Coming Through The Rollover Door
Saturday June 24, 1995
STEVE Hardas is a short, swarthy man of Greek extraction who looks like a refugee from the 1970s. He has sidelevers down to the bottom of his ear lobes; his black hair is long and curling up at the back; and at the front he wears it in bangs.
His darting eyes perhaps make him look a bit like a haunted ferret, but that may only derive from his present circumstances.
He wears a shapeless black double-breasted suit and a black tie. His birth date is given, apparently accurately, as September 19, 1937. This evoked some derision; he doesn't look anything like 57.
"Well, he's led a blameless life," suggested The 7.30 Report's Quentin Dempster.
Not quite; Hardas has been involved in sleaze of one sort or another at King Cross for at least a decade. He says his establishments included: Madame Butterfly 1985-86, the Barrel 1987, Pink Pussycat 1988-89, Action Cinema (Oxford Street) 1988-91, Pink Panther 1990-91, Tabu 1990-92, Nugatties 1992-94, Illusions 1994. He also sub-leased Abe Saffron's property, the Budget Hotel, to KX11, a cocaine dealer, in 1993.
Hardas says he was preparing to open the brothel/strip club to be called Madame Butterfly in 1985 when he had a visit from a Sydney legend, Leonard Arthur McPherson (b. May 19, 1921). With McPherson were Louie Bayeh and two other large men. Bayeh was described at a police tribunal in 1985 as a standover man and the legend's right hand. According to Hardas, they sought to put the fear on him. The message was that Hardas could only open it as a disco; that Con Kontorinakis had a monopoly on the brothel business in the Cross.
However, a protected witness called KX6 (Kings Cross informant number six) said Kontorinakis ran a strip joint for Bayeh in 1982. KX6 was a heavy at the strip joint at the time and was a wheelman for Louie Bayeh from 1984 to 1990. He said Bayeh extorted $20,000 a week from a number of illegal operations in Sydney in return for police protection.
All this raises a question, not yet answered at the inquiry, whether Bayeh and perhaps McPherson had an interest in brothel/strip clubs at the Cross. The Commissioner, Justice James Wood, asked Hardas if one of the other large men with McPherson and Bayeh might have been a Branko Balic. Hardas said he did not know, but the question indicated that Wood is up to speed on McPherson and his associates.
That in turn suggested that McPherson might be invited to favour Wood with his knowledge, if any, of police corruption in Sydney over the past half century; Wood is inquiring into whether corruption is "entrenched or systemic".
Hardas may have had an answer to that. Counsel assisting, John Agius-who seems, along with the commission's police investigators, to have covered himself with glory in his carriage of the Kings Cross segment-noted that Hardas had given evidence of paying bribes to Sergeant Jeff Meizer and to detectives Graham (Kentucky Fried) Fowler, Trevor Haken, Kim Thomson, Neville Scullion and John Swan. Meizer was hospitalised after being found unconscious last Friday.
Agius: Why did you pay that money to the detectives at Kings Cross?
Hardas: When I move-when I move on business at Kings Cross, I be told by civilians that Kings Cross-this is the only way to be operating: if you co-operate with police officers and make payments to them...
Agius: But like a business overhead, like any other business overhead that you had?
Hardas: Like a business overhead, yes.
To the idle bystander, that may sound like entrenched or systemic corruption. Hardas wasn't overly troubled by NSW police until 1994, and McPherson, like another Sydney legend, Abe Saffron, has rarely been been troubled by police; the fact that he is now in prison is down to the National Crime Authority.
Detective Sergeant Les Chown said in December 1968 that McPherson was "an organiser of crime and needed no introduction as an organiser of crime". He also mentioned that McPherson "has been arrested for murder on a number of occasions".
If McPherson does make an appearance, it may be assumed that Wood will require a little more detail than the famous answer he gave at the 1973-74 Moffitt Royal Commission on organised crime in clubs, at which he denied being a person used for intimidation.
Asked to explain his income, McPherson replied: "I do the best I can."
Hardas seems to have been unfazed by McPherson, Bayeh and the other large men. He said he told them that Madame Butterfly was going to be a strip club, ie, brothel. He said "they weren't very happy" with his response.
"Before we opened," Hardas said, "we got threatening phone calls saying: 'We're going to bomb it.' I ignored it."
His intransigence, and the fact that no more than glass doors at the front and back of Madame Butterfly were smashed, could not have been good for McPherson's legendary reputation, or for Bayeh's for that matter. Hardas claims to have had paid police for protection against criminal charges; this may also have protected him from McPherson and Bayeh.
Hardas said he did not have a connection with Abe Saffron when he started Madame Butterfly; the connection came later when Saffron's functionary, Ms Theresa (Terry) Tkaczyk (pronounced Cawzik), invited him to go into various properties in the Cross owned by Saffron.
Perhaps Ms Tkaczyk and Saffron may also be invited to tell Wood whether they agree with what Hardas was told: to operate in dubious King Cross properties, you have to pay police.
To persuade Hardas to tell the truth was a bit like pulling teeth. He had earlier given evidence that there was nothing untoward in his relations with police at the Cross.
On Tuesday last week he began to tell some of the truth. Late in the day Agius played a video of Hardas giving $2000 to Sergeant Trevor Haken.
"If you tell any more lies," Agius said, "you are liable to be prosecuted for each and every lie. Think carefully overnight."
Wood added some words that must be echoing painfully around the service: "What I want is the truth. I'll find it come hell or high water."
Hardas' appearance next day, Wednesday, June 21, was thus awaited with interest. There was a delay of nearly two hours beyond the usual starting time of 9.45 am. It was assumed that Hardas and his lawyer were negotiating with Agius & Co. The advice of any reputable lawyer would be to tell the truth, but witnesses in the criminal milieu, including corrupt police, have to make very careful calculations as to the balance of advantage.
Four doors give ingress to the hearing room. The public, lawyers, media and ordinary witnesses enter from a door at the back; counsel assisting enter from a door at the right; Wood comes in from a door further down on the right. Over on the left, behind the witness box is a door through which come protected witnesses.
"Might we have Mr Hardas, please," Agius said to the hearing room Sheriff's Officer, Jeremy RoperTyler, at 11.48am. He did not move to the door at the back of the court; he moved to the door on the left.
Roper-Tyler's move occasioned a sibilant whisper in the bleachers reserved for the working Press: "He's coming through the rollover door!"
So fell another domino.
© 1995 Sun Herald