On the street street, in prison – even on the internet – the gang world is abuzz with word that the notorious Bandidos motorcycle club is setting up a chapter in South Auckland.
Sources have told the Sunday Star-Times that the man at the centre of it all is feared former Highway 61 member Kelly Raymond Robertson.
They say Robertson, 54, is openly wearing a Bandidos T-shirt and has quietly been going about trying to recruit members, from the used car yard he runs in Takanini, South Auckland. There was even a "patching session" at the yard recently.
It is understood senior Bandidos from Australia have visited to help Robertson establish the chapter, and the hierarchy plans to visit in the next few weeks to officially anoint him and deliver the club's charter.
Robertson is on parole for the 2003 killing of Highway 61 national president Kevin Weavers.
The Bandidos will be familiar to viewers of the TV show Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms, which dramatises the war in Australia between the Comancheros and Bandidos, which culminated in the "Milperra Massacre" in Sydney in 1984 (see sidebar).
The Bandidos also have an ongoing feud with the Rebels MC, which caused a blaze of publicity last year when it started a New Zealand chapter.
Police vowed to stamp out the Rebels before they gained a foothold and began peddling methamphetamine – but sources say that, despite arrests of members in nationwide police raids, the club are now firmly entrenched, having "patched over" the Tribesmen, as well as branches of other clubs.
"The Rebels in many respects have delivered a master class in patching over," says a source with friends and relatives in several gangs and clubs, who wishes to remain anonymous for his safety.
"Word is on the street they've patched the Samoan chapter of the [Mongrel] Mob in Hamilton, the Otara Crips and the Red Devils of Panmure. Apparently a huge part of their pull is the dollars on offer."
The source says the Bandidos want a piece of the action.
"They have arrived here to match the play of their rivals, the Rebels. When a club arrives, there are ripples all over the gang world because they have to find members, headquarters and it also means the spoils of meth have to be shared with another player."
Superintendent Ray Van Beynen, the deputy director of the organised and financial crime agency, says Robertson's efforts to establish the Bandidos fits the pattern of New Zealand motorcycle gangs that have declined in numbers associating themselves with Australian clubs to become more attractive to prospective members.
This also gives them more "mana" and "power" to commit crime, and access to motorcycles and money. He says motorcycle gangs are like businesses or franchises, and clubs "rebrand" when they see an opportunity to gain international links.
"We had some information some years ago that [the Bandidos] were looking at crossing the Tasman, and then that died. We know that Robertson is [now] pushing that particular barrow. The Highway 61 has shrunk right away, he's looking at picking up that [Bandido] brand and developing it for his own ends."
Van Beynen says it doesn't automatically follow that because the Bandidos and Rebels are at war in Australia, that will continue here.
"The groups here have worked quite hard at keeping the peace between them because it's bad for business not to have that happen. I think that will probably continue, however, where there's going to be a clash around territory or a particular product that's being supplied ... there's often that ignition or potential for a spark that will cause problems.
"That's something we have to keep a very close eye on. But indications are that the trouble that's occurring in Australia has not transferred across the Tasman and we're working very hard to make sure it doesn't."
Sources say the Bandidos will not have free rein to start operating in New Zealand: that the Hells Angels, in particular, will have something to say about it. One of the world's "big three" (the third is the Outlaws), the Angels control much of the methamphetamine scene. But they have their own problems – several senior members broke away to become Nomads after the Rebels' arrival last year shook up the scene.
Cam Stokes, a former gang liaison officer for the police who runs the gangscene website, no longer comments in the media, but on his website he says it is "just a matter of time" before the Bandidos set up in New Zealand and that it will be the Hells Angels they will clash with.
"Given the long history of ongoing conflict between these gangs throughout the world, violence will probably take place between the Hells Angels and the new group and their respective allies.
"The conflict would be resolved only when the new group folds or when the Hells Angels accept their presence. The scale of the violence will depend on the circumstances at the time. The Bandidos would be expecting strong opposition from the Hells Angels and they will have this mindset from the start, therefore firearms and other weapons will probably be involved. People may get seriously hurt ... time will tell."
IF ANYONE can establish the Bandidos in New Zealand, sources say, it is Robertson, a former heavyweight boxer and cancer survivor. A long-time Highway 61 member and former president of their Otahuhu chapter, Robertson is familiar with the inner machinations of motorcycle clubs, has a reputation for brokering deals between rival clubs and is seen as a hard man who can get the job done.
Robertson was released from prison in 2010, having served more than six years of a 10-year sentence for the manslaughter of Weavers, known as "Link", at the Highway 61 headquarters in Manurewa in 2003. Robertson stabbed Weavers in the thigh, severing his femoral artery, in what the Crown said was a retribution attack, but which Robertson said was self defence.
The Star-Times understands Robertson has made peace with what is left of the Highways' hierarchy – the club virtually fell apart in Auckland after Weavers' killing and the Highway 61 patch is hardly seen any more.
At the time of his trial in 2004, it was reported Robertson had withdrawn $100,000 from one of his bank accounts and police said there were rumours he had paid "penance" of money and cars for the killing.
Robertson is also understood to have reached out to the Hells Angels leadership, and is said to have been visited by an Angels delegation recently.
Robertson is not talking about his plans, at least to the media. A phone conversation with him went as you might expect.
SST: Is this Kelly Robertson?
KR: It depends who's calling.
SST: It's the Sunday Star-Times, doing a story on the Bandidos. Are you with them now?
KR: Is this a policeman?
SST: No I'm a journalist.
KR: Are you gonna put something in the paper? Are you gonna make money from it? Ring me when there's money involved.
He then hung up.
Robertson insists he has gone straight, telling Detective Inspector Mark Gutry, who locked him up for the Weavers killing, that he was "just a car salesman" when the pair ran into each other recently.
Gang researcher Jarrod Gilbert says he has heard the rumour that Robertson is trying to establish the Bandidos here, but doesn't know for a fact that it's happening.
"If, as rumour has it, it's a former Highway 61 member who's making these moves, the fact he's an ex-outlaw club member with some standing makes it a much more attractive prospect for the Bandidos. He knows the scene, he knows what's needed in a club – those are the things the Bandidos would potentially look on favourably."
Gilbert says there seems to have been a reinvigoration of the outlaw motorcycle club scene after years of decline. He is unsure if popular culture has played a part in that.
"You can't divorce the gang scene from popular culture. After [the film] Romper Stomper, it had an influence on the skinhead scene, there's a link between American hip-hop culture and LA-style street gangs. I don't think Sons of Anarchy would be having a significant influence, but I don't know."
Sources accuse the police of scaremongering when the Rebels arrived last year, with grave warnings of inter-gang warfare and increased drug manufacturing, saying that was overstated.
"All it was," one source says, "was a Burger King changing to a McDonald's [Tribesmen converting to Rebels]. It wasn't increasing the numbers. Overall, they would be pleased with their patching over, it was a successful effort."
But Van Beynen believes the close attention police paid to the Rebels on their arrival, including the arrest of up to 70 members and associates on around 170 charges, kept the club in check.
"They had the link with the Tribesmen and a number patched over. What's interesting is that some of these Tribesmen have now patched back again, so the numbers have been relatively static.
"Through good enforcement they haven't become as big a problem as initially we feared. That's not to say that things could not worsen at some stage."
Old-school gang members have been horrified at how quickly supposedly dyed-in-the-wool MCers and even members of the ethnic gangs have thrown away their patches and joined the Rebels at the first sight of dollar signs.
"These guys drop their patches faster and more often than a hooker drops her draws [sic]," a disgusted punter posted in an online discussion.
A member of the Mongrel Mob since the 70s told the Star-Times: "Now another rent-to-ride MC is coming, they'll cause a bidding war trying to patch over clubs. All the clubs will be putting up auction signs trying to get the best deal outta the Rebels and the Bandidos."
Whether Robertson's early efforts at establishing the Bandidos will be as successful as the Rebels is something that only time will tell.
BANDIDOS MC – YOUR PARENTS WARNED YOU
The Bandidos Motorcycle Club are one of the "big three" outlaw motorcycle clubs, the other two being the Hells Angels and Outlaws.
Formed in Texas in 1966, they now have an estimated 2400 members, with over 90 chapters in the US, 90 in Europe and another 17 in Australia and South-East Asia. Their motto is: "We are the people our parents warned us about."
In Australia, the Bandidos were formed by members who broke away from the Comanchero MC in the early 1980s. Many of their members are Muslim. The two clubs were involved in the infamous Milperra Massacre, which took place at a pub in Sydney in 1984.
Four Comancheros and two Bandidos died from gunshot wounds, while a 14-year-old bystander, Leanne Walters, also died after being hit in the face by a stray .357 bullet.
A further 28 people were wounded. More recently, the Bandidos have been feuding with the Rebels. Five Bandidos are accused of starting a blaze which destroyed the Rebels clubhouse at Albion, Brisbane, in 2007, while in Victoria, a Rebels member was convicted of the shooting murder of a Bandido in Geelong in 2008.
In January this year police on the Gold Coast warned of a war between the two clubs after a Rebels member broke the nose of the Bandidos sergeant-at-arms at a local strip club.
- Sunday Star Times