Ridiculously dodgy lawyer?

“He’s just dodgy. He’s just ridiculously dodgy,” personal trainer Sean Carolan was heard saying of his criminal lawyer Michael Croke on an expletive-laden phone tap.

A jury appears to have concurred with this assessment, as recently the Kings Cross lawyer was found guilty of all six counts including perverting the course of justice, aiding a criminal group and attempting to gain a financial advantage. For the past two months the jury has been taken on a rollicking ride through Sydney’s underbelly via phone calls in what Judge Helen Syme described as a “cast of villains” worthy of a Martin Scorsese film. The tale commenced on the evening of August 11, 2011, when police were alerted that the occupant of room 3206 at the upmarket Hilton Hotel had a gun. Carolan did not have a gun, but he was wheeling an overnight bag containing $702,000 in cash.

Earlier that day a professional gambler and hired money launderer, Robert Cipriani, also known as Robin Hood 702 (the Las Vegas postcode) had blown $2.5 million in cash he was meant to be laundering at the Star Casino for international drug trafficker Owen Hanson. Nicknamed “O-Dog”, Hanson is serving a 21-year jail term in California for drug trafficking, racketeering and money laundering.

Hanson, a former US Olympic volleyball player, had imported 100 kilograms of cocaine into Australia and was laundering the proceeds by having Cipriani convert the cash into gambling chips, play black jack, then have the remaining chips converted into a cheque that would be redeemed at a Las Vegas casino. Cipriani, whose business class airfares to Sydney had been paid for by Hanson, had already received a handsome payment for previously laundering $1.5 million for Hanson.

However on this day, Cipriani blew the lot. CCTV footage showed Hanson and Cipriani in a heated confrontation at the casino. After promising to hand over his passport, Cipriani promptly caught a taxi to the airport and bolted. But not before making the call about the gun that was to bring them all undone. That night Carolan provided to the police the bare bones of the story, saying that he hadn’t looked inside the bag but that Hanson had blown a lot of money at the casino and he had asked Carolan to mind the rest for him so he wouldn’t lose more.

The following day, organised crime figure Craig Haeusler made a dramatic entry into the cast of characters via convicted fraudster Brad Cooper, who’d been out of jail for only a year after serving five years for bribing a former HIH executive and making false statements. Cooper knew just the person Hanson needed: Haeusler, a major organised crime figure who has business links to bikie bosses and other underworld identities. Haeusler arranged for Croke to represent the criminal group in their ill-fated attempt to convince the police that Hanson’s seized money was legitimate. Croke was less than complimentary about his client Carolan telling Haeusler: “He’s a shitbag, I don’t know how you f–kin’ find these c—s, I’m tellin’ ya.”

The jury didn’t hear that one of Croke’s previous clients was Haeusler himself. Haeusler was released in April 2003 after serving a four-and-half-year sentence for the manufacture and supply of a huge amount of methylamphetamine or ice. On the phone taps the jury heard Haeusler discussing his previous charges for violence. Law enforcement authorities were investigating Haeusler for something else when they began tapping his phone in mid December 2011.

By Kate McClymont, The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 April 2020