After The Fall

Sydney Morning Herald

Friday August 11, 1995

FRANK ROBSON

"He was only found to be corrupt ..." Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, claiming the courts had been too harsh on former Queensland Police Commissioner Terry Lewis, imprisoned for 14 years.

On certain winds, the sound of Antonio Bellino crooning love songs carries from a local park to Phil Dickie's home in New Farm. Dickie is a journalist who helped bring about the Fitzgerald inquiry; Bellino is one of three Sicilian-born brothers whose business activities formed the original focus of the inquiry.

When the famous corruption rout ended in 1989, the feisty Antonio (who, like his brother Vincenzo, denied involvement in anything illegal and was never charged) released an album called Shame and Scandal in the Family. He also performs at Italian community functions in New Farm Park and says he has "applied [to host] a singing show" on SBS television. There's a pleasing symmetry to the notion of Antonio accidentally serenading Dickie, whose investigations of police-protected gambling and prostitution rackets in Fortitude Valley placed him among the Bellinos' least favourite people.

"Tony [Antonio] tells anyone who'll listen that I'm a paedophile," laughs Dickie. "It's a development of earlier scuttlebutt by a [crooked] policeman, who spread the [myth] that I was gay."

Since the inquiry, and Expo '88, Brisbane has become convinced of its own "sophistication", yet it remains happily parochial and politically conservative, the promised reforms of the Goss Government having, for the most part, failed to eventuate. The fact that Goss polled as the most popular politician in Australia - until his recent election pummelling - says something about Queensland's flair for giving an impression of change while managing to remain the same.

Six years after the Fitzgerald inquiry, Phil Dickie still lives in the same suburb, tending his garden and fussing over his chooks. A few blocks away, unflappable Jack "The Bagman" Herbert (the indemnified witness whose evidence against corrupt cops and crime figures gave the inquiry its major breakthrough) still occupies the same apartment block, taking his morning stroll in the park where Antonio Bellino is wont to sing.

Even nearby Fortitude Valley, which equates with Sydney's Kings Cross, has somehow reained the air of menace it possessed when Geraldo Bellino (the so-called kingpin of pre-Fitzgerald prostitution and gambling rackets) was based there. After the inquiry, the valley sought to shed its sleazy image with a pedestrian mall and outdoor cafes, but most Brisbanites - perhaps fearful of the ragged characters who still wander its revamped splendour - don't go near it.

At neighbouring Spring Hill, another character from Fitzgerald's extensive cast, Warren Armstrong, is likely to be propped outside his ersatz "brothel", The Players Inn. Once proprietor of something called Fantasy Playtimes, where crooked police partied free of charge with prostitutes dressed as cave girls and cheerleaders, Armstrong served nine months' jail for corruption. Since 1993, when the State Government introduced legislation that prohibits organised prostitution, but permits sex workers to operate one-to-a-premise, Armstrong has doggedly sought ways around the new law.

Over 18 months of public hearings, the Fitzgerald inquiry interviewed 339 witnesses whose evidence filled 21,504 pages of transcript. Of 250 people charged (including 30 police), 36 were accused of official corruption and 10 (including four police who admitted corruption) were granted indemnities. Most of the 139 found guilty were jailed, including National Party politicians Brian Austin, Leisha Harvey and the late Don Lane.

Only Terry Lewis remains in jail on charges stemming from the inquiry. Financier George Herscu - jailed for bribery and corruption related to his dealings with the late Russ Hinze - is on parole in Victoria.

Earlier inquiries into police/official corruption in Queensland failed, largely because they relied on police investigating police and telling the truth about what they found. Fitzgerald took a different tack, setting up a team dubbed The Untouchables (lawyers and hand-picked police, seconded for the duration of the inquiry) whose "homework" meant Fitzgerald invariably knew when police witnesses were lying, and could have them charged with perjury.

This, and the use of indemnities for the likes of Jack Herbert, saw the inquiry move from protected crime to corrupt police ... revealing what Lewis and others called The Joke: an established network of systematic corruption among top-ranking police, in league with organised crime.

Ultimately, the inquiry showed the cronyism and complacency of an entrenched government whose ministers and officials liaised profitably with members of a VIP netherworld. It showed how major contracts went to companies that fattened government slush funds, and how judicial and Public Service appointments were engineered via the same old boys' network that arranged official honours with scant regard for the quality of recipients.

What follows is an update on the inquiry's best-known figures.

THE ACCUSED

Terry Lewis: Without doubt, the inquiry's biggest loser. Convicted of corruption in '91 and jailed for 14 years, the tall, bug-eyed friend and confidant of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen lost his job as police commissioner, his status, his knighthood, his home and savings, and $1.4 million in publicly funded superannuation benefits. Lewis also faces an outstanding judgment for $936,426 in unpaid income tax.

Conversely, the man who boasted that "even small fish [bribes] are sweet" did pretty well out of corruption, receiving $580,000 (in payments from "protected" brothel keepers, SP bookies and casino operators) while commissioner. At first isolated in prison for his own protection, Lewis, 67, was recently moved to Palen Creek Correctional Centre, where he works on a farm and shares quarters with 80 other low security inmates.

At Lewis's trial, Jack Herbert's wife, Peggy, told of delivering parcels of bribe money (from Herbert) to Lewis's wife, Hazel, a claim Hazel denied. In May, Hazel Lewis broke silence to tell The Courier Mail she still loved her husband of 42 years, and believed in his honesty. She said crippling legal expenses had forced her to draw unemployment benefits, and the stigma of association had meant two of her sons had had to move to NSW to find work. "Pressures" since the inquiry had also affected her health, inducing "migraines, diabetes, loss of memory, shingles and stress incontinence".

Lewis has refused all media requests for interviews and is said to be planning a book. A well-placed source told Good Weekend that Lewis sees himself as "a huge scapegoat for others who escaped scot-free" and plans, when released, to "tip a bucket" on neglected aspects of corruption in Queensland. Bjelke-Petersen, who appointed Lewis commissioner in '76, noted recently that the severity of Lewis's sentence showed the law to be "the most weird animal that you can possibly get". Lewis is due for parole in August '98.

Jack Herbert: Dapper Jack was arrested in his native England after the inquiry began and later granted indemnity in return for giving evidence against other corrupt beneficiaries of The Joke. Herbert joined the Queensland Police Force in 1949, spent 15 years in the licensing branch, and retired in '74. In the '70s, while working with Sydney businessman Jack Rooklyn on in-line gambling machines, he began his bagman role, ultimately collecting millions of dollars in protection money from crime sources and distributing it to corrupt police.

As key witness at the inquiry and subsequent trials, Herbert, with his wife Peggy, was until recently protected at public expense by police attached to the Criminal Justice Commission (CJC). This infuriated friends and colleagues of officers convicted as a result of Herbert's evidence, and some reporters who seemed to inherit the fury by association.

"[Herbert] still lives in his swank ... $300,000 ... unit, free of the day-to-day cares which galvanise real Queenslanders," fumed Sunday Mail columnist Peter Cameron in a typical item. Media indignation mounted when the CJC refused to reveal the cost of the Herberts' protection, although it's hard to imagine what good that knowledge would do anyone now. Through all this, Herbert, 70, has remained affable and socially active, which hasn't lessened his critics' rancour.

Some time ago, at Jupiters Casino on the Gold Coast, Jack and Peggy drank pints of beer and sang Knees Up Mother Brown while Tommy Campion, a local photographer-cum-entertainer, played the spoons on their arms. When another photographer appeared and began snapping the Herberts with their two police minders, Peggy insisted they leave. More recently, Jack Herbert had to make a hasty exit from another Gold Coast bar when patrons recognised him and became abusive.

The Bellino Brothers, Hector Hapeta and Vittorio Conte: While under siege at the inquiry, Geraldo Bellino sent out Christmas cards with a message that could double as the family creed: "To all my friends I wish them well, and all the rest can go to hell."

Geraldo, 53, admitted to making $1 million a year from illegal casinos, but denied involvement in prostitution, drugs, or paying off corrupt police via his friend Jack Herbert. The Bellino boys emigrated to Brisbane from Sicily with their parents in 1951. Geraldo left school at 14 and became an adagio dancer at clubs; Antonio, 55, began work in a spaghetti factory at 13. From 1969 until the inquiry, Geraldo and Antonio owned or operated restaurants and nightclubs in Fortitude Valley. They also had clubs in Cairns, from where their brother, Vincenzo, 60, "The Marble Man", operated the family marble mine.

Fitzgerald's initial terms of reference were to examine what associations existed, if any, between police, prostitution, illegal gambling, drugs, political-party donations and five men: the Bellino brothers, Geraldo's business partner, Vittorio Conte, and Hector Hapeta, a New Zealand-born "vice king" alleged to have operated 26 Brisbane brothels during the '80s and to have paid police more than $1 million in bribes.

Hapeta was later jailed for heroin trafficking and corruption. His de facto wife, Anne Marie Tilley, also served time for bribery. Released this year, Hapeta is now back in jail charged with prostitution-related offences. Tilley, facing similar charges, is on bail.

Vittorio Conte, 40, admitted involvement in illegal gambling and was jailed for seven years. The author of a book called Vic Conte's Casino Buster, Conte, now free on parole, plans to open a used car lot in the outer suburbs. Geraldo Bellino, convicted of corruption in '91 and jailed for seven years, is currently on home detention, with parole due in August. Antonio and Vincenzo denied all allegations and were not charged. Both have issued defamation writs against media outlets, without success.

At the time of writing, Vincenzo was in Italy "negotiating marble deals"; the wise-cracking Antonio was outside his cafe, Mellino's, in Fortitude Valley, heckling such passers-by as Phil Dickie, or complaining about the conditions of Geraldo's home detention. "He can only leave the house for four hours a week!" he told Good Weekend. "After his [Sunday tennis engagement], there's no time left. It's pretty bloody crook, I reckon."

Graeme Parker, Harry Burgess, Allen Bulger, Noel Dwyer: Former police officers who admitted, or were convicted of, corruption. Detective-Senior Sergeant Burgess, now 51, was the first to capitulate before Fitzgerald - admitting to taking bribes and having free sex with prostitutes - in return for immunity from prosecution. He left the police in 1987 and now works in a Brisbane metal factory.

Parker, a former assistant police commissioner and licensing branch boss, corroborated corruption admissions made by Burgess. Parker confessed to taking $100,000 in bribes. Although granted indemnity, he was later charged with perjury (and acquitted) when it was alleged he broke indemnity conditions by not telling,-]m-TCX_ 4]9uth. Stripped of his Queen's Police Medal, Parker found the Lord during the inquiry. He lives with his wife, Dawn, behind her Brisbane craft shop, and travels Queensland selling Dawn's patchwork quilts.

A detective inspector until sacked in '88, Bulger was alleged to have taken $180,000 in bribes from Jack Herbert and fellow police. Even when his colleagues changed their stories to admit corruption, Bulger maintained his innocence. Jailed for 12 years in '90 and released on parole in early '94, he now drives a taxi.

Dwyer, a licensing branch inspector before his retirement in '82, admitted receiving $30,000 in bribes via the The Joke. Granted indemnity, Dwyer told Fitzgerald how Herbert once gave him an $800 bribe, saying, "Sorry it's not more - the Commissioner [Lewis] is like the shark, he takes the big bite." Now retired to the suburbs, Dwyer plays the trombone in a band called The Late Starters.

THE JUDICIARY

Tony Fitzgerald, QC: The fresh-faced former Federal Court judge left a private law practice in May '87 to conduct the inquiry at the request of Acting Premier Bill Gunn.

At that stage, it was thought the whole exercise would take about six weeks. Winding up the inquiry's public hearings 18 months later, an exhausted Fitzgerald was asked why the State's drug trade - often linked with the activities of corrupt police - hadn't received more attention. Fitzgerald agreed there was corruption associated with drug trafficking, saying the inquiry had "only scratched the surface of official misconduct and associated corruption", a decision having been made to shorten the inquiry in order to create "long-term structures and systems" to deal with such problems.

One "structure" that emerged was the Criminal Justice Commission. Significantly - despite claims from CJC and government sources that organised police corruption no longer exists in Queensland - nothing further has emerged about the possibility of corruption being involved in the State's thriving drug trade, giving some observers a distinct sense of deja vu.

The pressures of the inquiry had a telling effect on Fitzgerald, his wife Kate, and their three children. The extent of this didn't emerge until early '93, when the Fitzgeralds' only son, Edward, then 17, pleaded guilty in the Brisbane District Court to two charges of armed robbery. Edward and a friend, Enrique Del Arco, 22, admitted robbing two shops of $570 while armed with a replica pistol, "to pay a hotel bill".

Psychiatric and psychological reports, presented as defence evidence, referred to the once well-adjusted Fitzgerald family becoming psychologically dysfunctional through the prolonged stress and media attention of the inquiry, and the presence in the family's garage of armed police who guarded them around the clock.

Patsy Wolfe, Fitzgerald's inquiry deputy, told the court of "the real physical and other dangers to [Fitzgerald] ... and the horrendous burden [he] carried without complaint" for several years. By March '91, when Fitzgerald had completed a subsequent inquiry into the future of Fraser Island, reported clinical psychologist Michael Weston, "the unusual situation was reached where all members of the [Fitzgerald] family except [one] were in some form of therapy or counselling". The sum of evidence conveyed Fitzgerald as having come to regret accepting the corruption inquiry, and of a family devastated by the inquiry's effects.

Edward Fitzgerald was placed on probation and ordered to do community service; Del Arco, who had a criminal record, was jailed for two years. (When last seen publicly, Edward was part of a group attempting to win a radio station prize by dressing as the Village People and singing in the Fortitude Valley mall.)

Tony Fitzgerald, 53, was awarded the Order of Australia in '91 and is inaugural president of the Court of Appeal.

Gary Crooke: No-nonsense Brisbane barrister who, as counsel assisting the inquiry, worked with seconded police gathering evidence against corrupt cops and offering them indemnities in return for public confessions. Crooke returned to private practice after the inquiry, heading the Queensland and Australian bar associations before being appointed senior counsel assisting the current NSW Royal Commission into Police Corruption.

THE HEROES

Col Dillon, Nigel Powell: The large and genial Dillon is remembered for his impassioned plea early in the inquiry for honest cops to "stand up boldly, step forward and speak out" against corruption. Doing just that before Fitzgerald, then-Sergeant Dillon told of serving with the notorious licensing branch between '82 and '84, when he was ostracised by grafting colleagues for rejecting bribes. Since promoted to inspector and awarded the Australian Police Medal, Dillon works in the police professional standards unit.

Nigel Powell was a policeman in Britain before joining the Queensland force in '79. He resigned in '86 after his attempts to investigate the Hapeta-Tilley group were stymied by senior officers. Powell later contacted journalists Phil Dickie of The Courier Mail and Chris Masters (of the ABC's Four Corners program), providing invaluable assistance. He was also a witness at the inquiry. Powell now operates a coffee shop at the West End markets in Brisbane.

THE INSTIGATORS

Chris Masters, Phil Dickie: During Bjelke-Petersen's long reign, journalists who became aware of cronyism or corruption were rarely able to gather enough proof to protect themselves and their outlets from the threat of taxpayer-funded government writs.

Disclosures by Dickie and Masters brought that dark period to a close, forcing Acting Premier Bill Gunn to announce a public inquiry, an achievement for which the corruption-ridden government itself outrageously sought to take credit.

Of course, as most journalists know, the quibbling over who really brought on the inquiry didn't end there. Rumours of ill-will between Masters and Dickie - mainly over the fact that Dickie won a Walkley award for his pre-inquiry articles while Masters's Four Corners report, The Moonlight State, went critically unrecognised - are still discussed.

After the inquiry, Dickie spent several years as a researcher for the CJC, which he now refers to as "a useful repository for burying complaints", before quitting to work as a freelance journalist. Masters, still with Four Corners, has won several awards for post-inquiry stories, and is currently enmeshed in public response to his report on the inquiry into NSW police corruption.

Masters told Good Weekend he was "hurt" when Dickie was awarded the Walkley in '87. "I felt I was the victim of some injustice," he says. "The [absence of an award for his report] "doesn't speak well of our award system." Masters says he began researching the story before Dickie, and gave Dickie research material on the understanding that it wouldn't be published until The Moonlight State went to air.

Masters claims that other material provided by him ended up in Dickie's book, The Road To Fitzgerald (UQP), without attribution. "I'm responding honestly," he adds, "but I probably shouldn't; it'll just be put down to sour grapes."

In his book, Dickie refers to himself, Masters and their informant Nigel Powell as "the White Hand Gang"; the index shows that Masters's name appears on 22 pages. Dickie seemed amused when told of Masters's comments, saying, "He may think I got his Walkley, but it's not my roll to allocate credit or otherwise. I'm quite happy to leave that to historians."

© 1995 Sydney Morning Herald

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