Before he was murdered outside the home of an associate in November 2016, Pasquale Barbaro was one of the most controversial figures in Australia's underworld. According to crime journalist Keith Moore, "Barbaro was a member of the notorious and powerful Calabrian mafia"—and considered the biggest drug dealer in Sydney.
At the time of his death, Barbaro was known to be "mixing with bikies, Middle eastern gang heavies, and various drug dealers from differing nationalities." Another rumour was that Barbaro was running a similar business model to Boston gangster Whitey Bulger, and openly extorting key figures of the Sydney underworld while working with police in secrecy as a high-level informant for the Australian Crime Commission.
In any case, Barbaro ended up dead. To get more a sense of who he really was, and how he came undone, VICE met up with a guy we'll call "Robbie." Robbie recalls how they met one night at Barbaro's Kings Cross strip club, Dollhouse, and how that one night revealed a lot. We got him to tell the story.
VICE: Okay, let's start with how you guys met.
Robbie: So my boss awarded our firm a bunch of bonuses because we had almost doubled our target. So, naturally, we all decided to hit the Cross and party with strippers. Halfway through the night I saw four massive tattooed guys at the bar. I was trying to avoid eye contact and just order my drinks but the bartender interrupted, pointed to Pasquale and said, "He's paying." He must've seen how much we were spending and wanted to return the favour or something. Apparently he owned the place. I said thanks and, before I knew it, I was following him into a private room to snort lines off strippers. I was a bit anxious at the beginning, but the Dutch courage kicked in and I thought fuck it, YOLO. It escalated really quickly. I transformed from a slurring drunk to a paranoid tweaker in a heartbeat.
What was your first impression of Pasquale?
His ego. He certainly made you feel like he was running the show. He got in people's faces. He always stared me straight in the eyes every time we spoke. If he trusted you he was very open about what he was involved in. I never got the impression he was an informant, but I guess its not the kind of thing anyone in that world would share. He always made a point of aggressively detesting authority of any sort. He always dressed sharp, wore heaps of jewellery, and obsessed over his gangster persona. His iPhone screensaver was a picture of John Gotti. He told me he had the same watch as Rick Ross, except his was covered in VVS diamonds. I don't even know what VVS means but it sounded cool .
What were his friends like?
One of them kept calling me a squarehead, and asking why I was acting so paranoid. They kept laughing and asking whether I was a jack. They were all massive, tattooed, and looked like action figurines. It all seemed like a weird test, to see if they could intimidate me or something. They warmed up to me pretty quickly though. I think it was because they had this Wall Street idea of what I did for work; they probably thought I could magically turn their money into a fortune overnight by playing the stocks. They made a point of telling me when they dropped out, and how they "didn't do the school thing"—as if the earlier you dropped out and the more money you made certified your status in some kind of gangster hierarchy.
It was weird, nobody really felt love for each other. It all felt hyper-real, they were all expressing their love and loyalty in this amped up, MDMA kind of way. Pasquale was definitely the centre of attention. His mates just had their eyes on the coke and jewellery, but he couldn't tell what their intentions were or at least he didn't want to admit it. Pasquale kept reminding everyone that they could do whatever they want and have whatever they wanted, as long as they were with him. Everything was taken care of. There were no rules. We literally could do whatever we wanted and no one would blink an eye. I guess, in a room full of crims, what I thought was crazy or outlandish, was actually pretty ordinary.
Wolf of Wall Street vibes.
It felt like that on steroids. Everyone was in really expensive, flowery silk Versace shirts, diamond chains, and gold teeth. The party probably had more in common with a YMCMB rap video than Wolf of Wall Street. I used to always wonder whether criminals were overhyped or glamourised, whether they really party like that. They really fucking do, but its way more intense when you're actively participating.
I asked Pasquale why he was involved in this stuff—when he obviously had successful businesses and considerable wealth—but he just shrugged and ignored the question. An hour later, there were three girls escorting me out to the back room and he just looked over to me, laughed, pointed to the girls and said, "That's why." We were all too high to go home so we kicked on at Pasquale's house. That's where everything went pear shaped.
What was his place like?
It was huge and there was Versace shit everywhere. He had posters of classic Hollywood mafia characters and kept obsessively showing me his Instagram page. He kept comparing what we were doing with Dan Bilzerian's posts, and he was sending private messages to Ariana Grande saying he was going to take her out when she was in Melbourne. He had a massive round table that could fit about 20 people. We brought a few of the girls back and kept snorting. We must've gone through about half an ounce between four people, and we were still going strong. There was a salad bowl full of pills too, which everyone was chewing like they were Skittles.
Were you scared at all?
Not really, I was too high. It hadn't really settled in. And every time I thought I was sobering up we would have another three lines, each one the length of my hand. Seriously, they were so long I had to take a breath half way. I was just going with the flow. But everything started getting weird when the sun came up. I'd have moments of clarity when I'd look at the girls we were with and I could see, with HD clarity, all the work they'd done to their bodies and faces. They looked like blown up, plastic dolls. And the guys were just using them for their "assets." Basically treating them like blow-up dolls. There was no emotion involved, they didn't even really talk. But the girls loved being with these guys, in this weird objectified way, they were fighting for attention. Pasquale gave them nothing, he just walked around like the orchestrator of the procession. He was the king of the party and he knew it.
When I finally told him I was thinking of leaving, he was asking why and what I needed. He couldn't comprehend why anyone would want to leave the Dan Bilzerian-esque fiasco he had started. I don't know why, but in the middle of all that shit he looked really lonely. He was getting a lap dance, surrounded by burly dudes, but he wasn't present, he didn't care, he wasn't satisfied. Maybe he knew it wasn't real. He couldn't buy the one thing it seemed he didn't have, someone that genuinely cared about him, that he could talk to. And he couldn't work out why he couldn't buy something like that.
Did you ever see him again?
The next time I saw him was on the news, a really brutal picture of him bloody, facedown on the side of a concrete pavement. It was really graphic and gruesome. I remember my partner saying she couldn't believe they were showing it on the news. It was pretty shocking, as was the fact that I partied with these guys as if it was something fun. But the scary thing was that it's not just a show, its fucking real and people die. I realised that's what all that live fast, die young stuff amounts to. It seems like a glossy attractive lifestyle until someone bigger and badder crosses your path, and then the consequences are evidently really fucking scary.