Pasquale Barbaro: underworld scion or 'dog'?

Photo shows the funeral for Pasquale Barbaro, murdered Sydney gangster . 14th December 2016. Photo by Jason South Photo: Jason South
Photo shows the funeral for Pasquale Barbaro, murdered Sydney gangster . 14th December 2016. Photo by Jason South Photo: Jason South

Pasquale Timothy Barbaro was practically born to a life of crime.

He was part of the third generation of a family whose senior members have risen to lead the Calabrian 'Ndrangheta - or Honoured Society - one of the most powerful mafia groups in the country.

He was also virtually impossible to deal with. Even those who respected him say it.

"Pas was a c--t," an associate says. "Pas was always lording it over people - he was naturally arrogant and he'd make enemies simply for the sake of it because that's the way he was."

At just 35 years old, the flashy, combative gangster had a well-deserved reputation as one of the most recognisable, controversial, feared and hated figures in Sydney's underworld.

So when he was gunned down in the street outside the home of underworld identity George Alex, nobody - including Barbaro himself - could say they were surprised. He had, in fact, been preparing for the day.

What has erupted since the killing, though, may have surprised him. It's a battle over his reputation.

There is no suggestion Alex had anything to do with the death.

Barbaro was suspected of involvement in at least one murder, three murder plots, a kidnapping and numerous bashings and standovers.

All of that created a lot of enemies but also added to his notoriety in the criminal underworld.

What's really done the damage, what prompted his family to hold small, discreet services in Melbourne and Sydney, instead of the flashy send-offs reserved for other gangland players, was a rumour.

Almost as fast as word spread throughout the underworld that Barbaro had been killed, arose claims that he had become an informer.

It was said he had been co-operating with the NSW Crime Commission.

There is nothing more damaging in that world than being branded a "dog", an allegation that would tarnish his reputation in death.

But those who knew him - speaking on condition of anonymity - say the rumours are simply not true.

"Nobody had the guts to say that to Pas' face when he was alive. But they've got no problem saying it now that he's dead, when there are no consequences," a veteran Sydney underworld figure said.

Other high-level gangland figures have also expressed doubt that Barbaro had turned.

The allegation that someone is a "snitch" is often used as an effective form of character assassination between rivals.

One potential source of the rumour comes from a bail deal Barbaro told people he struck with law enforcement bodies in 2013.

This allegedly saw Barbaro turn over high-powered firearms in exchange for a recommendation that led to his being released from remand on $300,000 bail.

"They were his own guns and he never implicated anyone else but himself - so how does that make him a police informer?" an associate says.

The NSW Crime Commission has refused to confirm or deny whether such a deal was made.

Another potential source of the rumour was Barbaro's impending trial, due to start in February 2017, on drug-manufacturing charges.

He would have faced a lengthy prison term if he was convicted.

Fairfax Media understands that until Barbaro was killed, the case was set to proceed and he had received no special treatment.

The rumour was also fuelled by an estranged relative, who took to social media a day after his death to claim the allegations were true. The comment was quickly erased after he was "spoken to".

Whether the allegation is ultimately linked to his death is unknown. Four men have been charged with his murder, but the motive remains obscure.

Barbaro had annoyed many dangerous figures in Sydney's underworld.

He had feuded with bikies, Middle Eastern gangsters and other players over business opportunities, debts and real and perceived slights.

Sometimes he fought with someone simply because they crossed his path.

A confidential law enforcement report that attempted to analyse Barbaro's psyche rated the level of confidence he displayed as "high", noting his penchant for taking risks.

That assessment was made when Barbaro was still in his early 20s and his attitude only hardened from there.

Tattoos declaring "the world is mine" and celebrating "malavita" - Italian for "the bad life" - offered hints.

Barbaro had survived a previous attempt on his life in 2015, in which an assailant fired six bullets at him but missed.

But in his final weeks, it seemed he was expecting another attempt.

A mixture of bravado, self preservation and fatalism suggested he was preparing for his own death.

While he sought to prevent it, he continued taking risks with his life.

The man who had grown infamous for flaunting his luxurious lifestyle on social media shut down his Instagram account.

He began leaving his signature gold bling at home rather than risk it disappearing, should he be kidnapped or killed.

On bail for drug-manufacturing offences, he would risk being sent back to jail by switching addresses in order to stay ahead of enemies and police.

He even left instructions for his own funeral arrangements, including a guest list.

But despite all this, Barbaro still kept the routine of going to his gym and could regularly be found in the company of his family or (several) girlfriends.

He also couldn't resist owning a roster of flashy cars that easily marked him out.

Barbaro continued to drive them despite being constantly stopped by police searching for firearms under a new law to target gangsters.

Another thing Barbaro critically failed to do - at least on the night it ultimately mattered - was wear his bulletproof vest.

Barbaro might have anticipated a hit, but probably never expected it would take place where it did, outside the home of Alex, one of his closest friends.

Barbaro spent the evening of November 15 with Alex, a Sydney underworld identity, and his family, inside a fortified property with blanket CCTV coverage.

Sources claim Barbaro left the safety of the home after receiving a phone call from someone he knew.

Whether that is linked to what happened next is unknown, but minutes later Barbaro died in a hail of bullets on a footpath next to his car.

Alex wields enormous respect and influence in that world, so the decision to take out Barbaro only metres from his front door is bold, to say the least.

Regardless of why he was killed, Barbaro would ultimately lose his reputation as well as his life.

Gangland funerals are traditionally lavish affairs, as a who's who of the underworld come to pay last respects to a man buried in a gilded casket draped in floral tributes.

Barbaro's two memorial services in Sydney and Melbourne were small, low-key affairs.

"The funeral was private and the only people who were invited were special in Pasquale's life," his wife Melinda told Fairfax Media at the time. "I did not allow any unwanted guests to come to my husband's funeral."

But even where Barbaro would be buried became a subject of grumbling for some.

The plan was to inter him in the private wing of an exclusive mausoleum in Melbourne alongside others with family names that have become synonymous with organised crime.

Prominent Melbourne underworld figure Mario Condello was interred there after he was gunned down during the Underbelly War (1999-2006), one of the last to fall in the fighting between drug kingpin Carl Williams and the Moran family and Carlton Crew.

"I don't reckon Mario would like that very much," an underworld source said about the plan.

Yet Barbaro was ultimately laid to rest in the exclusive vault, a sign his supporters say shows the rumours about him are not true.

cvedelago@theage.com.au

This story Pasquale Barbaro: underworld scion or 'dog'? first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.