How Colin McLaren infiltrated the Calabrian mafia as an undercover agent and used drugs in Australia
A former undercover cop has spoken of his toughest day trying to infiltrate the criminal underworld, revealing he almost broke his cover when he was on a light plane with mob bosses and forced to listen to them “brag” about killing one of his colleagues.
Colin McLaren, who tried to blow up the Australian branch of the Calabrian Mafia in 1994, was about to board a flight to Weipa in Far North Queensland to confirm the arrival of a massive cocaine deal.
Then Mr McLaren heard the news that a colleague, Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen, had been killed in the bombing of the National Crime Authority office in Adelaide.
Lawyer Peter Wallis also lost an eye in the 1994 blast.
Former undercover cop Colin McLaren recalls his toughest day infiltrating the criminal underworld was in a light plane with mob bosses “bragging” about killing one of his colleagues
Mr McLaren had to endure a long light plane flight with criminals ‘bragging’ about Geoffrey Bowen’s death
“I was on the plane with two mafia heads and they were bragging about the bomb that went off in Adelaide and blew up the NCA building and killed a police officer,” McLaren told Kyle and Jackie O.
In order not to arouse suspicion, Mr McLaren had to joke with their sick celebrations about killing cops.
It was one of the hardest things he ever did.
“They brag about it…I just wanted to pull out my gun and shoot them or throw them off the plane.”
“I had to suffer for their bulls*** tough boy stuff and their boasting. But your training starts and you say to yourself “we’re going to get these b**tards”.’
Mr McLaren’s undercover work was instrumental in securing enough evidence to jail 11 mob bosses for up to 13 years each for large-scale drug trafficking and extortion.
For this reason, Mr McLaren said he will always look over his shoulder and worry about the mafia or gangs out for revenge.
Undercover agents are legally allowed to use cocaine in the performance of their jobs
The bombing of the National Crime Authority (pictured) in 1994. Six mafiosi were convicted
Mr McLaren was handpicked by senior Victoria police officers for undercover work and in his early days he practiced busting petty drug dealers in the back rooms of Melbourne pubs.
Mr McLaren said the first step to infiltrating the Australian mafia was to create an identity that the crooks would believe.
So he became Cole Goodwin, a dodgy Melbourne art dealer who wanted to buy a kilo of cocaine to sell to his customers.
But to bond with lifelong criminals it was necessary to act like them.
That meant using drugs and sometimes visiting prostitutes.
Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen (pictured) was killed in the bombing and suffered horrific injuries from the blast
Dominic Perre (pictured, driven by a prison guard) was found guilty of the National Crime Authority bombing
He received guidance from police psychologists and doctors about what to expect and how to deal with drug use.
His training taught ways to try to avoid drug use – for example, he suggested that the parties to a drug deal “go through” rather than stay high.
“But if you’re Johnny on the spot and you’re at the Hells Angels clubhouse and they want to make fun of you or they expect you to snort some speed or smoke some skunk, then you have to do it.
‘[Undercover police] are allowed to do it, you are legally protected to do it.’
Posing as drug buyers, Mr McLaren and his sidekick were left with two prostitutes for the night by the Griffith Mafia, who wanted the women to find out if they were rich enough to complete the deal and if they wanted their hosts respected.
While the young women made fun of their ‘wog’ bosses to provoke a reaction, Mr McLaren was one step ahead and disagreed, saying he considered the mob men ‘great friends’.
Mr. McLaren was not only trained to take and deal with drugs. For another study, he also learned how to manufacture them.
While on the trail of the NCA bombings, forensic experts discovered that a chemical residue from the crime scene was also present in homemade amphetamines.
So for five weeks Mr McLaren and his team were trained to cook speed in ‘a world first’.
“Then we set ourselves up there like cooks of speed in Adelaide,” he said.
His work also helped put another six Mafia members behind bars in connection with the NCA bombings.
The bomber, Dominic Perre, was charged with murder shortly after the bombing, but the case against him was dropped six months later due to lack of evidence.
He was arrested again in 2018 and found guilty of murder and attempted murder in 2022.
Mr. McLaren began writing books about his three years as an undercover cop and in 2011 it was made into a four-hour TV movie, Underbelly Files: Infiltration.
In January, he launched a podcast, The Sting.
SNAPSHOT OF NCA BOMBAMING
* On 2 March 1994, a parcel bomb exploded in the National Crime Authority office on the 12th floor of an office building in Waymouth Street, Adelaide.
* The blast killed Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen and badly injured lawyer Peter Wallis.
* The bombing has been one of the most high-profile cases in South Australia, with a $1 million reward being offered in 2008 for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons responsible.
* Domenic Perre was first charged with murder shortly after the bombing, but the case against him was dropped six months later due to lack of evidence.
* The 65-year-old was arrested again in 2018 after a joint investigation spanning more than two years by a number of state and federal authorities, including the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission.
* He stood trial for murder and attempted murder at the Supreme Court in October 2020 after being jailed on drug trafficking charges unrelated to the bombing.
* After a nearly year-long trial and more than six months of deliberations, Judge Kevin Nicholson found him guilty on both charges.
* Perre will be sentenced at a later date.
* The trial began in October 2020 with final evidence in June of last year and final defense submissions in August.
* There was no jury after Perre chose to be tried by a judge alone.
* In the prosecution case, the bombing was a personal attack on Sergeant Bowen following the 1993 seizure of a multimillion-dollar Northern Territory drug crop.
* Perre’s defense said he had consistently denied involvement in the bombing and accused detectives of “tunnel vision” throughout the 28-year investigation.
* Some elements of the case have been kept secret and the court has issued more than 30 suppression orders.