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Robert Trimbole

(Robert Trimbole)

Born on March 19, 1931, Robert Trimboli was accused, among other things, of organising murders, marijuana and heroin trafficking, corruption of police and public servants, race-fixing and money laundering. Trimboli apparently began marijuana business in 1971 and quickly became principal of the Griffith marijuana trade in the NSW Riverina.

In underworld terms, he has been referred to as the 'Godfather.' Not a boss but a boss among bosses.

Trimboli was a heavy punter and loved horseracing. From late 1974 he became known as a large cash bettor commonly placing bets of $20 000. He also had a penchant for race fixing which was later revealed in the Age tapes. At one stage it was alleged that Trimboli had up to thirteen jockeys on his pay-roll. They both pulled horses up and allowed designated runners to win. In collaboration with one trainer, he even bought broken-down gallopers, assigned them to friendly trainers and, attracting longer odds on re-entering them in races, hit them with stimulant drugs to clean up in the betting.

The Australian Mafia figure was wanted for ordering the July 15, 1977 murder of Griffith anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay and also in connection with the 1979 disappearances of drug couriers for the Mr Asia syndicate, Douglas and Isabel WIlson. Painter and Docker James Bazely was later convicted of the killings.

Trimboli was associated with Terrence Clarke and other members of the Mr Asia syndicate and arranged false passports for at least three of them.

He was in London with Clarke for two days in July 1979 before returning to Australia on July 10.

In April 1980, Trimboli refused to give evidence at the Wilsons inquest on grounds that it might incriminate him.

Early in 1981, the New South Wales Police Force's Bureau of Criminal Intelligence had instituted an undercover operation against Trimboli. His home phone was tapped. The taps recorded Trimboli being tipped off to leave Australia by notorious Sydney drug figure, Dr Nick Paltos. Trimboli himself talked of going overseas for eighteen months to two years. The final tip-off was recorded on 5 May 1981. The same day the taps were lifted.

Within two days Trimboli was off. He fled Australia, he ended up in France travelling via the US. In June 1983, Lindsey Murdoch wrote a story in the Age detailing Trimboli's escape and the fact the he was tipped off. The story also alerted readers for the first time to Trimboli's possible involvement with race-fixing.

Murdoch had not been aware of the phone taps but another journalist was. John Silvester from the Sun had been shown copies of transcripts by his police sources and verified that Trimboli had been warned. Silvester was later to give evidence on the content of the tapes but the findings remain secret.

One of the most shocking aspects of the tapes was that he had apparently arranged with corrupt officials to have a prisoner released early and travel documents were altered to allow him to travel overseas to visit Trimboli. In October 1983, a similar plot in NSW saw the forced resignation of NSW Minister for Corrective Services, Rex Jackson. The transcripts of the tapes were later published becoming known as the Age Tapes.

Nick Paltos was one of the three principals of a drug syndicate known as the Lavender group. His two associates were Ross Karp and Graham Palmer. Paltos was very well connected. This famous photo showed him enjoying a day at the races with Sydney crime lord George Freeman and jailed NSW Magistrate, Murray Farquahar. Paltos was also recorded dealing with Painter and Docker Stephen Nittes in Melbourne in 1984.

On October 25, 1984, when Paltos was overseas to organise a heroin shipment, he is believed to have diverted to rendezvous with Trimboli. Trimboli was arrested in Ireland the same month. He was released by the Irish Court seven weeks later.

This is when the Australian government began to have troubles with extradition proceedings and the Emerald Isle began to look a safe haven for criminals on the run.

Trimboli had apparently spent huge sums of money on his Irish legal representation and looked as if he would escape a forced return to Australia.

Australian federal police intercepted a phone conversation between Nick Paltos and an associate who discussed the lengths that Trimboli was going to to escape extradition.

Paltos also referred to a recent call he'd received from Trimboli's son Craig who reassured them of his fathers Herculean effort.

In February 1985, at hearings at which it was alleged Trimboli had cancer, Dublin Court refused to extradite him to Australia.

The efforts to extradite Trimboli failed largely due to the efforts of British constitutional lawyer, Patrick MacEntree who was also fond of defending IRA freedom fighters.

Robert 'Aussie Bob' Trimboli died in Spain while hiding from the looming charges.

Photo's of Trimboli lying dead were then distributed to the Australian media so that all could be sure he was really gone.

At Trimboli's Sydney funeral, journalists were attacked by a group of mourners. Footage of the attack was shown on all news services

Robert Trimboli sued author Bob Bottom in the NSW Supreme Court for the further publication of this photo in his book Without Fear or Fervour.
Trimboli was seeking an injunction to stop its publication claiming copyright over the photo.

He also claimed for loss of business and damages for injury to his credit and reputation, deprivation of companionship of diverse friends who had withdrawn from him and ceased to be friendly with him.

The case was struck out.

John Trimbole

In Connections 2 (1987), by Bob Bottom, the author names John Trimbole as the owner of the Daily Planet, one of Melbourne's best known brothels, in Horne Street, Elsternwick.

Bottom writes the the establishment was lucrative enough to have offered $100 000 sponsorship to the Fitzroy Football Club.

The Daily Planet was listed for sale in 1979 for $250,000 as the 'Rolls-Royce of massage parlours.

Trimble (his name is slightly changed) is a close associate of former champion boxer Lester Ellis. He helped out the night in July 2002 when Lester took on Anthony Mundine. Mundine, or 'Chock' won when the Ellis corner threw in the towel in the third.

John recently lost out over a web-site the Planet runs with a court finding photographs were used inappropriately.

Like the Trimboli family, the Romeo's are long-term residents of the Griffith area of southern New South Wales.

The Romeo family has it's origins in Plati in Calabria, Southern Italy. Named in the Herald Sun as a "Griffith drug baron", Antonio Romeo was the man once seen as the heir apparent in the Calabrian crime syndicate, the Honoured Society.

An early reference to the Romeo's came in . It names Angelo Romeo as being sentenced to four years jail in Sydney in 1982 for marijuana charges.
The Prince and The Premier
By David Hickie
Angus and Robertson 1985

Tony Romeo stood out. He was relatively tall, almost 180 centimetres, and polished.

Where the others looked like peasant farmers on market day, Romeo dressed stylishly and looked good.

Romeo had married well: his wife, Mary, mother of his four children, was a Sergi, connecting him with Griffith's dominant Calabrian clan.

Tony Sergi like Robert Trimbole, was one of the "Golden Punters".

He was involved in the marijuana trade in the 1970's and 80's and claimed gambling wins as a source of his funds.

Guiseppe "Joe" Sergi, also from Griffith, was sentenced to five years jail after being convicted over a marijuana crop in 1982.

Guiseppe, the husband of Bruno Romeo Snr's daughter Caterina, was arrested over one of Victoria's biggest cannabis busts in Shepparton in 1981. Giuseppe ended up in business with Bruno Romeo Jnr.

In July 1993, a Victorian detective and a policewoman, posing as an art dealer and his girlfriend, arrived in Griffith with another undercover policeman.

It was the first move in an audacious "sting" that would eventually put Romeo and several other gangsters behind bars.

The detective, using the alias Cole Goodwin, and his "girlfriend", Judy, went to the Griffith Ex-Servicemen's Club, where Honoured Society members met regularly, ostensibly to gamble, in reality to talk business without fear of being bugged.

Goodwin studied Romeo and close friend Rosario Trimbole close-up for the first time. A Victorian court was later told the pair regarded themselves as "family".

Trimbole was a nephew of the late "Aussie Bob" Trimbole, a principal of the notorious Mr Asia drug cartel and one of the Griffith powerbrokers who ordered Donald Mackay's death.

Goodwin was to describe Rosario Trimbole as a typical Griffith Calabrian - stunted and badly dressed.

Romeo and Trimbole were related, like most Griffith Calabrians, who tend to intermarry.

The pair, then in their late 30s, had equal standing in the Honoured Society's pecking order.

They deferred to some older men in the organisation, but had power because they were more at ease in the wider world.

Goodwin had spent months on surveillance, watching them and others through a long lens and listening to tapes and wiretaps. He had pored over their photographs, form and family histories.

Earlier, Goodwin, Judy and their friend had driven through the orchards to look at the "grass castles", brick-and-tile monuments to bad taste and black money. They cruised the main street, Banna Avenue, to see the businesses that dope built. They went to the hotel car park where Mackay had been executed 16 years before. They ate at a favourite Calabrian haunt before going to the club.

It was to be a reconnaissance mission. The odds against getting friendly with their targets were long. Goodwin saw a woman fetching drinks for the Italians, joking with them and taking their loose change to play the poker machines.

He chatted to her as she fed the pokies, and introduced her to Judy and their friend.

By 4am, after a late-night pizza and many drinks, they were friends.

That night led to other trips to Griffith, in which Goodwin and Judy perfected their roles. Their new friend, Pam, introduced them to the Calabrians. They were wary, but Goodwin baited a hook, saying how easy it was to conceal money by buying art. It worked.

Soon Romeo, Trimbole and others were regular visitors to the East Melbourne apartment the police had rented for Goodwin and Judy.

They all ate together in Lygon Street, drank together in city bars.

When Goodwin and Judy visited Griffith, Romeo proudly showed them the six-bedroom house he was building at a cost of $1 million, and filled their car with cases of oranges and wine.

Goodwin told his new friends about exploiting the art market, and professed an interest in buying cocaine wholesale to sell to touring rock bands.

The Italians promised to help with drugs - and to tell him when horse races were fixed.

They tipped him three horses at Globe Derby trots one night; two won, the other ran second.

Dabbling in the art market wasn't Romeo's only weakness. Romeo by name and by nature, he started bringing an 18-year-old waitress with him for weekends in city hotels.

In another case involving the Calbrian Romeo's, West Australian criminal, Bruno Romeo Snr, the leader of Italian crime gang N'Dranghita was implicated in an explosion in Adelaide on the morning of March 2, 1994.

A police intelligence report alleged Romeo was a key member of Italian organised crime groups.

A parcel arrived at the National Crime Authority's Adelaide HQ in Waymouth Street. It was opened by NCA secondment Geoff Bowen 36 who was killed instantly. Windows from the building's 12th floor were blown into the street injuring several pedestrians below.

Several onlookers began milling at the scene and one was identified as Domenic Perre, a surveillance target of the NCA who had been tailed by officers on the day and had apparently chanced across the bombing.

Perre's cousin was married to Bruno Romeo.

Bruno Romeo had been convicted in connection with two major drug crops in Western Australia after being caught on a third a Lismore NSW, he was taken to Perth to face charges.

Bruno Romeo Snr was jailed for 10 years in 1994 over his role as the ringleader of an $8 million cannabis- growing operation on remote pastoral leases in Western Australia.

Romeo's eldest son Domenico "Mick" Romeo, jailed for two years in 1977 and five years in 1982 for cultivating marijuana.

His other son, Bruno Lee Romeo, 42, had been jailed for 8.5 years in Western Australia in 1987 for conspiring to cultivate a 1.5ha cannabis crop.

At the time of the bombing the main activities of the Adelaide NCA office was investigating Italian organised crime.

It was part of an Australia-wide operation known as Operation Cerberus and Geoff Bowen, along with Peter Wallis - wounded and blinded by the bomb - were the mainstays of Cerberus in Adelaide.

Bowen had raided Perre's home and arrested him for possession of phone-tapping equipment. Perre was due to face jail the day after the blast.

Bowen had also helped to arrest Bruno Romeo Snr on the WA drugs cultivation charges. He had played a keyrole in Romeo's capture and extradition to Perth.

Meanwhile, in early 1994, Goodwin became so trusted that he and his "brother", another undercover policeman, were able to talk their way into a plan to import $6 million of cannabis from Papua New Guinea.

The scheme involved picking up the drugs from a Torres Strait island and flying it south to Cohuna in a light aircraft.

It was a good plan - but not for Romeo, Trimbole and several others arrested on June 19, 1994, in a raid. Goodwin, still posing as a bent art dealer with a taste for drug running, was "arrested" along with the pilot and another undercover policeman.

It was a humiliating and expensive blow for the Honoured Society. Two of its leaders, Romeo and Trimbole, were exposed as falling for a scheme police had known about from the start. Five of their followers had been arrested.

The committal hearing was the first to be held in the new security court at Melbourne Magistrates Court.

It ran a long time and the evidence was damning, so damning that Romeo and Trimbole were to plead guilty at their subsequent trial, where they received 13 years' jail with a minimum of eight.

Mafia Tie To Rock Star's Lost Riches
by: Paul Whittaker and Rory Callinan
The Courier-Mail - February 13, 1999
Rock star Michael Hutchence was involved in property dealings with a company allegedly connected to the mafia, a Courier-Mail investigation found.

Bruno Romeo Snr and his family are current and former directors of a company which sold a Gold Coast bowling alley for $2.25 million to a trustee company linked to the former INXS frontman.

The National Crime Authority raided the Labrador bowling alley in 1995 in a cocaine trafficking investigation, Operation Pug. Company records indicate Harbrick Pty Ltd, whose former directors include Bruno "The Fox" Romeo, a convicted drug dealer, also borrowed $270,000 as part of the deal.

Accountants and lawyers who have acted for Harbrick are now representing companies being sued by Hutchence's mother, Patricia Glassop, and stepsister, Tina Hutchence, to release millions of dollars in assets.

The curiously named Nexcess owns the title to the bowling alley on behalf of a trust.

The company is part of a tangled web of eight companies, six of which are based offshore, being sued by Hutchence's mother and stepsister in a bid to force them to declare they hold an estimated $25 million of the dead singer's assets.

Hutchence committed suicide in Sydney in 1997. The $270,000 loan to Harbrick, which Australian Securities and Investment Commission records show has not been repaid, was secured against bowling equipment and other fixtures at Paradise Lanes.

The bowling alley, at 378 Marine Pde, Labrador, is one of five multimillion dollar properties worldwide which Mrs Glassop and Ms Hutchence claim should have been included in the singer's estate and divided according to his will.

The NCA's Operation Pug targeted a person associated with Harbrick, which continued to run the bowling alley after selling the land it was on to Nexcess.

A former South Australian man, who was not a director or shareholder of Harbrick, was convicted for trafficking in cocaine.

Bruno Romeo Snr was a director of his family company Harbrick from 1988 to 1990.

His son, Bruno Lee Romeo is still a director of the Queensland-registered firm.

The other director is Romeo Snr's son-in-law, Guiseppe "Joe" Sergi. (See above)

The largest shareholder of Harbrick is Mr Romeo Snr's wife, Nazzerina.

The other shares are held by the Romeo's eldest son Domenico "Mick" Romeo (see above).

Ms Glassop and Ms Hutchence are waging a court battle against the Hong Kong-based executor of Hutchence's will, Andrew Paul, to have the contested assets, including the bowling alley, transferred to his estate.

Their lawyers allege the bowling alley was bought by Nexcess using Hutchence's funds and held in a beneficial trust known as Broadwater. Broadwater is controlled by former Hutchence will executor and Gold Coast lawyer Colin Thomas Diamond and his family.

The bowling alley was mortgaged for $2 million in August 1996 to a UK company called Blomep Finance Ltd, a subsidiary of British- Virgin Islands registered Blomep Holdings Ltd.

Andrew Paul is Blomep Finance's sole director and Colin Diamond signed the earlier loan documents.

The loan was refinanced in January 1998 to the State Bank of NSW which holds a $2.3 million mortgage over the site. Mr Paul claims the total net assets for the estate amount to just $1.2 million with the first $800,000 to be divided between two charities.

Court documents show the accountants and lawyers representing Harbrick in its dealings with the bowling alley purchase and loan agreement are also representing a number of offshore companies which it is claimed control the singer's assets.

ASIC records show Gold Coast solicitors J.F. Connors & Associates lodged a deed of charge relating to the bowling alley on behalf of Harbrick in October 1993.

The following year the same firm's principal John Francis Connors witnessed transfer documents relating to Nexcess's purchase of the bowling complex.

Curiously, in June last year the same firm entered a conditional appearance in Queensland's Supreme Court on behalf of five offshore companies which are being sued by Hutchence's mother and stepsister to declare they hold some of the disputed assets, including a London townhouse and French villa, in trust for the singer's estate.

Surfers Paradise solicitors Freestone and Kumnick, which lodged charge documents with the ASIC in May 1997 on behalf of Harbrick also entered appearances in the Queensland civil action on behalf of Sin-Can- Can Pty Ltd and Nexcess.

Sin-Can-Can owns a lavish Isle of Capri waterfront mansion bought for $1 million in 1995 which Hutchence told his family he owned. Harbrick and Nexcess have also shared the same accountant.

Tony Alford's Southport accountancy firm was the registered business address for Harbrick from August 1993 until January 27, 1994 - the day before Harbrick sold the bowling alley site to Nexcess.

Mr Alford was appointed as a director of Nexcess on January 28, 1994.

According to his family, Hutchence had lunch at the complex the day sale contracts were exchanged and decided to keep on the existing tenants of the centre's restaurant.

The former lessees of the bowling alley restaurant said Harbrick's directors told them Hutchence had been into the building to inspect the complex before agreeing to buy it.

Mr Alford is also a director of a company called Akcess which now controls the bowling alley.

Mr Paul told the court, through his Brisbane lawyer Joe Ganim, that the disputed property was not and had not been owned by Hutchence or his estate but a complex array of company and trust structures stretching from Australia through to Hong Kong and the British Virgin Islands.

Efforts to contact Harbrick representatives were unsuccessful.

On May 20, 2002, Antonio "Tony" Romeo was freed from a prison farm near Shepparton where he had served a six-month term over the planned drug importation from Papua New Guinea.

The day Tony Romeo got out of jail, someone stole a white Toyota Prado in his hometown of Griffith.

The car wasn't seen in the town again.

Despite rumours it would be unwise to return to Griffith after serving his jail time, Romeo went home after being released from Dhurringile prison farm, near Shepparton.

Six weeks later he was shot dead while pruning a peach tree.

Tony Romeo died on July 1, 2002 after being shot in the back.

He was shot once in the left shoulder and the bullet passed through his chest.

Romeo was working near about six other fruit workers when he was shot after returning from lunch just before 3pm.

About 30 other people were working on the 20ha vineyard at Hanwood, an orchard area near Griffith, at the time.

Some close were enough to hear the thud of the bullet in Romeo's chest, but no-one saw anything.

Some of the dead mans co-workers told police they heard a shot.

Romeo was dead when the ambulance arrived.

The identity of the owner of the vineyard was uncertain as police searched the area following the fatal shooting.

Hours later, a vehicle was torched near Darlington Point, about 50 kilometres away.

It was the Toyota that had vanished from Griffith six weeks before.

The Toyota's mysterious reappearance and destruction the same day Romeo was killed implied it had been stolen and hidden to use as a getaway car. If so, the hit was a long-range plan hatched much earlier. Perhaps years earlier.

Whether an outside shooter was paid to do it - as James Bazley was to kill anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay in 1977 - or whether it was local talent is a puzzle that has occupied investigators for weeks without any sign of a breakthrough.

Not that anyone is surprised by that: NSW police have a poor record with "Mafia" crimes.

In any case, given the code of silence, fingering the trigger man would be unlikely to answer more intriguing questions, such as who ordered the shooting, and why?

What police do know is that the shooting fits a pattern that goes back generations in Italian organised crime, in which honour, family, business and affairs of the heart are mixed together, often with deadly results.

Romeo's murder was clearly a punishment according to Age journalist Andrew Rule, but for what - the drugs deal or the sex?

Romeo's violent end is a postscript to a remarkable story of crime and detection.

In it are clues that he might well have been killed for wronging his wife and, by extension, the code of the Honoured Society.

But the most damaging evidence for Tony Romeo, ex-detective aka Cole Goodwin later recalled, might not have been about drugs, guns or money.

It was when a prosecution witness testified, in detail, about Romeo's weekends in Melbourne with the teenage waitress.

This clearly came as a shock. The teenager might not have been Romeo's only problem.

Rumours in Griffith suggest he had also been too close to another Calabrian's wife.

Either way, he had broken the only commandment that matters in organised crime: he had been caught.

The last word on Romeo's exit goes to Goodwin, who has since retired.

"You don't mess with the Calabrians," he said. "It's taken eight years to come around, but what comes around goes around."