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Saturday, 28 March 2009

Tony Sobey local president of the Gypsy Jokers is a keeper of secrets

Tony Sobey.The former bikie gang leader bought the lemon-coloured split-level in 2002 for $383,000 and settled in with wife Tracey and the kids. The family has now moved out after the property sold last month for $880,000. Skye is a preserve of quiet privilege in the Adelaide foothills, which would have suited Sobey down to the ground. He has come a long way since he was local president of the Gypsy Jokers, one of the country's most notorious outlaw motorcycle outfits, and a target of the crackdown in South Australia that gained national traction this week after the rampage by bikies through Sydney Airport left 29-year-old Hells Angels associate Anthony Zervas dead. Sobey is a keeper of secrets. His leathers to riches story is a case study in how bikies, far from being marginalised by anti-social gang behaviour, have prospered. If South Australian Police Commissioner Mal Hyde gets his way, Sobey and others prominent in bikie circles may have some explaining to do. Mr Hyde says the state police are seeking additional powers to make bikies and ex-bikies account for "unexplained wealth". "Everyone knows the person who doesn't work and has a two-storey mansion in the street, and everyone wonders what in the world this guy does for an income," Mr Hyde told The Weekend Australian. "So one of the things we are looking at is ... unexplained wealth. What that means, basically, is if a criminal has more wealth then their income would allow, they have to explain where it came from ... if you can't show you legitimately acquired it, then you lose it." The idea, Mr Hyde said, was to disrupt the business of being a bikie. Nationally, there are about 4000 bikie gang members. Their illegal dealings are said to run to drugs -- especially amphetamines -- stolen cars, prostitution and extortion. The proceeds have been laundered through legitimately-established front companies. "There is no single answer here in terms of what you do to deal with them," Mr Hyde said. "What you have to do is really think about them being in business ... and how you actually deal with disabling or disrupting that business."
Determining exactly what Sobey, 53, does for a living is certainly a challenge. One former neighbour in Skye was surprised he drove a top-of-the-range Mercedes when he had "no obvious form of employment".

Company records show Sobey is the director of a number of companies, some of which are now in the throes of being liquidated. The name of one of them, Simple Loan Pty Ltd, gives away a line of business he has been into. Sobey told the Federal Court in 2006 he was collecting commissions on $7 million in funds from other investors he had directed into a seemingly high-yield scheme run by Adelaide businessman Giuseppe Mercorella, which was in fact a giant pyramid scam. The initially juicy returns were coming from new investors, not investment income. By the time Mercorella's house of cards came tumbling down in 2005 Sobey said he had also pumped in $2million of his own cash. All up, an estimated $94 million in investors' funds went down with the fraudster, who was jailed for five years. There is no indication in corporate or court records of impropriety concerning Simple Loan, and The Weekend Australian does not suggest this was the case. But asked in the Federal Court, as part of an examination by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission into the Mercorella debacle, to detail where he had obtained the $2 million he sank into the investment scheme, Sobey said in February 2006 he could not recall details of his numerous business dealings. Pressed on the point, he said he earned money from share trading, gambling on horses and the commission he had received on putting other investors into the Mercorella scheme. The 4 per cent per month Mercorella returned, before the fund went bust, was "average" compared to what he could have earned lending money, Sobey said. Another area of known interest for bikies is the nightclub scene, and Sobey was into that, too. In March 2006, the Licensing Court of South Australia found he had part of deal involving "deliberate flouting" of licensing laws for a Adelaide nightclub called Heaven. District Court judge Paul Rice described how Sobey and another former Gypsy Joker, convicted Melbourne cocaine dealer Paul Pavlovski, effectively took control of the nightclub from licensee John Richard Pike through a corporate play. Pike had started associating with Sobey in November 2002, about six months after the latter had moved up to Skye. In 2004, Pike restructured his company, Adelaide City Entertainment Pty Ltd. Sobey's company, Sobey Pty Ltd, was issued 10 per cent of the holding shares. Pike later complained that the deal was "forced upon him" by Pavlovski, landlord of the hotel in which the club operated. He and Sobey often turned up at the hotel together, Pike told the Licensing Court. For two years, Pavlovski skimmed $5000 a week in cash from the club, money he had "no right to take", the court found. While Sobey had set his wife up as sole director and shareholder of Sobey Pty Ltd, there was no doubt who had control. "Mrs Sobey was, in reality, no more than a front for Mr Sobey and the Gypsy Jokers," the judge found. Judge Rice said it was open to infer that Pike, in knowing "Sobey was involved with the Gypsy Jokers Club ... was allowing and permitting an element of organised crime to infiltrate the ownership and management" of the nightclub. Pike was declared unfit to hold a liquor licence, and the nightclub folded. It has since reopened with a new name and under new management. In a sense, the Licensing Court proceedings marked a turning point for Sobey, who was well acquainted with the courts in Adelaide. In 2002, he had been charged with possessing a controlled substance, but the case was dropped by the prosecution within months. Two years later, he was charged with intentionally making a false statement and importing prohibited goods. After the false statement count was withdrawn, he pleaded guilty to the importation charge, and was fined $2000. In 2005, he was charged with a minor assault charge, but this prosecution was discontinued in 2007. By then, Sobey had other problems. He was fighting legal battles on a number of fronts. Having claimed security of $17.4 million over what was left of Mercorella's assets, Sobey was hit with a bill from the Taxation Office of $1,519,607.87 for unpaid income tax and interest, mainly on the commission and interest he had earned from the pyramid scheme ahead of its implosion. Sobey decided to wheel in the heavy legal artillery, and engaged top-drawer Melbourne barrister, Peter Hayes QC, to prosecute his claim to the Mercorella assets. The two men evidently hit it off personally. Hayes flew to Adelaide on May 10, 2007, for a hearing in the Federal Court; that night, he had dinner at Skye with Sobey, Tracey and their six children. Next morning, after Hayes failed to meet him as arranged, Sobey found the lawyer unconscious in his hotel room. Hayes had overdosed on a cocktail of illegal drugs allegedly provided by one of a number of prostitutes who were in his room; nearly two years on, the South Australian coroner is still weighing whether to order an inquest into his death, according to the state's Courts Administration Authority. Sobey, meanwhile, has dropped his claim over the Mercorella assets in what has been described as a "favourable" settlement with the scheme's liquidators. He remains in dispute with the tax office, which issued a bankruptcy notice in the Federal Court against him in 2007. The bankruptcy notice has since been set aside by consent and Sobey is now challenging the assessment of his income.

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