Cafe owner gunned down in Brunswick
A Melbourne cafe owner’s body is found in a Brunswick East laneway, in what is believed to be a professional hit. (Vision courtesy Seven News Melbourne)
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A prominent criminal lawyer gunned down in Melbourne’s inner north is believed to be the victim of a professional hit.
Joseph “Pino” Acquaro was warned by police in June 2015 that his life was in grave danger. He was told by police that he needed to take measures to protect his safety, but Mr Acquaro refused to heed their advice.
The 54-year-old lawyer, who represented several prominent Melbourne gangland and Calabrian crime figures, was shot and killed as he walked to his black Mercedes parked in St Phillip Street, Brunswick East.
Cafe owner Joseph “Pino” Acquaro, had been warned by police that his life was in danger.
A father of three adult sons, Mr Acquaro had just closed his Lygon Street cafe Gelobar when he was blasted by a lone gunman at about 12.40am on Tuesday morning.
Witnesses told homicide detectives they heard several shots and the sound of a car speeding along St Phillip Street away from Lygon Street – the wrong way up a one-way street.
A rubbish truck driver discovered Mr Acquaro’s bloodied body at 3am. He was already dead when paramedics and police arrived.
Forensics officers examine the man’s body on St Phillip Street. Photo: Eddie Jim
Homicide Squad detectives and forensic police scoured the scene on Tuesday, finding a mobile phone under a car in St Phillip Street not far from the body just after 11am.
Detective Inspector Mick Hughes refused to identify the victim, but confirmed he had died from gunshot wounds.
He would not comment on how many times Mr Acquaro was shot, nor what type of weapon was used.
Young lawyer Joseph Acquaro outside court in 1995.
Gelobar was severely damaged in a suspicious fire on January 23, but Detective Inspector Hughes said while the blaze would be examined, it appeared to be unrelated to Mr Acquaro’s brutal death.
Mr Acquaro had severed ties with many of his former mafia clients after a falling out that had become increasingly bitter over the past year.
Police are expected to focus on a feud with an alleged Calabrian crime boss, who cannot be named for legal reasons, but was spoken by police in June last year about the $200,000 contract on Mr Acquaro’s life.
Police and SES volunteers at the scene. Photo: Eddie Jim.
Mr Acquaro was a past president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce, strongly involved with Brunswick’s Reggio Calabria club and a passionate advocate of Calabrian culture and business interests in Australia.
He was known to assist disadvantaged members of the Calabrian community, following a tradition started by his father, a respected Melbourne accountant.
But Mr Acquaro also provided legal representation for some of the most notorious Calabrian underworld figures, some reputed to be in the ‘Ndrangheta or Honoured Society.
SES volunteers at the scene. Photo: Eddie Jim
His client list included convicted drug trafficker Francesco Madafferi and underworld identity Rocco Arico.
Detective Inspector Hughes said while Mr Acquaro was known to police, he had no convictions.
Tony De Domenico, president of the the Italian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Melbourne, said Mr Acquaro’s death would shake the business group and wider Italian community.
Police block St Phillip Street in Brunswick East after a man’s body was discovered. Photo: 3AW
Mr De Domenico said Mr Acquaro was a well-known, hard-working and respected member of the Italian community, who valued his privacy and was concerned whenever he was mentioned in the media for defending a high-profile client.
“He defended many people who allegedly did all sorts of things, and some were found guilty and others weren’t, but he was very well-regarded in society and in legal circles.”
He said that Mr Acquaro, who preceded him as president, gave no impression when he last spoke to him at Christmas that he was concerned for his safety, despite knowing he had a contract on his head.
The rubbish collector who found the man’s body speaks with a police officer. Photo: Courtesy of Nine News
Mr Acquaro took control of Gelobar about five years ago, when Salvatore Scullino, who owned the business with his wife Rita, died.
Ms Scullino was inconsolable outside the business on Tuesday morning, and did not speak to the media.
Her employees gathered on the corner opposite Gelobar, stunned by the death of their boss, as other mourners arrived in shock.
Police are now assessing CCTV footage from a camera mounted outside Gelobar, which points directly at the intersection of Lygon and St Phillip Street.
The camera view of the intersection appears to be partially obscured by two outdoor umbrellas, but detectives are hopeful it will show the car used by the hit man.
Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.