Perth Mint Swindle

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Perth Mint

The Perth Mint Swindle is the popular name for the robbery of 49 gold bars weighing 68 kg from the Perth Mint in Western Australia on 22 June 1982. The bullion was valued at A$653,000 at that time (2011:$2.02 million).

According to police at the time, three brothers, Ray, Peter and Brian Mickelberg, orchestrated the robbery. The three went to trial and were found guilty of the conspiracy and sentenced in 1983 to twenty, sixteen and twelve years in jail respectively.

All three convictions were overturned in 2004. To date the case remains unsolved and continues to be fought by the Mickelbergs who maintain their innocence and allege a conspiracy by the Western Australia Police to frame them.

The Mickelberg brothers[edit]

Soon after the robbery police investigations focused on the Mickelberg brothers. According to the police, the brothers stole cheques from a Perth building society and then fooled the mint into accepting those cheques in exchange for gold bullion which, it was alleged, the brothers had a courier pick up.[1] The gold was picked up by a security company who delivered it to an office in Perth and then to Jandakot Airport, from where it seemingly disappeared.

In a separate matter, in September 1982 the three brothers, their parents and another man Brian Pozzi were charged over a matter relating to a manufactured gold nugget known as the "Yellow Rose of Texas".[2] Perth Businessman Alan Bond had purchased the nugget for $350,000 in November 1980. It was later found to be worth less than $150,000 and Raymond Mickelberg and Brian Pozzi pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to fraud at their June 1984 trial.

After serving nine months of his jail term and having his conviction overturned on appeal, Brian was released from jail but died in a light aircraft crash on 27 February 1986 when the twin-engine plane he was flying ran out of fuel near Canning Dam on the outskirts of Perth.[3] Whilst in prison, Ray and Peter embarked on a series of seven appeals against their convictions, essentially on the grounds that their confessions had been fabricated by police investigators. Ray and Peter served eight and six years of their sentences respectively before being released on parole.

In a bizarre twist, in 1989, 55 kg of gold pellets, said to have been from the swindle, were found outside the gates of TVW-7 (currently Channel Seven Perth), a Perth television station, with an anonymous note addressed to one of the station's reporters—Alison Fan—protesting the Mickelberg's innocence and claiming that a prominent Perth businessman was behind the swindle.[4]

The senior investigating officer in the case was Detective Sergeant Don Hancock who was later promoted to head of the State Criminal Investigation Bureau (CIB). In September 2001, Hancock died when a bomb which had been planted under his car exploded outside his home in Lathlain, killing him and a friend Lou Lewis. Hancock was murdered by Gypsy Joker Sid Reid in revenge for the murder of Billy Grierson, allegedly by Hancock after Grierson made obscene comments in front of his daughter. The West Australian coroner stated; There is a significant body of evidence which suggests Mr Hancock may have been the shooter, but he was unable to determine who Grierson's killer was because Hancock had been murdered, police had failed to conduct routine forensic science tests and had failed to search Hancock's home. Reid was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in jail.[5][6]

In 2002, midway through a State Royal Commission into police corruption, a retired police officer who had been at the centre of the case, Tony Lewandowski, made a confession of his involvement in fabricating evidence which was used to help frame the brothers. Lewandowski's senior officer during the investigation was Don Hancock, who with Lewandowski, were the only persons present at the brothers' interviews following the Mickelberg arrests.[7]

"(On that day), Don Hancock came into the room and told me to make Peter strip naked. Don then went up to Peter and gave him two or three quick punches in the solar plexus. The statements purportedly taken from Peter Mickelberg on July 26, 1982, were in fact not taken in Peter's presence that day, but were a fabrication made by Don Hancock and myself shortly after September 2, 1982. I gave evidence at the trial and numerous appeals. All that evidence in relation to the so-called confessions was false." —Statement of Tony Lewandowski

Lewandowski was subsequently charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice, making false statements, fabricating evidence and perjury.[7] In May 2004, just before facing trial Lewandowski apparently committed suicide[8] though there has been some speculation as to whether or not this may have been staged to cover his (possible) murder. Although now deceased, through Lewandowski's confession, Hancock was directly implicated in fabricating evidence in the Mickelberg case.[9]

In July 2004 the Western Australian Court of Criminal Appeal quashed the brothers' convictions after seven unsuccessful attempts. The judge ruled that with the suppression of their sentence, they were entitled to a presumption of innocence. The Assistant Police Commissioner, Mel Hay, expressed disappointment with the decision which prompted a threat of a defamation lawsuit from the brothers. The brothers subsequently sued the Western Australian government for libel, and as part of the settlement, the West Australian police issued a public apology in December 2007.[10]

After lodging claims for compensation, in January 2008 State Attorney-General Jim McGinty offered $500,000 in ex-gratia payments to each brother for the "injustice done to them".[11] The payment followed $658,672 paid to cover legal costs of their two appeals. The Mickelbergs' lawyer had asked for $950,000 in compensation for Ray and $750,000 for Peter.[12]

Books about the case[edit]

Author Avon Lovell wrote a book about the case in 1985: The Mickelberg Stitch, which alleged questionable investigation practices by the police, including production of unsigned confessions and a forged fingerprint.[13] The police union collected a levy of $1 per week from each member to fund legal action against Lovell and his publishers and distributors to suppress publication of the book.[citation needed] It was estimated that between one and two million dollars was raised. The book was banned by the State Government, but was still freely available to be read at the J S Battye Library. The ban was eventually lifted.

A second book by Lovell, Split Image, was published in 1990 and met a similar fate to the first. This ban was also lifted later.

In March 2011, Lovell launched a third book on the case, Litany of Lies.

In popular culture[edit]

Two telemovies based on the swindle have been made.

One actor, Caroline McKenzie, appeared in both features, playing Detective Ljiljana Cvijic in the 1984 version and Peg Mickelberg in 2012.[18]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "MICKELBERG v. THE QUEEN [1989] HCA 35, opinion of Deane, J., Para 33". High Court of Australia Appeal. Retrieved 2015-02-09. 
  2. ^ "Mickelbergs sue policeman". ABC 7:30 Report. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  3. ^ "Mickelberg Dies". Sydney Morning Herald. 28 February 1986. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  4. ^ Liza Kappelle (11 June 2002). "Mint robbers were framed". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 5 May 2010. 
  5. ^ "Gypsy Joker sniper shooting mystery". Sydney Morning Herald. 21 April 2006. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  6. ^ Marks, Kathy (30 October 2013). "Biker gang chief cleared in police murder case". The Independent. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  7. ^ a b "Mint swindle officer seized". Sydney Morning Herald. 3 October 2002. Retrieved 2005-09-07. 
  8. ^ "Mickelberg brothers find unlikely ally". ABC 7:30 Report. 2008-01-18. 
  9. ^ "Don Hancock and the Perth Mint Swindle". MelbourneCrime. Archived from the original on 2005-09-03. Retrieved 2005-09-07. 
  10. ^ "Police apologise to Mickelberg brothers". www.ninemsn.com.au. 15 December.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ "Mickelberg payment satisfies neither brothers nor police". thewest.com.au. 16 January 2008. Retrieved 2009-02-17. [dead link]
  12. ^ ABC News online Micklebergs cleared over Perth Mint swindle
  13. ^ "This time, the stitch is by Lovell". Post Newspapers. Retrieved 2005-09-07. [dead link]
  14. ^ IMDb, 2012, The Great Gold Swindle (1984) TV. (30 March 2012)
  15. ^ IMDb, 2012, The Great Gold Swindle (1984) TV – Release Dates. (30 March 2012)
  16. ^ "Going for gold with Perth crime saga The Great Mint Swindle". The Australian. 3 March 2012. 
  17. ^ http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/entertainment/a/-/entertainment/13123839/the-great-mint-swindle/
  18. ^ IMDb, 2012, Caroline McKenzie (I) (30 March 2012)

Further reading[edit]

  • Lovell, Avon Francis (1985). The Mickelberg Stitch. Creative Research, Perth. ISBN 0-908469-23-3. 
  • Buti, Antonio (2011). Brothers: Justice, Corruption and the Mickelbergs. Fremantle Press. ISBN 978-1-921888-47-2. 
  • Lovell, Avon Francis (1990). Split image: international mystery of the Mickelberg affair. Creative Research, Perth. ISBN 978-0-908469-24-6.