and won defamation proceedings against one media company claiming that its publications had harmed his reputation as “a well-known and respected member of the Calabrian community of Victoria.”
Madafferi may have won the defamation proceeding, but his reputation seems to already have been damaged beyond repair. Since the 1990s until the present, his name keeps popping up in connection to shady incidents.
When Australian authorities were trying to deport his brother Francesco, who had been living down under illegally and was suspected of Mafia involvement, Antonio Madafferi unbeknownst to him entered into a brand new area of public scrutiny.
It started in 1998 with a court statement by an officer of Victoria Police’s organized crime squad. The officer alleged that Madafferi was “involved in a substantial number of crimes, including murder, gunshot wounding and arson,” that he and his brother Francesco allegedly belonged to a “crime family involved in blackmail, extortion and murder,” and that “if Francesco is allowed to remain in Australia, he will continue to carry out acts of violence on behalf of an organized criminal syndicate.”
Two years later a ruling declared the statement untrustworthy and raised doubts about the reliability of unnamed informers who provided police with some of the information. Still, that year, former immigration minister Philip Ruddock ordered Francesco Madafferi’s deportation.
That should’ve been the end of it. It was not.
Francesco simply didn’t leave the country. Behind the scenes his brother Antonio (right) was pulling all the right strings to keep his brother by his side in sunny Australia. He did so out in the open. Like any legit businessman, Madafferi has nothing to hide. He has stated that his business interests are well-known and that they include “stalls at the wholesale fruit and vegetable market, property developments, supermarkets and an involvement in the nationwide La Porchetta pizza chain.”
And, he recently added, he is “well-known as a host of the Bruce Campaign Fundraising Dinner [...] on 1 March 2013 to raise funds to assist the election campaign of the Liberal Party candidate for the federal electorate of Bruce.” If you are looking to stay out of the spotlight, hanging with politicians is not the way to go.
It wasn’t his first appearance at a political fundraising event, either. Or the first time he donated time and money to politicians. Better yet, he got many of his relatives and associates to do the same. Between 2003 and 2006 they donated $100,000 to the NSW Liberal Party.
Politicians would like to believe that’s because Madafferi and his people supported their work and ideas, but investigators and reporters had their suspicions. Especially when, in late 2005, immigration minister Amanda Vanstone (right) overturned the previous immigration minister's decision, and overruled her own department, by granting Francesco Madafferi a visa.
According to reports, between 2003 and 2005 four Liberal MPs had contacted her about Madafferi’s visa problems.
That sounds like Madafferi’s money was well spent.
And he’s still at it. His fundraiser in March of 2013 is clear evidence of that. According to Australian newspaper The Age, “It was held at a [$4-million-dollar] Docklands venue part-owned by Mr Madafferi and one of his associates, who is a convicted criminal.” That last bit is pretty worrisome.
Despite these reports, however, a federal police probe into these donations in 2008 “was discontinued after a year due to insufficient evidence and Mr Madafferi's lawyers have strenuously denied he is involved in any wrongdoing.”
Lawyers tend to do that. But they have a good case as Madafferi has never been convicted of any crimes.
His brother Francesco, however, has been named in some very serious criminal investigations. After his visa problems were taken care of he was arrested with around thirty other suspects on various drug and money laundering charges relating to the seizure of 4.4 tons or 15 million ecstasy tablets in a shipment from Naples, Italy, to Melbourne, Australia, in June 2007. The pills had a street value of $440 million. It was the world’s biggest shipment of ecstasy ever seized by authorities. Francesco is alleged to have received 57,000 ecstasy tablets, for which he paid a total of $366,000.
Police allege that Francesco (right) contacted an associate to tell him he was at the Reggio Calabria Club in Parkville with the intended target that night, saying: “That guy is with me and he is about to go home.” Francesco allegedly told the man behind the murder plot he would try and stall him.
The plotter then contacted a triggerman and got two loaded guns. The two men drove to the club in separate cars, but when one car broke down, so much time was lost that their intended victim had already left the place. Recorded conversations between participants in the plot revealed the murder was about vengeance.
If found guilty, Francesco proved that the officer of Victoria Police’s organized crime squad was correct when he stated in 1998, “If Francesco is allowed to remain in Australia, he will continue to carry out acts of violence on behalf of an organized criminal syndicate.”
But he will have to be found guilty first. According to Italian police records, Francesco was arrested in 1986 in connection with the kidnapping of the 22-year-old daughter of the mayor of Oppido Mamertina, but was eventually released and never charged over the incident.
Even without a guilty verdict police are certain of Antonio Madafferi’s criminal pedigree. Last week, Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay banned Antonio Madafferi from Crown Casino. According to The Age, “The ban has been made on ‘public interest’ grounds due to the deep organized crime associations of Mr Madafferi. […] The notices are issued to prevent money laundering and to stop alleged organized crime figures using Crown Casino as a meeting place.”
Police Chief Commissioner Ken Lay better watch it. He might get hit with a lawsuit for defamation of character.
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