Barbaro, Zirilli, Sergi sentenced for 2008 drug haul

READY TO SWOOP: Australian Federal Police officers gear up for dawn raids on a number of Griffith premises during the August 2008 bust.
READY TO SWOOP: Australian Federal Police officers gear up for dawn raids on a number of Griffith premises during the August 2008 bust.

MAFIA drug kingpin Pasquale Barbaro and his “right hand man” Saverio Zirilli could spend the rest of their lives behind bars after being sentenced for their roles in a massive ecstasy and cocaine haul in 2008.

The Tharbogang pair pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic a commercial quantity of MDMA, trafficking a commercial quantity of MDMA and attempting to possess a commercial quantity of cocaine in Melboune Supreme Court in January.

Their sentences – life with a minimum of 30 years for Barbaro and 26 years with a minimum of 18 for Zirrilli – were handed down in February but a media suppression order was in place until co-accused Pasquale Sergi, of North Grove, had his charges of intending to possess a commercial quantity of ecstasy heard.

A jury yesterday found Sergi guilty of that charge, with a sentence expected in July.

The sentences of drug importation masterminds Barbaro, 50, and Zirilli, 55, bring to an end a saga that has spanned almost four years and again smeared Griffith’s name on the national stage.

The charges relate to the seizure of 15 million ecstasy tablets, shipped from Italy to Melbourne ports in 2008 and secreted in tomato tins, and more than 100 kilograms of cocaine.

Barbaro, Zirilli, Sergi and local men Domenico Barbaro of Lake Wyangan and Giovanni Polimeni of Wyangan Avenue, were among 23 arrested nationwide in connection with the $600 million drug haul, which was at the time the largest ecstasy seizure in history.

In summing up, Judge Betty King described Pasquale Barbaro as being at the “top of the tree” of organised crime in Australia.

“You Barbaro, were at the apex of that criminality – the very top of the tree in this country,” Judge King said.

She excoriated Barbaro and Zirilli for their “massive greed” in pursuing the drug shipment.

“Neither of you are ... addicted to illegal substances or ... in desperate financial straits, such that required urgent injections of cash,” she said.

“The only explanation for your involvement is one of

massive greed.

“You were playing for extraordinarily high stakes – hundreds of millions of dollars. You were both successful farmers with significant landholding in the Griffith area.

“You had success, you had wealth, you had loving and loyal families. You were well-respected in the local area.

“You risked all those things to make obscene amounts of money at the expense of the community of which you were a member.”

The court heard Barbaro had become involved in the drug operation just weeks before the container arrived in Melbourne.

Barbaro was responsible for receiving the container and trafficking the ecstasy tablets “either personally or in combination with other parties”.

The container arrived in Melbourne aboard MV Monica on June 28, 2007, two days after Barbaro and Zirilli travelled from Griffith to Melbourne.

A subsequent Customs inspection found some of the 3034 tomato tins, in more than 600 boxes, contained gravel and others contained MDMA pills with an average 33.2 per cent purity level.

The court heard Barbaro and Zirilli were “bullish” about the success of the operation until a week after the shipment was due to arrive, when they suspected the container had been intercepted.

Barbaro became resigned to the fact he would have to cover the loss of the drugs with the European suppliers, amounting to six million Euros – or $10 million Australian.

Judge King found Barbaro and Zirilli had made trips to Italy and Germany in 2007 and 2008 to meet with the drug syndicate and discuss repayment of the debt.

Evidence tendered revealed that between January and August 2008, Barbaro and Zirilli received 1.2 million ecstasy tablets from the same European supplier but this time arriving from Sydney.

The pair trafficked the tablets and used the proceeds to pay back some of the debt accrued to the syndicate from the failed shipment.

The third charge the pair was convicted of related to the seizure of 99.9 kilograms of pure cocaine, hidden among bags of Columbian coffee beans and siezed in late July, 2008.

Judge King described the charges as “the highest level of offending of this nature”, saying the profit from selling the drugs would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“Once again Zirilli, you are Barbaro’s right hand man, and a trusted ally and colleague in this enterprise, but not at the level of Barbaro,” she said.

“I need to ensure the sentences imposed upon you are not crushing, and I have been urged to take into account your respective ages of 50 and 55 years. But ... you will not be young or middle aged men when released.

“In relation to Zirilli, I will not impose the maximum penalty for a number of reasons, including your plea of guilty, your lack of prior offending, your comparative lower position in the heirarchy of the organisation.”

She sentenced Barbaro to life on the conspiracy to traffic MDMA charge, 23 years for trafficking a commercial quantity of MDMA and 20 years for the cocaine charge.

Zirilli was sentenced to 20 years, 15 years and 13 years respectively on the charges.

Two more co-accused facing less serious charges – Domenico Barbaro and Polimeni – are still facing the Melbourne County Court.