On Monday we exclusively revealed how Warren ‘Wazza’ McDonald, one of the pivotal witnesses in the trial of Vincent O’Dempsey for the murders of Barbara, Leanne and Vicki McCulkin, and at the time in protective police custody, was signed to a lucrative exclusive contract to appear on the Sixty Minutes program and retell his ‘true’ crime tale of how one day while they were driving along on a dusty road outside Warwick 20 years ago O’Dempsey confessed his role in the crimes to him.
Now Wazza didn’t just wake up one morning after two decades of silence and decide clear his conscience by taking the stand and singing his song about O’Dempsey., He didn’t do it for the money either, at least not at first, but I’m sure that the $25 grand Sixty Minutes paid him will come in handy; and if some folk are asking questions about how he could be out with a TV crew filming the Sixty Minutes segment at almost the exact time that a prosecution witness was telling the jury that O’Dempsey was attempting to procure a shooter to knock him off, well all I can say is that there’s a hard-bitten cynic in every crowd isn’t there?
No folks, it wasn’t conscience or the dough or even a Saul on road to Damascus style epiphany that got Wazza crooning like a canary: the reason for his sudden change of heart about the virtues of exercising the right to silence was that he got swept up in a drug bust that also brought O’Dempsey and two others including the former town Mayor’s son and local MP’s nephew down.
Charged with producing and trafficking a sh*tload of dope, shipping containers full of it in fact, and owning the property on which the Mary Jane had been grown, Wazza all of a sudden found himself staring straight down the barrel of a serious stretch eating porridge, because under Queensland’s Drug Misuse Act blokes caught commercially producing and selling the quantities green leafy material that he had were liable to be sentenced to 25 years in the can.
There was a ray of hope for Wazza however, for although he been busted green-handed with a crop the coppers only charged him with historical offences dating back a decade a more, which was most curious given Detective Acting Superintendent Mick Dowie – the police officer in charge of the McCulkin cold case investigation rather than a member of the drug squad – was telling the press that the blokes caught, of which Wazza was one, were members of a syndicate that had been active for years, and that their arrest would have a significant effect on cannabis availability and criminal activity in the region.
A-D/S Dowie wasn’t talking about the flow of drugs and crime through the Darling Downs 15 or 20 years ago, he was talking about the then and now, and the combination of his presence on the scene, his statement to the press, and the odd charges laid against Wozza were a clear sign that a get of jail free card in return for testimony deal was on.
But how could Dowie have known at the time about the secret that Wazza would later claim he’d known for 20 years, for the bloke swore to the Supreme Court jury – and then proclaimed to the world on national TV – that prior to his arrest he’d never told a soul about the confession that O’Demspey allegedly made to him about murdering the McCulkin family?
It’s peculiar that’s for sure, almost as perplexing as the fact that three of the charges against Wazza – the 2 counts of production and that of owning the property on which the drug crop was grown – were dropped, so that by the time he reached court McDonald was facing just 2 historical counts of trafficking, one relating to the period 1996-98 the other to the years 2003-04.
What’s even stranger again is that at Wazza’s bail hearing Justice Debra Mullins was told by the Crown Prosecutor Amanda Robinson that every witness who provided a statement against the drug syndicate member had ‘articulated reservations’ about him, which is lawyer code for saying that they were shit-scared of Wazza and feared that he would extract retribution on they or their families as pay back for them giving evidence for the prosecution against him.
Yet when he soon after plead guilty and faced sentencing on the reduced charges – before O’Dempsey’s trial for the murder of the McCulkins, not after as Judge Mullins had so confidently predicted – the Crown Prosecutor in that matter, a Mr ‘There’s No Other Store Like’ David Jones, told the sentencing judge Justice Ian Dearden – coincidentally an old mate and close comrade of O’Dempsey’s long time lawyer Terry O’Gorman – that Wazza hadn’t been a principal offender and that his role was essentially limited to being the crop sitter for the syndicate who later simply helped with the harvest.
A minor player who merely tended the crop? The dope was being grown on Wazza’s own damn property for f*ck sake! A-D/S Dowie had told the press after his arrest that police had smashed a major syndicate, and that the drug supply on the street was now instantly going to dry up. How the hell could Wazza be just a minor player?
It got worse, because Wazza’s defence counsel Peter Callaghan SC, himself a former crown prosecutor, told Justice Dearden that Wazza had gone straight and got out of the dope growing game 11 years ago – coincidentally just after the date of harvest of the last crop he was charged with growing – and had established a ‘pattern of rehabilitation’ since. He’d even made donations to the local School of Arts the barrister proclaimed!
No one questioned Callaghan’s claim, but it couldn’t have been the School of Arts in Warwick because it closed in 1906.
No-one questioned Callaghan’s claim that his client was one of the very few defendant’s on serious criminal charges who had made such philanthropic gestures of largess either, which simply highlights the tragedy of the decline in the history curriculum in modern education because criminals from Al Capone through to Bernard Madoff have been renowned for their philanthropy, and funneling a slice of your ill-gotten gains into charity to create the impression that you are an upright and prominent citizen has been a trick of gangsters since the days Jesus played fullback for Jerusalem and Pontius Pilate was referee.
Of course no-one asked where Wazza got the cash from that he supposedly gave to the School of Arts either, and faced with this conspiracy of silence Judge Dearden did all that judges can do and adjudicated on the evidence before him, and thus Wazza – who should have copped at least a tenner inside if all were as normal – instead was dealt a three and half year stint that was suspended for four years, meaning that the high-end dope producer and trafficker walked free from the Supreme Court as free as a bird so that he could return later at O’Dempsey’s trial and sing like one.
This has been a long story I know, but bear with me just a little bit longer because this is where it gets really interesting, because in his sentencing remarks Judge Dearden said that while he “accepted McDonald had been in the ‘middle of the criminal enterprise hierarchy’ involved in the growing of the marijuana crops … he had pursued an honest career in employment in the 11 years since his involvement’.
So what was this ‘honest career in employment’ of Wazza’s sportsfans? Neither the Judge nor the lawyers from either side at the sentencing told you, but I will.
Immediately after he ‘retired’ from the grass-growing game Wazza ran a pub in Yangan, an establishment much favored by men dressed in leather jackets adorned with colorful patches and riding large American motor-cycles. Many say that the pub was actually owned by a local Alpaca farmer and horticulturalist named Vince, although in the absence of cold-hard evidence in my hands – you need it in defamation trials even if you don’t in the Supreme Court – I will go out on a limb and say that such talk is just gossip and scuttlebutt.
Wazza poured beers to travelling bikies and local bampots for about 6 years before he decided to change direction entirely and become a sandstone miner.
He formed an outfit named the Australian Sandstone Mining and Exploration Company with a bloke named John Doherty – who coincidentally later ran into financial trouble about a year before Wazza’s ‘former’ horticultural interests became of interest to the police and public – and together they ran a quarry in Yangan over which a mining lease had been granted about a decade before.
I’d bet you a carton of XXXX that you wouldn’t be able to guess the name of the fella who had been granted the mining lease, even if I give you these few clues:
The fella lives a long way east of Warwick
He first made his name in the entertainment industry way back in the 1960’s, as a dancer in fact, and enjoyed a mid-career resurgence in the 1980’s, although in quite a different branch of the entertainment industry
An honest police officer named Jim Slade once wrote a report revealing that this fella from an early age had a passion for gardening too
You didn’t have a clue whose lease it was that Wazza was honestly working up to and including the day of his arrest on the drug charges until you saw Slade’s report (above) did you? Don’t beat yourself up, it was a bloody difficult question and the answer was so far out of left field that only a fluke guess could have nailed it.
The mining lease was owned by Gerry Bellino.
Geraldo ‘Gerry’ bloody Bellino, the nightclub owner from Fortitude Valley.
I kid you not.
Isn’t it odd what the police and the lawyers don’t tell juries in murder trials about the backgrounds of star prosecution witnesses?
Funny old world isn’t it?