Drug dealing in the Eastern Suburbs – a true story

     Foreword 

    I have written before (go to the last few paragraphs of that post and in particular the link) about the unlikely chains of events which which can bring matters before the courts.

    In the story below,  I have changed some names, but basically it is a very lightly edited extract from a judgment.  I have highighted in bold the dramatis personae on their first entry, to help you keep track of who’s who. 

    Are you all sitting comfortably?  Very well then, I’ll begin.

    Jacob Epstein began dealing in drugs while still at school.  At the time of these events, he was 20 years old and this was his principal source of income. His area of business was Bondi and its neighbourhood.

    Epstein knew of a rumour circulating in Bondi that he owed $3,000 to a man called Michael Abraham who owned a pizza shop in Bondi. Abraham was apparently the leader of a gang of drug dealers operating in Bondi, sometimes known as the “king.”

    On 11 February 200x Epstein received a telephone call from Salah. Salah told Epstein that he wanted to meet him. Epstein agreed to meet him.

    At about 10.00 pm the next evening Epstein drove his father’s jeep to Bondi and waited outside a pizza shop on Bondi Road. Sabah was in the driver’s seat. Epstein got into the car and sat down next to him. Epstein noticed two large men standing in the vicinity of the service station.

    Salah drove the car to the service station. Salah asked Epstein what he sold and Epstein told him “mainly pot and a little bit of pills.” The appellant said, “I run the eastern suburbs, nobody deals here without paying me rent”.

    A few seconds later the car door opened and Epstein was confronted by the two large men. One held a gun to Epstein ‘s side and told him to get in the back of the car. Epstein did so and the smaller of the two men sat in the back with him. The larger man sat in the passenger seat in front. The smaller man punched Epstein to the side of the head and demanded his keys, wallet and mobile telephone. The larger man held a small silver gun. Epstein later told the court: I knew I was in trouble at that point, I was scared for my life.”

    Salah drove the car a short distance and then stopped. The larger man got out, took Epstein ‘s keys and went to Epstein ‘s jeep. The two vehicles drove to Bondi Junction and stopped in Spring Street outside the Commonwealth Bank. An old blue Tarago with Amal and two or three other occupants pulled up on the left. Epstein was punched to the back of the head and told to look at one of the occupants of the Tarago. The hat or cap Epstein was wearing fell to the floor of the Toyota. Epstein was asked if he recognised Amal. He replied in the negative. Amal looked back at Epstein and said: “Yeah, that’s him.”

    The three vehicles proceeded to Queen’s Park. All the occupants of the cars got out. Epstein said that they marched him into the middle of the park “in the pitch black, the darkness”. He thought he was going to die. He was bashed repeatedly. He said:“I had guns pointed at my head. … – they made me kneel down, I had a gun to my forehead and a gun to the back of my head, and then they demanded money”.

    While he was so kneeling on the ground with the guns pointed at him, Salah was in front of him, about one metre away. One of the men said:“You are going to give us 50 grand.”Another said:“If you run, we’ll shoot you down”.

    Epstein was then asked where certain specific assets belonging to him were. He responded by saying they had been sold, or lost in a fire or stolen. He was asked about the jeep and said that it was under finance. He was then hit again. One of the men said:“I’m going to enjoy killing you … I’m Palestinian, do you know what we do to Jews”.

    Salah then asked Epstein where his money was and Epstein said that he was owed a lot of money. He proffered the names of a number of people including one Stephen Kelly. At about this stage, Danny Goldstein, a school friend of Epstein , rang on Epstein ‘s mobile telephone and told Epstein that he had $150 for Epstein to pick up. Goldstein was indebted to Epstein for gambling and purchases of marijuana.

    Epstein was handed his telephone and told to telephone those persons who owed him money. One of the men said:“You better hope they have our money.”

    Epstein proceeded to make at least three telephone calls but none was fruitful.

    Sirens were heard in the distance. Epstein was grabbed by the shirt and the men ran towards Queen’s Park Road. They collected the three vehicles. Epstein got into the back of the jeep, which the appellant drove. Epstein directed the appellant to Kelly’s flat.

    Kelly had been living with a friend who had returned to Ireland. Kelly owed Epstein $120 and his friend owed Epstein $1,000. The men entered Kell’s flat. They told him that he owed money. Kelly commenced to shake. Epstein told him to pay the money he owed to “these guys”. Kelly pulled $200 out of his wallet and gave it to one of the men. He was then shaking badly.

    Kelly made some reference to getting money from a bank. The men returned to the vehicles with Kelly accompanying them. The men drove to a Westpac Bank automatic teller machine in Belmore Road, Randwick. There, the Salah and Kelly left the vehicle. Kelly was able to use his Commonwealth Bank key card and after a number of attempts (because he attempted to withdraw amounts over his limit) withdrew $500 was successfully withdrawn from the account.

    Kelly then left and Epstein was driven to a Commonwealth Bank ATM. The appellant told him to withdraw money, using his credit card. Epstein withdrew $700 (his limit) and handed over the money.

    Eventually the three vehicles drove to Goldstein’s house. On the way the appellant asked Epstein how much money Goldstein owed him and Epstein replied “$950” When they arrived outside Goldstein’s house, Goldstein approached the jeep in which Epstein was sitting and handed him $150. Goldstein was told to get in the vehicle and he did so. Goldstein was then asked for “the rest” of the money. Goldstein asked Epstein  how much more he owed and Epstein said “another 800”Goldstein was asked when he would produce the $800. Goldstein replied, “probably within a week or two”. He was told, however, that it had to be done “that night”.

    According to Goldstein, the man in the jeep had with him a cigarette lighter in the shape of gun. Goldstein said that this man slapped him across the head when he made “a smart remark”. Goldstein said that he“wasn’t too happy about being slapped”. According to Epstein , the larger of the two men who had entered the Toyota at the service station gave Goldstein a punch with his right hand to the left side of Goldstein’s face. According to Epstein, “it was a big punch and I heard a big crack when it connected.”

    One of the men asked Goldstein for his jewellery. Goldstein refused to give it to him but the man took it off him. The jewellery comprised a chain with a pendant, a bracelet and a ring that he was wearing on his little finger. All the jewellery was made of gold. Goldstein also handed over his wallet. The men looked through the wallet and returned it. There was no money in it.

    The man sitting on Goldstein’s side then told him to hand over his mobile telephone. Goldstein complied with this instruction. He did not get the telephone back.

    According to Epstein , whilst sitting in the car, Goldstein “put his head down towards his lap” and “groaned”.

    After Goldstein was told to get the additional money, he made a telephone call. The group drove on to Epstein’s house in Kensington. He had told the men that he had $1,000 to $2,000 in cash at his home. On the way he telephoned his younger brother, Danny. He told Danny to get “all the money” out of the right hand pocket of their mother’s fur coat. Unbeknown to Epstein and his brother, their mother had removed the $2,000 from the right pocket but there was $10,000 in the left pocket. Danny thought the $10,000 was the money that he should bring, and did so.

    Epstein told Danny to walk to the jeep at the end of the street, hand the money to him and walk away. Danny did more. He handed Epstein a box that contained approximately 1,200 blue ecstasy tablets as well as the $10,000. Epstein handed the box to the appellant who retained the contents.

    In the meantime, Sheslow (who was a friend of Goldstein and Epstein) had been telephoned by Goldstein. By now it was after midnight. After receiving the call, Sheslow drove one Danny Spiecer (who had also received a call from Goldstein) and Daniel Aron (who had received a call from Sheslow) to an ATM in Rose Bay. There, the three men withdrew about $800 which Sheslow kept.

    An arrangement was then made by telephone for Sheslow to deliver the money so withdrawn to Goldstein, outside Goldstein’s home. Goldstein was still in the jeep with Epstein and the other men. The three men proceeded to Goldstein’s home in Sheslow’s car. When Sheslow saw Epstein ‘s vehicle he drove slowly past it and, without stopping, stretched out his arm and passed the money to Goldstein who was seated in the right rear passenger seat. Sheslow kept driving and turned his headlights off to ensure that he was not followed. He could not see well because of the time of night and the lighting. Nevertheless, he said that when he passed the money to Goldstein he noticed that he looked as if he had been crying, as did Epstein .

    After receiving the money from Sheslow, the appellant asked Goldstein if family was important to him and said:“If you go to the police your family is dead.”Goldstein was then released, having been in the car for an hour to an hour and a half. His jewellery was returned, but not his telephone.

    On one of the occasions Goldstein was slapped, one of the men in the car said:“He’s here to pay a debt, leave him alone”.

    Salah then drove Epstein home. According to Epstein , Salah said to him that if he went to the police, his family would be dead and he would be dead. Epstein said that Salah told him:

    “Now that you have no money you’ll be selling my coke. You’ll get it for $4,500 an ounce and it will be pure and untouched, and if you go to anyone – if you buy off anyone else you’re dead”. and “You’ll even be selling our pot.”

    Epstein ‘s right eye was bruised, his left eye was sore and he had bruises on his head. He did not seek medical attention for any of his injuries.

     Afterword

    So, how did Danny manage to accidentally hand over all those pills?  What was this thing with the family all hiding money in mum’s fur coat?  Where did Danny get the box with the pills from?  Was it, too, in the fur coat?  (We all know about “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” Does this suggest a fresh reading of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe?)  Did Epstein bring this whole thing down on himself by not paying his creditors on time or not monitoring his receivables with sufficient care?  

    And who squealed?  It doesn’t look as though Epstein was likely to want to tell the police about this.   For what it’s worth, my own guess is that the police caught someone with the pills or maybe there was some incident involving the jeep (it’s not clear whether that was given back to Epstein), and the trail led back either via Salah directly to Epstein, who then told the story and went crown evidence either to save his skin orto get a reduced sentence.

    I know it is heartless of me, but I find parts of this story pretty funny.  In a couple of places the humour arises because of some details in the story have been left out.  Perhaps it lacks dramatic structure, but I can’t help thinking it would make a good film or telemovie.  Knowing the places where these events occurred also adds a certain picquant charm.

    Luckily, no-one was seriously hurt on this occasion.  The threat was all, provided it produced results, that is.  In fact, the honour-amongst-thieves element (ie, the solicitude, probably part of a good-thug-bad-thug routine, shown for Goldstein by one of the standover men) is almost touching.

    Anti-drugs crusaders are inclined to cite this sort of drug-related crime as further proof of the evil of drugs.  My own feeling is that the argument goes the other way.  It’s the law of the jungle out there because of the laws against drugs.  The accusations against international pharmaceutical companies are many, but they mostly deal in inducements rather than threats, and you don’t find many pharmacists having this sort of problem with their suppliers or would-be suppliers.

    Further afterword, 2013: “Epstein,” his brother and his mother moved to St Ives. As they were subsequently all convicted of either cultivation or supply I suppose they cannot be harmed if I mention that you can read the original of this “true story” in the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal hereor here.

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