Four weeks ago, for some strange reason, Big Mick Gatto, capo de capo of the Carlton Crew – aka the Honoured Society – decided to go public with his new happy face.
For the previous three years after his release from jail following his acquittal for the self-defence shooting of underworld hitman Benji Veniamin in a Carlton restaurant in 2004, Big Mick has had his mouth shut closer than a Port Phillip clam.
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Now, he is out there, everywhere … blowing smoke at cameras at Tullamarine airport, wearing matching “A-team” t-shirts and posing with shades and likeminded heavyweights poolside at five-star Singapore hotels.
Whatever happened to the Mafia’s cone of silence, the Omerta?
The only crime that Big Mick pleads guilty to is running the old Carlton two-up school last century but he does have convictions for offences including burglary, assaulting police, possessing firearms, and obtaining financial advantage by deception.
He faced a committal hearing in 1997 on counts of extortion, blackmail and making threats to kill but was found to have no case to answer.
The Kookas have enormous respect for Big Mick but we think the Opes-belly party trick was just a PR stunt to put the frighteners on witnesses thinking of rolling over in a forthcoming murder trial.
In January, Gatto volunteered in the media that Purana Task Force detectives were pressuring Vincent Benvenuto to claim Gatto was involved in the 2002 murder of Victor Peirce, who was acquitted in 1991 of the Walsh Street police murders.
Benvenuto’s family are well known in the fruit and vegetable markets and have long been connected to the Honoured Society. His father Liberio was the godfather of the organisation till his death from cancer in 1988. His brother Frank was gunned down outside his bayside Beaumaris home in May 2000 during Melbourne’s gangland killings.
In a coming trial, Gatto’s alleged connection to the Benevutos is likely to be raised by prosecutors in the case of a Gatto associate who can’t be named. Police are said to be investigating whether Gatto’s contact with members of that family in the days before Peirce’s killing was part of a plan to end Peirce’s life.
It is a claim Gatto’s lawyers and associates strenuously deny and dismiss as unfounded slur on his character. Just as he had denied any involvement and expressed shock at being linked to the murder of Guiseppe Arena in 1988.
Arena, known as “the friendly godfather”, was gunned down in the driveway of his Bayswater home during the Victoria market wars. Gatto, who said his father was a friend of Arena, contacted the family to assure them he knew nothing of the episode after a 1998 newspaper report described him as a prime suspect.
“I treat people like they treat me … the meek and the mild and the strong. I don’t care. It makes no difference,” he said.
“I’m not frightened of anyone. I’m frightened of the person I see in the mirror. I’m not frightened of anyone else.”
Gatto had a clear-the-air meeting with Carl “Babyface” Williams and Benji Veniamin at Crown casino on December 22, 2003 which was caught on security cameras. Police lip-reading experts said this was the gist of his conversation with Williams: “Anything with you, that’s your problem. But if anything comes my way then I’ll send somebody to you … I’ll be careful with you, be careful with me. I believe you, you believe me, now we’re even. That’s a warning.”
The Kookas believe every word of it and are well warned.