Woman’s double life sparks scandal
Charismatic, charming and in control, a lawyer known by the pseudonym "Informer 3838" convinced some of Australia's most dangerous men to tell her everything.
She encouraged them to confide in her because she, and only she, could protect them.
Then she put her hand out and took more than $2.8 million from police to turn informer and spill almost six years' worth of secrets.
It was an unprecedented move that ended Victoria's deadliest decade and led to the convictions of hundreds of men.
But somewhere, the woman at the centre of it all is now "living in fear". She's enemy number one for a long list of criminals who've spent years behind bars because of her testimony but could soon be walking free.
In High Court findings released this week, it was revealed that police feared the risk of death to their prized informer was "almost certain" if information about her flipping on her clients was disclosed to them.
Yet that's exactly what happened. The Director of Public Prosecutions has notified in written letters at least 20 of the clients she turned on. Among them is high-profile drug runner Tony Mokbel, the Herald Sun reports.
There are, according to Andrew Rule, the author of the Underbelly books that inspired the TV series, "north of 600" more who could claim they were unfairly convicted because what police and Informer 3838 conspired to do was a fundamental breach of her obligations as counsel and a corruption of the courts.
"We have an interesting individual at the centre of this," Mr Rule told the ABC's 7.30 program on Monday night.
"This person has taken it on herself to play both sides against the middle. She's run with the hares and hunted with the hounds. That reflects on her personality as much as anything else."
He could not say how the relationship between the informer and Victoria's special taskforce Purana was established, but that information is likely to emerge at a royal commission into the matter, which was announced by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday.
But the author who spent years investigating Victoria's criminal underworld did say Informer 3838 was "well-known", had a "strong personality" and was "fairly charismatic".
"She was willing to betray some of them," he said. "She's a complex person who has done things that really have ended up destroying her career no matter what happens now. Her reputation is destroyed."
The gangland war started in Melbourne in 1998 with the murder of gangster Alphonse Gangitano and claimed the lives of hit man Carl Williams and Jason Moran, among others.
The pressure on police and politicians to end the carnage was immense. It will be alleged it was that pressure that led police to team up with their special informer.
But what they did was, according to the High Court, "reprehensible conduct in knowingly encouraging (Informer 3838) to do as she did".
The informer has reportedly refused witness protection despite the perceived threat to her life. She attended a public function as recently as September.
Informer 3838 is believed to have accepted some form of police protection, but High Court documents reveal she distrusts police.
"Thus far, (she) has declined (witness protection), taking the view that Victoria Police cannot be trusted to maintain confidentiality and apparently that she would prefer to wear the risk than subject herself and her children to the limitations and burdens that witness protection would surely entail."
High profile Melbourne lawyer David Galbally QC said this week he had never seen a case like it and that Informer 3838 would "no doubt … be living in fear as to the consequences of this being made public".
Among the clients Informer 3838 allegedly turned on are Rob Karam, a drug dealer sentenced to 37 years behind bars, and Calabrian mafia boss Pasquale Barbaro.
Tony Mokbel, who was jailed for 30 years, is perhaps the biggest of the lawyer-turned-informer's big name clients.
Chief Police Commissioner Graham Ashton defended police on Monday, saying the use of Informer 3838 was a necessary weapon in an escalating war on Melbourne's streets.
"Over the preceding 12 months, numerous people had been murdered, some in very public locations and high-profile criminals were vying for control of drug operations that were inflicting serious harm on the Victorian community. It was accordingly a desperate and dangerous time."
The story of Informer 3838 emerged this week after Victoria's highest court overturned years of suppression orders preventing publishing details of the story.
The scope of the upcoming royal commission is not yet clear, but the spotlight will certainly turn from the criminals to those who conspired to put them away.