Police say a Nomads bikie associate tried to profit from the bushfire relief effort by allegedly convincing a charity his home burned down, while genuine victims are still living in temporary accommodation.
Another man and associate from the same fire ravaged region on the south coast allegedly attempted to make a claim through the Australian Red Cross but was knocked back before the money was paid.
The disturbing allegations were unearthed as NSW Police secretly investigated a bikie turf war around Batemans Bay that pitted the Nomads club against the Rebels bikie club.
Nomads outlaw motorcycle club associate James O’Keefe, also known as James Wallace, 33, was arrested on Tuesday, accused of involvement in two drive by shootings, drugs and fraud. It will be alleged he submitted two separate applications to the Australian Red Cross, claiming his property in Long Beach, had been destroyed by fire. Police will allege that O’Keefe, a father-of-one, lived more than four kilometres from the nearest fire front and his home, a flat, had not been touched.
Both applications were approved and O’Keefe allegedly received $20,000 in funding from the charity.
It will be alleged in court at least some of the money, which should have gone to genuine victims of the bushfire crisis, was spent trying to purchase large quantities of prohibited drugs.
“We have not only had bushfires, we have had the greatest natural disaster to affect this country in recent memory,” Criminal Groups Squad Detective Superintendent Rob Critchlow said.
“We still have residents in this area living in caravans and tents from what’s happened to them in the fires … this funding was meant to assist these people who are suffering. We have these people allegedly preying on the goodwill of these agencies.”
Police had some indication where the money had gone, Det Supt Critchlow said, and would look at criminal asset forfeitures in an attempt to help the Red Cross, which raised $150 million for the bushfire relief, recoup the funds.
Another man, Matthew McGann, 26, was arrested yesterday over allegations he too claimed his home had been burned down when it had not.
O’Keefe was last night charged with more than a dozen charges, including firearm, fraud, affray and drug supply offences. Det Supt Critchlow hinted at more arrests and said there had been “other members associated with this group attempting to make these claims”.
“We know the charitable group was very keen to get money into the community to support business and individuals and they have been duped by these criminal groups,” he said. “It is quite disgusting.”
More than 500 homes were razed and eight people died when fires ripped through the south coast region in late December and early January. The fraud allegations are a blow to the Red Cross, which has 60 staff distributing grants of up to $20,000, to people whose homes were destroyed in the fires or hospitalised.
While the charity had tried to strike a balance between getting funding out quickly and protecting itself against bogus claims, “several dozen claims have been suspicious”. “We have already referred a number of cases to the police and we’re liaising with police on those alleged cases,” director of Australian services Noel Clement said.
“We’ve had cases where people have told us their homes have been destroyed, yet on direct inspection that has not been the case. In one community alone we had applications for 15 homes that we were told had been destroyed, none appeared on official damage assessments so we directly inspected the sites and discovered that none had been impacted by the fires.”
The Criminal Groups Squad has been investigating a “rampage of violence” between the warring bikie clans in December, a few weeks before bushfires surrounded the coastal towns. There were two drive by shootings on December 1 and 2 and the pistol whipping of a man, who police believe was a genuine victim, in the middle of the street.
The head of the Nomads south coast chapter, Matthew Trick, was also arrested yesterday and was expected to be charged with firearm offences last night. Several search warrants were rolled out and one 20-year-old woman even landed herself in custody for grabbing a Strike Force Raptor officers testicles. Trick, McGann, Wallace and a fourth man, Tyron Hood, 26, are expected to appear in court on Wednesday.
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Source: The West Australian