The time I met a suspected Calabrian mafia figure


“Rocco went for a walk and didn’t come back,” he said coolly.

Perhaps noting the surprise register on my face, this man then followed up with what he considered to be a joke. “Don’t worry,” he said. “No journalists have ever disappeared … yet.”

Latorre responded to this by shutting down our discussion.

“We are here to talk about facts,” he said over coffee, implying my questions were founded on falsehoods.

Whatever he knew about the Calabrian mafia, Latorre – who was executed in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday morning – wasn’t about to breach the mafia’s infamous omerta, or code of silence, and tell me. He was a man who had encountered more death than most and knew how to keep secrets.

Alfonso Muratore was killed in 1992.

Alfonso Muratore was killed in 1992.Credit: Fairfax Media

The best man at John Latorre’s wedding, as well as his former boss at Melbourne’s wholesale fruit market in Footscray, was Alfonso Muratore, who was gunned down in Hampton in 1992.

Prior to this still unsolved execution, Muratore was a candidate to take over the Melbourne arm of the mafia.

When police interviewed Latorre after Muratore’s killing, he told them he knew nothing about who pulled the trigger. Latorre did let on that he worked for Frank Benvenuto, another reputed Calabrian mafia leader who was shot dead in 2000 in what police suspect was a killing to avenge Muratore’s death eight years earlier. This murder, too, remains unsolved.

In the years before his own death on Tuesday, federal and state police intelligence – which is unproven and can be unreliable – sporadically linked Latorre to violence and drug trafficking, including the financing of a 500-kilogram black-flight cocaine load which was seized by police in Papua New Guinea in 2020 when the Cessna carrying the drugs crashed.

The cocaine police seized in PNG in 2020.

The cocaine police seized in PNG in 2020.

The Calabrian mafia is regarded by Western police authorities as one of the most resilient and powerful global crime gangs, with entrenched networks stretching across Europe and the Americas.

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In Australia, the organisation has been the subject of sporadic police investigations over decades, including Operation Inca in 2008 and Operation Ironside in 2021. The Australian Federal Police currently has a dedicated investigative focus on Italian organised crime.

The most recent police intelligence assessments, sighted by this masthead, describe Latorre as part of the “leadership/older generation” group of ’Ndrangheta clan figures.

On Tuesday, a close friend of Latorre, who spoke to him last week, dismissed suggestions he was involved in organised crime, describing him as a popular and loyal fruiterer who, if he ever was involved in crime, had left it long behind.

“He didn’t seem worried about anything,” said the friend, who mentioned as an aside that Latorre had recently intervened in a matter involving a suspected criminal identity stealing from a well- known fruit store.

“I saw him a fortnight ago and spoke to him twice last week. If there was any stress in his life, he didn’t mention it. I was proud to call him a friend.”

My interest in Latorre was sparked after I uncovered $10,000 in donations he contributed to the Liberal Party between 2003 and 2006.

Latorre was one of several mafia-linked figures who had donated large sums to the Liberals as part of a lobbying effort targeting then immigration ministers Philip Ruddock and Amanda Vanstone and aimed at getting a visa for Latorre’s close friend, convicted mafia figure Francesco Madafferi.

Francesco Madafferi in the back of a police car in 2009.

Francesco Madafferi in the back of a police car in 2009.Credit: Paul Rovere

Ruddock rebuffed the lobbying, but Vanstone approved the visa on the basis of an argument that deportation would have an unfair impact on Madafferi’s children and wife. After getting his visa reprieve, Madafferi was charged with drug trafficking.

Latorre would later seek to again look out for his friend, testifying in Madafferi’s trial in an attempt to shore up what would ultimately be a failed defence that police had confused drugs with pumpkins.

This masthead’s expose of the mafia-linked donations and lobbying sparked another federal police investigation (it produced no charges) and ultimately led me to meet Latorre.

The reason Latorre wanted to meet me was to do more lobbying. He wished to push the case that his brother, Vince, had been framed by police in an extortion trial that resulted in Vince’s jailing in December 2009 for more than ten years. John had no evidence to back up his claims, offering only innuendo.

I absorbed it, and then took a punt, asking him why he had donated to the Liberals and what he knew of the mafia.

Latorre nonchalantly recalled his donations, as well as the fact that he had made one of them – worth $5000 – at a 2004 function in which Vanstone was the guest speaker.

He made no secret of the fact that the donations were given to influence the visa decision (there is no suggestion Vanstone acted improperly), but shrugged this off as nothing more than a case of reputable businessmen, once again, looking out for a friend.

On Tuesday morning, some of Latorre’s reputed Calabrian mafia associates and friends met at the Melbourne fruit and vegetable wholesale market in Epping, where Latorre ran a thriving business.

John Latorre with co-workers at his wholesale fruit and vegetable shop at the Melbourne Market in Epping.

John Latorre with co-workers at his wholesale fruit and vegetable shop at the Melbourne Market in Epping.Credit: Instagram

A source close to Latorre said it was likely they were discussing his death, but conceded this was speculation.

Detectives also told this masthead on Tuesday that if there was no retribution for Latorre’s killing, it may indicate it was an execution sanctioned by the mafia. But this, too, was speculation.

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One thing is more certain.

Just as Latorre fobbed off detectives investigating the death of his best mate Muratore three decades ago, police will likely face mostly silence as they speak to men from a world they still insist does not exist.

John Silvester lifts the lid on Australia’s criminal underworld. Subscribers can sign up to receive his Naked City newsletter every Thursday.



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