Mark Griffiths, a senior member of the Waikato Mongrel Mob, during an interview with the Herald on Sunday in 2019. Photo / NZME
“We understand a lot of the fellas who join an organisation [like the Mongrel Mob], the majority are broken people, coming from broken dreams, broken promises and broken households,” said Mark Griffiths.
“So they’re used
to living the lifestyle … we call it the ‘Once were Warriors’ lifestyle. They know the difference between doing dumb things and doing the right thing. So now it’s about getting them into the habit of doing good, positive and constructive things.”
The 50-year-old “Griff” was speaking with the Herald on Sunday at a hui in November 2019 hosted at the chapter’s Hamilton pad, where distinguished guests like Dame Tariana Turia and Sir Pita Sharples were the headline speakers.
The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom had been holding meetings where victims of abuse could share their stories, as well as working with the DHB to run health clinics, and made headlines for guarding a Hamilton mosque after the March 15 attacks.
Their president, Sonny Fatupaito, thanked the audience for “heeding the call” – against domestic violence, child abuse, suicide and addiction to drugs and alcohol.
The “Bulldog” said the Waikato chapter had broken away from the wider Mongrel Mob network, to walk a different path towards better lives for their whānau.
And right beside him was “Griff”; speaking at hui, doing interviews to media and even giving a lecture at the University of Canterbury.
Of course, the police were sceptical.
“New Zealand Adult Gangs are expanding recruitment by promoting the ‘glamour’ of gang membership as well as an outward shift towards pro-whānau and pro-community outcomes,” according to a police intelligence report released under the Official Information Act.
“Mongrel Mob Waikato continue to use their public relations machine to raise support, recruit and spread their clean image and pro-community intentions.”
Concerned by the gang’s growing numbers, the police felt a concerted effort was needed to prove that members of the chapter – despite the talk of change – were still involved in criminal activity.
The task fell to the Waikato organised crime unit, led by Detective Senior Sergeant Steve Ambler, but at first the police kept running into dead ends.
There were plenty of patched members selling meth but it was mainly low-level street dealing, a few hundred dollars for a gram, often to pay for their own addiction.
When the police tried to work their way up to the next tier, the wholesale level, they discovered the gangsters were buying from other dealers in the region – not other Mobsters higher in the gang’s pecking order.
They had some success with Operation Kingsville where several commercial meth labs were busted in 2020 and Rayon Williams, a senior member of the Waikato chapter, ended up pleading guilty to money laundering.
“You had access to ‘substantial amounts’ of cash. You used a ‘very expensive’ satellite telephone that prevented your communications from being intercepted,” said Justice Pheroze Jagose in sentencing Williams to two years and one month in prison.
“Your offending is aggravated by your personal gain, and your significant premeditation in making the cryptocurrency arrangements, in connection with the very serious principal offending of large-scale methamphetamine manufacture and supply.”
But the police never found his cryptocurrency wallet, so the true extent of Williams’ money laundering – and illicit wealth – remains a mystery.
The Court of Appeal later reduced his sentence to 10 months of home detention.
A slap on the wrist but perhaps the most damaging comments came not from the judge but Fatupaito, who said Williams had not been part of the Waikato Mongrel Mob for a “number of years”.
“It is deeply disappointing that the New Zealand Police continue to use such sensationalism, misinformation and misreporting in an obvious attempt to undermine all the good works and positive community support we have worked hard to achieve.”
Apparently this was news to Williams – and contrary to social media posts as recently as 2019 – but regardless of his current status, publicly distancing such a well-regarded Mobster went down like a lead balloon among his supporters in the gang.
Every covert investigation needs a little bit of luck, and it wasn’t long before a grisly death gave Ambler’s team the break they needed.
In June 2020, Deiderick “DJ Rogue” Grant was stabbed so many times with a ballpoint pen that it broke.
“You continued stabbing him regardless,” said Justice Simon Moore when sentencing John Kina Edwards for manslaughter.
Both men were members of the Rogue chapter of the Mongrel Mob and had fallen out over a missing safe, which apparently had $250,000 inside.
And it’s here the story might have ended; yet another senseless death as a result of violent retribution involving gang members.
But the police investigating the death of DJ Rogue intercepted a very interesting phone conversation between two other Mongrel Mob members: Richard “Rage” Heller and James “Hulk” Smith.
Their rambling chat didn’t assist the homicide investigation, Operation Victorville, but did implicate themselves and others in the widespread manufacture and distribution of drugs across the region.
The intercepted conversation on July 18, 2020 triggered separate investigations into two senior Waikato Mongrel Mob members who were each running their own separate illicit drug businesses.
The first was Operation Gulfport. The principal target was “Mike Dog”, or Michael Ormsby, who was identified as the financial backer for the significant distribution of methamphetamine across the Waikato.
As the lead investor, Ormsby sat above Heller and Smith – from the Rogue and World chapters respectively -who oversaw the manufacture of the class A drug in clandestine labs and the day-to-day running of their dealers.
Police found $30,000 in Ormsby’s bedroom when they raided his property in December 2020 and analysis of financial records showed cash deposits of $164,891.33 through various companies linked to Ormsby over the previous three years.
“You were able to distance yourself from the manufacture and dealing, while profiting from the operation,” Justice Gerard van Bohemen said after Ormsby admitted money laundering and cannabis offences.
He was sentenced to three years in prison after receiving significant discounts for his guilty plea, remorse and an extremely dysfunctional childhood, which the judge accepted had led to a life of crime.
The principal target in the second investigation was Griffiths. According to the conversation between Heller and Smith intercepted by the police on July 18, 2020, “Griff” oversaw a criminal network moving drugs around the country.
Combined with intelligence of low-level drug dealing by his partner Sharon Marfell, the conversation was enough to convince a High Court judge to grant a surveillance device warrant.
Operation Oakville went live on their phones the following month.
Marfell was flat-out dealing most nights, from 12am until the wee hours of the morning, with text messages indicating a gram of meth cost as little as $400.
She also supplied larger amounts to other members of Griffiths’ dealing network, for on-sale, as well as the class B drug GBL.
But in the early stages of the investigation, there was nothing to prove where the drugs were coming from, or more importantly, the role of Griffiths.
Nearly all of his communications were through encrypted phone applications like WhatsApp, Wickr, Signal and Facebook Messenger.
And in text messages or phone calls which the police were able to intercept, Griffiths was careful to never talk about drugs.
That is until October 12, 2020 when everyone panicked.
A parcel had been sent from the United States to a Hamilton address, arranged by Griffiths, with written instructions for the DHL courier to leave the parcel at the door if no one was home.
For whatever reason, the courier driver paid no attention. The intended recipient – a man in his 70s whose son was an international drug dealer – received a text message from DHL advising that the delivery was unsuccessful.
Flustered by the missing package, the pensioner contacted Griffiths who instructed him to call the DHL depot and authorise one of his drug dealers, a young woman, to pick it up on his behalf.
Police and Customs beat them to the punch. The investigators managed to get an urgent search warrant signed by a judge and uplifted the parcel, which was still in the courier van.
Hidden inside printer toner cartridges was 2kg of methamphetamine.
For the next week, the young woman (under the supervision of Marfell, who was keeping Griffiths updated) made several attempts to uplift the package from DHL headquarters, without success. They gave up when DHL confirmed it no longer had the package.
Finally, the detectives had something to implicate “Griff” in serious drug offending.
A decision was made for the covert investigation to keep rolling, in the hope of catching him red-handed with a significant amount of meth in his possession.
Operation Oakville had noticed a pattern. Whenever Marfell ran out of meth to sell to her loyal customers, she would hire a rental car – despite owning several vehicles – and disappear.
When she returned, Marfell would start selling again. The next time she hired a car, a surveillance team tailed the vehicle all the way to an address in Mt Roskill in Auckland. She wasn’t driving though.
Griffiths was behind the wheel and it was clear the senior Mobster had come to negotiate in person with their supplier, whom the police later identified as an Asian organised crime figure.
A strategic decision was made to wrap up the investigation the next time the couple made the same trip to Auckland.
In the days leading up to November 12, 2020, the police got wind of their plans and arranged for a surveillance team to stake out the Mt Roskill address.
At 6.48pm the couple left the address in their rental car, and the surveillance team followed Griffiths and Marfell down State Highway 1 until they took the off-ramp to Te Kowhai, where they lived, just north of Hamilton.
The police were ready and waiting. They tried to stop the couple about 8pm by cordoning off the road. Griffiths accelerated through the cordon, while at the same time, a small cardboard box was thrown from the car.
The rental car stopped a few hundred metres away and the couple were arrested.
A popcorn box was found near the cordon with 5oz of methamphetamine bagged up, a total of 124g.
Back at the couple’s home in Te Kowhai was more evidence of their lucrative enterprise. Nine bottles of gamma-butyrolactone (GBL), each holding 1 litre of the clear liquid, worth about $5000 each.
Analysis by a forensic accountant for the police Asset Recovery team has revealed over a nearly four-year period, January 2017 to November 2020, they had access to at least $713,441.96 from an unknown source.
In July 2022, Marfell pleaded guilty to seven charges of supplying methamphetamine, possession for supply, conspiracy to supply, possession and supply of GBL, as well as participating in an organised criminal group.
Justice Graham Lang sentenced her to seven years in prison after giving the 49-year-old significant discounts for her guilty plea, a troubled childhood filled with abuse, and her long battle with addiction.
“You became addicted to drugs many years ago. Your addiction has dominated
your life for much of that time. Another significant, and associated, factor is your
relationship of over 20 years duration with Mr Griffiths. He has been a member of the
Mongrel Mob since he was 12 years of age and is now a senior member of the gang,” said Justice Lang.
“He has spoken to the writer of the [cultural] report and accepts responsibility not only for the fact that you became addicted to methamphetamine but also that he led you directly
into the present offending. He says your only interest was to obtain a steady source of
methamphetamine to feed your addiction.”
Griffiths’ trial was due to start on Monday. But earlier this week, the 52-year-old pleaded guilty to charges of importing, possession and supplying methamphetamine, as well as the possession and supply of GBL.
A popular party drug known as “rinse” or “wazz”, GBL makes users feel euphoric but can put them at risk of unconsciousness.
Griffiths will be sentenced in February. But the eleventh-hour admission of guilt from such a senior member of the Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom, so outspoken on the need for “broken people” to change their lives, has handed ammunition to the chapter’s critics.
Asked how Griffiths’ behaviour fitted with their stated values, Fatupaito said he cannot control what individuals do, just like any other organisation.
“The Waikato Mongrel Mob Kingdom is about leadership not dictatorship, it is not up to me nor anyone else within the Kingdom realm, to police each and everyone,” said Fatupaito. “It is simply impossible to do so.”
He said methamphetamine was an insidious drug that was destroying the social fabric of Aotearoa, which is why the drug is banned from any of the chapters under the Kingdom umbrella.
“It is also well known that the Mongrel Mob Kingdom facilitates frequent trauma workshops and wananga in the Waikato, to address the underlying effects of methamphetamine use and addiction, to steer our members away from a life of addiction and criminal offending.”
He said Griffiths would face the consequences of his action for the rest of his life.
“The first step is owning up … and it is a sobering day when the only thing that can be said is at least Mr Griffiths pleaded guilty and is not continuing the charade of double standards that he has made for himself,” Fatupaito said.
“Rather than the public saying ‘Sonny should have known’, people should be hoping and praying that the Mongrel Mob Kingdom continues this work, and most importantly succeeds no matter the obstacles.”