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Woolworths, pokies king use bikie muscle

Published in 1%er News and All News

Supermarket giant Woolworths and billionaire businessman Bruce Mathieson employ a security firm controlled by the Comancheros motorcycle gang at several hotels and gaming venues owned by their joint venture, Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group.

Ultimate Crowd Control Pty Ltd is owned by Comancheros vice-president Robert Morando, 41, who was charged last week with attempting to pervert the course of justice after allegedly threatening to cut open an associate.

Illustration: Ron Tandberg

Illustration: Ron Tandberg.

Fairfax Media can reveal Mr Morando’s security business is employed at more than nine ALH venues across Melbourne, including the St Albans Hotel, Mitcham Hotel, Bayswater Hotel, the Sands Hotel in Carrum Downs and the Hallam Hotel, near the Comancheros headquarters.
Woolworths and pokies billionaire Bruce Mathieson.

Woolworths and pokies billionaire Bruce Mathieson.

A senior police source said the security business provided the ‘‘perfect front’’ for the gang’s organised crime activities, while its lucrative contracts with ALH Group, which is 75 per cent owned by Woolworths, appear to breach the company’s own probity guidelines.

 ALH Group spokesman David Curry on Monday night announced a review of the company’s security arrangements in response to questions from Fairfax Media.

‘‘ALH were unaware of the ownership change at Ultimate Crowd Control and we are reviewing our contracts and current arrangements,’’ said Mr Curry, who was also responding on behalf of Woolworths.

He would not say how many of the 90 Victorian hotels owned by ALH Group used the company.Ultimate Crowd Control is aligned with former security company Nitro Security Pty Ltd, which was owned by Comancheros president Michael Murray and placed into administration in 2010.

Security contracts for several ALH Group hotels appear to have been transferred from Nitro Security to Mr Morando’s company when it was established in 2010. A law enforcement source said Mr Murray was ‘‘definitely’’ involved in the latest venture.

Several venue managers also confirmed links between the two companies and were aware of involvement by Comancheros members.

Last Friday, Mr Murray, 36, of Lysterfield South, and Mr Morando, of Narre Warren South, were  refused bail after being charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice.

It is believed the Comancheros leaders allegedly threatened another man to ‘‘put his hand up” and take blame for explosives that were found during police raids in March 2013.

Mr Morando, a former champion body builder, was also charged with threatening to inflict serious injury and possessing steroids, while Mr Murray faces other charges of possessing six rifles, three handguns and steroids.

The charges were laid after raids by Echo Taskforce on properties in Hampton Park, Narre Warren, Boronia, Hallam, Dewhurst and Mr Murray’s gated property in Lysterfield South.

On Monday, Ultimate Crowd Control director Bob Sworowski did not respond to requests for comment.

The use of the Comancheros-backed security business by ALH Group appears to contravene Woolworths’ code of conduct, which urges all staff to operate ‘‘Between the Flags’’.

‘‘You are expected to demonstrate integrity, honesty and trust at all times – at work, when representing the company and outside working hours,’’ Woolworths’ code of conduct states.

ALH Group chief executive Bruce Mathieson jnr claims on the company website that: ‘‘We have a clear commitment to be Australia’s most responsible gaming operator – proudly going above and beyond what’s required by legislation.’’

In 2010, Victoria Police investigated a guard from Nitro Security over the alleged sexual assault of a woman in the toilets of the Berwick Inn, which is also owned by ALH Group. At the time, ALH Group chief operating officer Ross Blair-Holt said Nitro Security was no longer employed at the Berwick Inn, but would not confirm whether the Comancheros-backed company was used at other ALH venues.

Superintendent Pauline Kostiuk, of Victoria Police’s Licensing and Regulation Division, said applicants for security licences were required to comply with strict probity checks, including a national police check, and also have their fingerprints taken.

‘‘It’s no secret that Victoria Police has increased its focus on outlaw motorcycle gangs, particularly over the past 12 months. We know these groups are involved in organised crime and any business activities they undertake are always of interest to us, including where this intersects with the security industry,’’ Superintendent Kostiuk said.