Around 3 AM Tuesday morning, a rubbish collector spotted a body on St Phillip Street, East Brunswick. The man was sprawled on the sidewalk, just behind the popular Lygon Street gelateria Gelobar. An ambulance was called but it was too late, the man had apparently died from a single gunshot wound.
While police are yet to confirm the man's identity, Gelobar staff have told reporters he was their boss, Pino "Joseph" Acquaro. Witnesses in the area heard a shot sometime after 12:40 AM Tuesday. "A witness has heard a car travelling down that street away from Lygon [Street] at a reasonably high speed," Victorian Police Detective Inspector Mick Hughes said. It is suspected Mr Acquaro, 55, was killed as he walked from the shop to his black Mercedes in a professional drive-by hit.
Reports emerged Tuesday that police had previously told Acquaro his life was in danger, with a suspected $200,000 hit out on him. Acquaro had formerly been a well-connected lawyer for Melbourne's Calabrian mafia, before he allegedly cut ties with them last year over a falling out.
According to investigative journalist Nick McKenzie, Acquaro was a close associate of Antonio Madafferi, also known as "Blondie," the alleged head of Melbourne's Calabrian Honoured Society, i.e. the mafia.
In December 2015, Madafferi lost a lengthy legal battle to gain access to McKenzie's sources, who he claimed defamed him. However, the court found "it was reasonable for police to suspect accused Melbourne Mafia boss Antonio Madafferi had put out a $200,000 hit on a man he believed was providing information to The Age."
McKenzie claimed Madafferi and Acquaro often attended political fundraisers together, including a 2013 Liberal Party fundraiser held at a $4 million Docklands venue owned by Madafferi, which was attended by Federal Liberal MP Russell Broadbent, and Victorian Opposition leader Matthew Guy, who was then planning minister for the state Liberal government.
Acquaro served as Madafferi's lawyer as far back as 2000, when he fought against the deportation of Madafferi's brother Francesco over alleged mafia links. In November 2005, Liberal immigration minister Amanda Vanstone allowed Francesco to remain in the country and granted him a visa "on humanitarian grounds." Acquaro denied at the time that the Antonio's donations to the Liberal Party—$15,000 in 2004 and a further $7500 in June 2006—had anything to do Vanstone's decision.
In 2008, Francesco was arrestedfor his alleged attempt to smuggle 15 million ecstasy pills into Australia in tomato tins. It was the largest ecstasy bust in the world. However, he was released and two other men were charged: Pasquale Barbaro and Saverio Zirilli, who was represented by Acquaro's law firm.
Acquaro—who was previously the head of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Reggio Calabria Club in Brunswick—took over Gelobar in 2011, when the previous owner Salvatore Scullino died. In January 2016, fire crews had extinguish a blaze at the popular gelati bar they later deemed suspicious. Police on the scene at Tuesday's shooting were adamant the two were not linked.
Before his death, Acquaro was representing Melbourne underworld figure Rocco Arico, who was remanded after police found a gun, ammunition, and GHB locked away in a Vespa during a March 2015 raid on his Docklands apartment. Arico hired Acquaro to fight his potential deportation over charges of extortion, violence, and drug offences.
The Australian Crime Commission named Arico as one of Victoria's top ten organised crime figures, and is also suspected of having a hand in the Carl Williams murder.
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