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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

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Sergi, Antonio (Tony) (1935–2017)

by Tom Gilling

It didn’t seem like much — the theft of some blank birth certificates from Griffith Post Office by a “young kid” — but Tony Sergi was anxious to see the story buried. In the end it did not make the local newspaper — reports of children’s cases in closed court rarely did — but Sergi and his mate, “Aussie Bob” Trimbole, believed they had received a favour and wanted to show their gratitude.

“If you need a quid, come and see me,” Trimbole told the editor, “any amount, just tell me what you need”. There had to be more to those stolen birth certificate forms, and there was: they would supply Trimbole and his drug syndicate with a lifetime of false identities with which to cheat the law.

Antonio “Tony” Sergi, born in Plati, Calabria, on October 29, 1935, died this week on his 82nd birthday. Named by judge Philip Woodward with five other Griffith men as an “influential” member of the Italian-based organ­isation known as the “Honoured Society”, Sergi never faced justice for his most notorious crime: ordering the murder of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay. The Honoured Society, otherwise known as the Calabrian mafia, had made a fortune from growing and selling huge crops of marijuana, and wanted to make a lot more. Mackay, who had already tipped off the police about one crop, was a problem that had to be dealt with. At the end of his two-year royal commission into drug trafficking, Justice Woodward was satisfied that Mackay had been “disposed of by members of, or on behalf of” the society.

Mafia rollover Gianfranco Tizzoni, who had been selling $1.5 million worth of cannabis a year for Trimbole in Melbourne since the early 1970s, told police in May 1977 that Trimbole had asked him to organise Mackay’s murder because Mackay was getting in the way of the mafia’s drug operations. Tizzoni, now dead, told the police that Sergi was at the meeting and that it had been held at Sergi’s home. Tizzoni later withdrew the statement in fear for his life. In 1984, he was sentenced to eight years’ jail for conspiring to murder Mackay. Despite Woodward’s stated belief that Tony Sergi was one of the men behind the murder, he was never charged.

There was a reason why the law could never lay a finger on Tony Sergi: he had key members of the local police in his pocket. In February 1974, two constables found a large crop of marijuana at Tharbogang, just outside Griffith. The information was passed to the late detective sergeant Jack Ellis, who immediately passed the news to his friend Sergi. By then Sergi had given up on growing fruit and vegetables and turned his attention to wine — and marijuana. Sergi arrived with some friends, including Trimbole, who helpfully set about harvesting and “burning” the illegal crop. When asked what a group of Calabrian men were doing harvesting marijuana under the noses of police, Ellis replied, “They’re ashamed … They want to help get rid of it.” Many wondered how much of the crop ended up in the flames; some bags were said to have ended up in a ­policeman’s garage.

Less than three weeks later, a government fruit inspector, Patrick Keenan, stumbled on another large crop at Hanwood, a few kilometres south of Griffith. Among the people Keenan noticed in a shed packing dried marijuana into plastic bags was Sergi. Keenan drove to Griffith police station and told Ellis, who wasted no time tipping off Sergi. With Ellis in charge of the investigation, Sergi had little to fear.

Within a few days of Keenan informing the police about the crop and about his sighting of Sergi, the body of an itinerant man also named Patrick Keenan was found face down in an irrigation ditch near Griffith. Ellis led the investigation and found, to nobody’s great surprise, that the death was not suspicious. The case against Sergi went away.

Ellis and two other Griffith detectives were eventually found guilty of conspiring to pervert the course of justice over a period of several months in 1974. Another policeman and Sergi were discharged. Sergi walked out of court a free man.

Donald Mackay was assassinated in a Griffith hotel car park on July 15, 1977. Sergi had a perfect alibi: he was having dinner with local police. Mackay’s son Paul has spent the years since then fighting for justice for his father, whose body has never been found. In a letter he wrote in 2007 to then NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione, Paul Mackay named Tony Sergi and said that “the opinion of most Griffith residents is that these people literally can get away with murder and, to date, they effectively have”.

Sergi’s winery would go through several changes of name before it became Warburn Estate, the name it has today.

Two of its most popular lines are budget wines called “Gossips” (“The wine on everyone’s lips”) and “Rumours” (“A mix of truths and untruths that are happily shared”). By keeping himself out of prison, Tony Sergi had the last laugh.

Original publication

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Citation details

Tom Gilling, 'Sergi, Antonio (Tony) (1935–2017)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/sergi-antonio-tony-27847/text35598, accessed 28 November 2021.

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