Gangs in prison: Comancheros inmates special prison wing at Mt Eden

More than 30 members of the Comancheros gang, including their leader, are being held in their own wing of Mt Eden prison, the Herald on Sunday has learned.

Members of the Australian motorcycle gang, which is suspected of being a major force in Auckland’s criminal underworld, are being housed together in the “Charlie” unit of the remand facility, to keep them away from other prisoners.

Among them is Pasilika Naufahu, president of the Comancheros’ New Zealand arm, who is serving a 10-year sentence for money laundering and conspiracy to supply the class B drug pseudoephedrine.

The Department of Corrections did not answer specific questions about the management of the Comancheros prisoners, but authorities are concerned about the growing influence of gangs in New Zealand prisons.

A spokesperson for Corrections confirmed there were 33 members of the Comancheros held in Mt Eden at the end of June, including 28 on remand and five who had already been sentenced.

Naufahu’s older brother, Vetekina, who was found guilty in May of possessing ecstasy and money laundering, is also understood to be in the same unit.

Sentenced prisoners are normally moved on from remand facilities, which are for those yet to face trial.

A prison source said that at Mt Eden remand prison there were about 15 staff rostered to work in the Comancheros’ unit who are rotated frequently.

According to the source, Naufahu’s cell door is not even locked.

“There is a printed sign that is stuck on the inside of the cell door that says ‘a management plan’ which has a whole list of things they can or can’t have.”

The source said the Comancheros stood out among the prison’s inmates.

“The Comancheros are an exclusive club, they are very picky about who can join them [outside prison],” the employee said. “They wear flashy suits and drive nice cars. They don’t necessarily do all the dirty work but they have a lot more money [than other gangs].

“It’s quite scary because they hold a lot of power within the prison and there has been a lot of contraband, mainly iPhones, that have been found. Pasilika is friendly, well-spoken and you can have a decent conversation with him. You can tell he has a lot of control and power over the unit. Anything he says goes.”

The gang leader’s wife and family visit him once a week, the source said.

“His wife is polite and always well presented. She has lovely hair and wears nice designer clothes and wears Versace jewellery, that kind of thing.”

Naufahu appeared to be a model prisoner and was generally respectful to staff and kept his “boys” under control, the source said. “If he saw one of his boys going off or staring us down he would tell them to stop and de-escalate the situation and they would listen to him.

“But I also know the Comancheros have a lot of money and if they wanted to find you, they easily could.”

But the source said that staff questioned why Naufahu and some of his fellow members were still at Mt Eden after being sentenced, instead of being transferred to the maximum security facility at Paremoremo.

“It seems unfair the Comancheros are allowed to stay in remand prison because generally speaking prisoners are moved on to another prison once they’ve been sentenced, the source said. “Pasilika has been here for two years and our managers haven’t given us a reason why yet.”

Charlie is one of several units within Mt Eden. In January 2018, an inspection report gave a bleak assessment of the unit, concluding that cells were “unkempt and in poor condition”.

The cells lacked basic privacy and basic comforts, the report said. Prisoners improvised their own curtains, light shades and washing lines; some fashioned their own toilet lids so they didn’t have to eat and sleep next to open toilets. The shared yard was also in bad condition, with extensive graffiti and blocked toilets.

In a statement, the Corrections Department said: “Corrections has a comprehensive five-year gang strategy (2017-2021) and aim to: contain the negative influence of gang members in the custodial environment, disrupt the efforts and capabilities of gang members under our management to organise and commit crime from within prisons and in the community and to reduce the re-offending rates of gang members and the harm caused by gangs in prisons and the community.

“Our staff are highly experienced at managing prisoner accommodation placement. This is a complex task that requires responding to a dynamic range of issues including gang tension, on a daily basis,” the department said.

“Staff anticipate to resolve problems and are trained in de-escalation techniques, and interpersonal and tactical communication skills. The goal is toalways manage a potentially volatile situation in a manner that, minimises the likelihood of violent behaviour.”

According to the spokesperson, there are 57 members of the Comancheros across the prison system, including 32 on remand and 25 who have been sentenced.

Naufahu was arrested as part of a covert police investigation called Operation Nova that targeted the Comancheros motorcycle Club.

More than 80 police officers were involved in the raids, which led to about $4 million of assets being seized, including firearms and several luxury vehicles including a Rolls-Royce Wraith and gold-plated Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

Naufahu was the middle of six children, his family had moved to Australia, as a one-year-old child. His family struggled financially and he was bullied at school so he resorted to violence which his father approved of.

Naufahu, found the “brotherhood” missing in his life with the Comancheros. His defence lawyer, Ron Mansfield QC,has previously said Naufahu had been deported from Australia as a 501 and didn’t have a support network when he arrived.

He had difficulty obtaining a bank account, accommodation, and employment but was determined to provide a good life for his wife and four children.

“He is intelligent. He is capable. He is charismatic.”

Grace Millane killer 'incredibly manipulative'

Under normal circumstances, prisoners who have been sentenced for serious crimes would be moved on to another facility.

One high-profile criminal who was moved from remand at Mt Eden to Paremoremo was Jesse Kempson, who was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum of a non-parole period of 17 years for murdering British backpacker Grace Millane.

The source who spoke to the Herald on Sunday about the Comancheros recalled of Kempson’s time at Mt Eden: “Kempson was interesting and friendly but you could tell straight away he was incredibly manipulative.

“He would always try it on with the officers and ask for extra things.

“He would watch himself on the TV news smiling and laughing. He had no empathy whatsoever.”

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