Mark Ahern, 31, has been arrested over the Tuesday morning attack on Kittens Strip Club in Melbourne.
Ahern, who is being described as an associate of the Comancheros motorcycle club, faced the Melbourne Magistrates' Court today on five counts, including criminal damage, endangering life, and handling stolen goods. He was also charged with possessing a prohibited weapon after police found a knuckleduster at his Berwick home.
Fresh blood at the scene and CCTV footage of Ahern near the Caulfield South strip club before the attack led police to him. His lawyer didn't seek bail today but told the court his client would need medical treatment for injuries he'd sustained in a bike accident over the weekend.
VICE has unconfirmed reports that Mark Ahern is the same man who was jailed for six months for the 2011 drive-by shooting of Mordialloc MP Lorraine Wreford, over an alleged $5,000 drug debt owed by Wreford's son. A pump-action rifle was used during the attack to fire eight bullets into the MP's home and car.
On Tuesday morning around 3 AM a suspicious explosion set Kittens ablaze, necessitating the evacuation of nearby residents. Police believe the attackers broke in through the strip club's roof and started the fire in the kitchen. A white BMW, seen speeding from the scene, was later found burned out and abandoned in Hallam.
It was the third time since November 2015 that Kittens clubs have been hit. The South Melbourne club was targeted with drive-by shootings in November last year, and again in January this year. Police suspect the strip club has been caught in the crossfire of an 18-month war between the Comancheros biker gang and security contractors.
VICE spoke with a club insider who confirmed a long-running feud between the Comancheros and Kittens' security company, owned by Clay Auimatagi. Comancheros boss Mick Murray, who now owns a gym in Hallam called Nitro Gym, once owned a security company called Nitro Security. Another Comancheros member, Robert Morando, also owns a security company called Ultimate Crowd Control Pty Ltd.
As the insider source told VICE, just after Auimatagi won the contract with Kittens in September last year he was injured in a drive-by shooting outside his gym in Narre Warren. A few weeks later, Morando was shot in Narre Warren.
Kittens has now contracted Guardia Australia to handle its club security, owned by former Hobsons Bay City Council mayor Michael Raffoul. The company is known to hire ex-military members for armed security, and also offers K-9 dog squad services.
Ahern will face court again on June 9.