THEY were the untouchables, an elite band of Australian Federal Police, some of whom insiders say were no better than “gangsters with police badges”. Their headquarters were Redfern’s landmark TNT twin towers, where extramarital conquests and drunken “happy hour” parties were common. It was the 1980s and, as one former officer of the 35-strong AFP Sydney drug investigation unit recalls, it was like “living inside a grubby episode of Miami Vice
“.Memories of the heady days of the twin tower crew have been revived because of the charges laid against one of the squad’s alumni, senior NSW Crime Commission investigator Mark Standen
.Following his arrest on drug charges this month, insiders have told The Sun-Herald
some members of the unit were compromised and beyond control.
Michael Anthony Wallace – convicted of stealing $20 million worth of seized heroin in 1990 and then of murdering girlfriend Zoe Zou and dumping her body in the Blue Mountains in 2006 – was one.
Another was Allan Gregory McLean, sentenced to 16 years’ jail for helping import millions in heroin from India hidden inside a consignment of soccer balls in 1988.
Others were named at the NSW Wood Royal Commission over filching $200,000 from a Sydney cocaine dealer in 1983.
But with authorities infatuated with rogue NSW cop Roger Rogerson, some of the officers went bad and started trafficking drugs, taking bribes and ripping off crooks.
Ensconced on the lower floors of the TNT block, the unit was run for a time by chief inspector Cliff Foster, who committed suicide after a battle with depression in 2001.
It can now be revealed he had been under investigation for supplying heroin and was linked to an organised crime syndicate shipping huge amounts of hashish into Australia from New Zealand.
In the days after charges were laid against Standen, AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty was forced to deny claims that he and Standen worked side by side at Redfern and were once daily jogging partners.
Standen, who left the AFP to join the Crime Commission in 1996, is now accused of trying to smuggle in by sea enough pseudoephedrine to make $120 million worth of ice. He is due to face court again on August 6.
Mr Keelty said he and Standen had only ever been stationed together at the AFP‘s Sydney city headquarters in Goulburn Street.
They “might have been involved in some of the same operations” but were not close.
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also said he was unaware Standen
had admitted to the 1982 Stewart Royal Commission
that he once flushed 18 foils of cannabis down a toilet instead of declaring it as evidence. Former NSW detective turned University of Western Sydney academic Michael Kennedy
said another member of the unit was allowed to take up a government job after admitting to stealing a kilogram of seized heroin displayed at a media conference. Another detective resigned after being confronted with allegations he was using and dealing cocaine. He eventually went to work for standover man Tim Bristow
, who died in 2003.One-time head of AFP internal affairs Ray Cooper
says security at the TNT offices was a disgrace.”Operational details were being leaked to the crims,” Mr Cooper
said. “As a result, I warned the hierarchy that we needed to keep an eye out.”
Mr Cooper said his investigation into the Foster allegations was taken from him and deliberately derailed to avoid a public scandal.
He was denied permission to use phone taps and several witnesses against Foster were kidnapped and threatened by other corrupt federal detectives.
Wayne Sievers, who worked at the Redfern towers between 1983 and 1988, likened the experience to “living inside a grubby episode of Miami Vice”.
“You were looking at a group, some of whom were simply cowboys with huge egos, who were allowed to drive around town in fast cars with guns, doing whatever they wanted.”
Mr Sievers said the same day he reported being offered payola by a more senior officer he was transferred to non-operational duties.
Following a raft of AFP corruption claims at the Wood Royal Commission, a federal inquiry chaired by Sydney barrister Ian Harrison was set up in 1996-97.
Mr Cooper gave evidence but has since criticised the proceedings.
No public hearings were held and all findings were classified. Dr Kennedy and Mr Sievers also testified but believe little was achieved.
All three have called for the inquiry report to be opened.
Last week, NSW Supreme Court judge Harrison said it would be inappropriate for him to comment.