Police sensed a major turn of events in Operation Lavender when they bugged a conversation between Stephen Nittes and an associate in a room of a Melbourne motel on 16 April 1985. With lower level distributors having been arrested, and a break in contact with the Sydney principals, Nittes and his associate were uptight.
Nittes: Oh, I haven’t heard nothing.
Associate: Oh, maybe they just said the boys aren’t any good to us anymore.
Nittes: That’s right, yeah, that’s what I’m starting to think.
Associate: They must have tons of that stuff still.
Nittes: ‘Course they fucking have.
Associate: Hey, ‘course they have and we want some of it.
Nittes: I can get rid of it down here.
Associate: Mate, I’ve got one, one fifty I think I can go, go off up in Sydney.
Nittes: Now I don’t want to do this but if the worst comes to worst, I can find them . . .
Associate: Mate, they fucking owe us . . . I worked it out. You take the first job we did, right, bringing it in, we were promised one million . . . right now, out of that one million . . . got 200 down . . . they promised us two hundred thousand bonus, right, so there’s one million two hundred thousand . . . then the second one is we took them cunts [Greek crewmen from the mother ship] out of the country, right . . . on our fucking yacht . . . we got no money for that, nothing, none. They said keep the fucking boat but that didn’t matter because they were going to sink the cunt anyway.
Nittes: That’s right, yeah.
Associate: Then the third job is we started dealing . . . right now we have turned over about a million bucks for them . . . now they got most of that, we got bits and pieces, we got a rotten old fishing boat out of it, right.
Nittes: Of course they fucking owe. I never thought they owed you that much, though. They owe you fucking three quarters of a million.
Associate: They said, boys we have got sweet . . . all that money that we dealt, right, that was supposed to finance another drug deal in another country.
Associate: But they needed the cash so in actual fact that was our money that we were dealing. They knew that they owed us, right, but that was our cash and we were giving it back to them.
Associate: Now the agreement was: they were going to open up Swiss bank accounts for us . . . fly us over there to fucking do it . . . and then they were meant to give us twenty grand a month for the next two fucking years . . . right, then an international hotel in Crete.
Nittes: They were going to buy one.
Associate: They were going to invest our money in it. They went over there to buy the land. They were over there. They came back when — — — rang ’em up (telling) them that the Feds were following him. They come back from fucking Europe.
Nittes: Of course they fucking owe.
Associate: Now we are quite legitimate to say: righto boys, we want fifty hundred kilo . . . and we want it ourself.
Nittes: See, these cunts promised me. They said, you’re in the gang now.
Associate: Oh, we’re all in the fucking gang.
Nittes: Yeah, yeah, I know. That’s what I said to myself. They said, listen, we will give you a trip round the world, you know, nothing you’ll ever want for the rest of your life . . . I’ve got to hang on, they said, because this is near the end of, you know. This is three months ago. They said it’s getting near the end now, this stuff here, sold all that stuff, we got this good stuff coming in, we’re getting this good stuff in and we are going to sell fucking that because this other shit’s no good. He said that’s in the process now, you know . . . If nothing happens, I’ll go up to Sydney and front them.
Associate: Me and you.
Nittes: Alright, you come with me.
Associate: Nothing over the phone, nothing.
Nittes: Yeah, they don’t bug them, mate, they just go through Telecom . . . don’t worry about that, they can send fucking rockets to the moon, mate, they can listen.
Associate: I reckon we can find them in Sydney.
Nittes: Mm, oh, find ’em easy, if I really have to . . . I’ll find Croc. I talked to Croc last time they came down here . . . but I don’t want to talk to Croc and them, see. I want to talk to fucking Nick . . . Nick is the man to talk to. It’s no good talking to Ross.
Associate: He’s supposed to be a fucking doctor.
Nittes: . . . it might be just his front, see. I don’t think he practices.
Associate: But how’s a doctor get tied up in . . . fucking ‘cause he knows every cunt . . . he must be a smart man, because all the crooks, all the fucking crooks, they’re all fucking . . . they don’t have good fronts, do they like. They are all, well, none of them are fucking doctors.
Nittes: No, that’s right, no, yeah.
Associate: I mean to be a doctor . . . a very strict law . . .
Nittes: Couldn’t have broken too many laws, could he.
Associate: No, that’s what I’m saying. He’s been fucking pretty straight.
Nittes: And even the other bloke, Ross, couldn’t have broke many. He’s a fucking lawyer.
Associate: That’s right. Where does these cunts come into it. Hey, the fucking mind boggles, I tell ya.
Nittes: Yeah, fucking oath, yeah.
Associate: What about the American connections. Where’s all that coming from, like, they were getting the coke [cocaine] from America, ‘cause they wanted us to go to America and . . .
Nittes: Yeah, I know, see.
Neither had heard from Paltos or Karp for nearly two months. The practice was for Paltos or Karp to make telephone contact through what they believed was a ‘safe’ house. The AFP, of course, had the telephone bugged. Once contact was made, meetings were arranged for a ‘safe’ location. That was bugged, too.
A significant criminal in his own right, Nittes reassures his less experienced mate that the Sydney principals would not lightly disregard them, pointing out: They think I’m pretty heavy, you know.
Associate: I know, I know.
Nittes: They talk about me up there. They talk about me up there. Oh, Nittes, yeah, fucking, you know and so that’s good, you know, so . . .
Associate: I’d say mate you carry a lot of respect.
Nittes: So what I reckon is we go up there and see them, without sort of, we don’t want to upset them, or nothin’ . . . we go and see them and they are going to be frightened. See, they are going to say Nittes could be violent . . .
In one spectacular episode, Nittes had taken part with other painters and dockers from Victoria in a daring excursion across the border into New South Wales to pull off Australia’s biggest armored van robbery: the theft of $587,870 from a Mayne Nickless van in the Sydney suburb of Guildford on 4 March 1970. Nittes and an offsider, Laurie Albert Jones, had been sentenced to 16 years in jail. Another, Bill The Texan’ Longley, was convicted of receiving $6500 of the robbery money. A presidential candidate involved in gang warfare for control of the notorious Painters’ and Dockers’ Union, Longley was afterwards convicted of the murder of the union’s secretary, Patrick Francis Shannon, who was shot in the Druids Hotel in South Melbourne in October 1973.
Complaining that a dealer had not paid all money for drugs supplied, Nittes emphasised: I’m dirty on him, mate.
Associate: Trouble is you let ’em go too long, you’re got nothing, you can’t get blood out of a stone . . . you can go whack [underworld parlance for murder] and all that shit.
Nittes: But what’s the good of that, see, fair dinkum, see, you know, there’s no money, it’s only going to bring fucking crabs [attention] on us again.
Associate: Yeah, give them a belt on the ear. I suppose get some satisfaction.
The associate, though, fancied himself enough to declare he wanted to apply for the star role in a contemplated movie on Australian boxing hero Les Darcy. He thought he could get to look like him. Then he tells Nittes that someone told him that when he saw Nittes, ‘you tell him he’s got to get his life story done . . . he said because I want to act his part’. Nittes: He could, too, you know. Couldn’t he, yeah. Associate: He’s a ripper, geez, he’s a good bloke. Good operator, mate, he’s done a lot for me up there. He’s right in now, he’s got his own little scams going.
Nittes: I’d like to do a movie but not do it myself . . . I’ve got that many fucking movies you can make of it.
Associate: It would be a goer, mate . . . we all reckon that. But can we do it now. What’s all behind you, you’ve done your time for everything.
Nittes: Oh, yeah, I can tell them about the robbery and all that sort of thing, yeah. Can’t tell them about the murders, though . . . because they can come undone, you know.
Associate: Can they, still.
Nittes: O shit, yeah. You never finish with them.
Associate: Well, we can do that when we are in Greece.
Associate: But I want to see these Greek cunts. I want to find out how much pull we got over there . . . because I’d love to get another parcel . . . ‘cause these Feds, mate, we could come undone [in] three years time.
Nittes: . . . you know why it’s so bad now . . . because they’ve got all these Feds in.
Associate: The only way we are going to survive is by being fuckin’ sneaky.
Nittes: Oh, fucking oath it is. Or getting out of the fucking thing. If we can survive this, one more lot, you know . . . If they ever grabbed me, not that I’m going to fucking answer them anyhow. But in court, say I’m in court, I’ll just say get fucked . . . I know where I can get in touch with fucking, he said, if you ever get in trouble with the police, he said, ring up Charlie Wootton.
Associate: Who said this?
Nittes: Fucking old Nick . . . He said ring up Charlie Wootton, me mate . . . and Charlie knows how to get straight onto him.
Wootton was named as a ‘Melbourne criminal’ in a Commonwealth-New South Wales Joint Task Force on Drug Trafficking tabled in the Federal and NSW Parliaments in 1983. He was stated to have been an associate of John Doyle, now deceased, nominated as the Hong Kong-based drug partner of ex-NSW policeman, Murray Stewart Riley, jailed in 1978 over a previous $40 million drug importation.
During a trip to Melbourne on 4 December 1984, Karp held a meeting with Nittes under police surveillance at Fawkner Park, South Yarra. After their meeting, they were observed leaving in different directions. Then Karp was observed re-entering the park, and this time met Wootton.
Associate: If we get pinched in New South, we’re pretty sweet . . . if we get pinched in Queensland, the key gets thrown away. But if we get pinched in New South we got a chance there.
Nittes: Got a chance, yeah, yeah, buy your way out, yeah.
Associate: What about if we got pinched here [meaning Victoria].
Nittes: You’ve got more of a chance here if you get pinched here, you have, haven’t you?
Associate: Oh, yeah, old — — —’s got a lot of pull here.
Nittes: Has he?
Associate: Mm, QCs and everything, lots of pull, old — — —’s got a lot of pull, mate.
The associate then complained that another associate had caused him hassles, telling his girlfriend that he was ‘rooting other sheilas’. He wanted nothing to do with him, and when he saw him he was going to punch him. He added: If someone does that, they’re not your friend . . . You know, I mean sex is alright and that but you, you’re mates are more important than that than, than your fuckin’ five minutes orgasm of whatever, you know.
Nittes: Fuck, the — — —. I was talking to — — — the other day . . . he said, I want to start an SP up, are you interested? I said fucking oath, I’ve got to do something to get some money . . . he’s in America now. When he comes back we’re going to do it, see . . . I’ll talk to them over there, because it’s not that big a money fucking this, you know. But I said I’ll do anything to get a fucking quid, because I’m getting a bit fucking desperate. He said now listen, mate, he said but we can’t tell no one where the place is . . . I said hang on . . . he said, look mate, I trust you . . . we have been through a lot together . . . I said, what are you, I said you don’t think I’m going to fucking knock you or something over a fucking . . . what are you talking about, he said, no he said, I fucking trust you, that’s what I’m letting you know, that I do trust you . . . so I said, yeah, alright . . .
Associate: Oh, look, you, you know just can’t operate without trust.
Nittes: I said listen fuckin’ — — —, I’ll tell you something now. I’ve done some bad things in me time, I said, but, hey, I says I realise too that you gotta be fuckin’ fair dinkum about some things. If you’re not, no cunt’s going to trust ya . . .
Associate: Mate, if you can’t trust you’re fucking mates, well, you give . . .
Nittes: Yeah, cut their throat.
Producing a pistol, Nittes asks: You’ve seen my joint, haven’t you . . . it’s loaded . . . it’s a 45.
Associate: Don’t point the cunt at me . . . Geez, it would splatter you wouldn’t it.
Nittes: Mm, oh, mate.
Associate: Big hole . . .
Nittes: Oh, fucking oath, yes, 45 . . .
Associate: I’d shake, mate, if I was pointing that at some cunt . . .
Nittes: You’re shaking . . .
Associate: I hate it, mate . . . I hate guns.
Nittes: . . . It’s better to have it than to get fucking killed, mate, yeah.
Talking about somebody suspected of talking too much in Queensland, the younger one mentions efforts to find the person believed responsible. He relays a conversation after receiving information from Cairns: I said we’ve been trying to hit him, I said, he’s fucking hard to get, if he’s looking over his fucking shoulder.
Nittes: Mm, mm.
Associate: They said, oh, are you going to kill him? Of course, he’s going to get fucking killed . . . what do you fucking think. I said any cunt that talks is going to get killed.
Nittes: That’s right, yeah.
A fateful get-together with the syndicate principals in Melbourne two weeks later was to set the scene for their eventual downfall — and later a seven-year jail term for Nittes.
from Connections 2 by Bob Bottom