When Zlate Cvetanovski was arrested and questioned over his links to Tony Mokbel, Nicola Gobbo became his “go-to person” for legal advice.
When Zlate Cvetanovski was arrested and questioned over his links to Tony Mokbel, Nicola Gobbo became his “go-to person” for legal advice.

How Lawyer X served up Mokbel’s money man to police

Zlate "Steve'' Cvetanovski is walking laps in a Richmond park when he is distracted by a woman in Lycra.

She is posing for a selfie, but to Cvetanovski, who has just been released on bail after a decade in prison, she looks like a spy.

The Macedonian born 54-year-old suspects she is an undercover police officer who has been sent to follow him in her active wear.

"Where is she?,'' Cvetanovski says as he loses sight of her and scans the park.

"She stopped right in front of us and she done a selfie right in front of us so she can catch us in the shot, you see?''

"She could've stopped anywhere.''

Cvetanovski, on this day in July, explains he has spotted her minutes earlier in nearby Swan st and now she's in the park, too close, and with her phone out.

But there is a good reason Cvetanovski feels wary of spies.

His lawyer was one - Nicola Gobbo.

Cvetanovski blames Gobbo - known as Lawyer X - for the 11 years he spent in prison.

He argues that when he came under police scrutiny, in 2006, he was simply a gambling buddy of "Mr Cooper''.

They had met the previous year at Crown casino, in May, 2005, on a night when The Logies were being hosted at the Southbank venue.

"I didn't know him from a bar of soap,'' Cvetanovski said.

Cvetanovski says he loaned Mr Cooper $5000 that night.

According to Mr Cooper he would also spot Cvetanovksi cash, often tens of thousands of dollars, for punting.

As part of Tony Mokbel's inner sanctum, Mr Cooper had plenty of it.

But Mokbel and his brothers treated Mr Cooper like a chump - a disposable commodity only valuable while he produced money for them.

Mr Cooper mixed with crime bosses, but he didn't have the DNA of a ruthless organised criminal.

 

Zlate Cvetanovski spent nine years in jail for drug trafficking and financial deception. Picture: Mark Stewart
Zlate Cvetanovski spent nine years in jail for drug trafficking and financial deception. Picture: Mark Stewart

 

That's why he was the man who Gobbo chose as the one to crack Mokbel's empire.

Mr Cooper was already on bail for other charges when, in 2006, Gobbo stung him as a secret agent of police.

As both his lawyer and his "best friend'', Mr Cooper did not see it coming.

It had been her plan from the moment she was recruited by Victoria Police as informer 3838 in September, 2005.

Mr Cooper was the weak link, Gobbo said, and with the right approach, he was the key to take down the Mokbels and their crew.

Gobbo would soon tell police of Cvetanovksi.

She suspected Cvetanovski wasn't just a gambling buddy of Mr Cooper's, and told her police handlers that he had greater ambitions.

Mr Cooper, according to Gobbo, told her that Cvetanovksi wanted to become a drug cook for the Mokbels, a claim Cvetanovksi denies.

Gobbo's moment to shine came when Mr Cooper told her about a clandestine drug laboratory being set up near a school in Stathmore, in Melbourne's inner north.

She had been tipping off police about Mokbel's activities and this was the moment to strike.

On April 22, 2006, police made a number of arrests at the drug lab and other locations across Melbourne. They nabbed Mr Cooper and another associate, Frank Ahec.

Gobbo waited near the St Kilda Road police complex after the arrests, knowing Mr Cooper would call her as his lawyer.

But when she went to the station to see him, she wasn't really acting as Mr Cooper's lawyer, she was there as informer 3838.

That day she convinced Mr Cooper to "roll'', and he cut a deal to wear a wire for police and become a prosecution witness.

Over the next four days Mr Cooper incriminated the Mokbel crew, including Milad Mokbel and Cvetanovski.

It had been just months since Cvetanovski had come into Gobbo's orbit.

In police information reports obtained by the Herald Sun, Gobbo was telling her police handlers about Mr Cooper's new friend, Steve, from at least January 12, 2006,

 

 

Zlate Cvetanovski after his acquittal. Picture: Caroline Schelle
Zlate Cvetanovski after his acquittal. Picture: Caroline Schelle

 

They were discussing Tony Mokbel's recent New Year's Eve party to bring in 2006, and that during the night Mr Cooper had ''disappeared'' for a while.

Mr Cooper divulged to her he had headed to Crown casino, which was nearby, where he handed $20,000 to Cvetanovski.

Cvetanovski was on a losing streak. He had lost $40,000 in three hours, Gobbo told police.

She quizzes Mr Cooper about why he would let this man gamble away his money, telling police: "I said to (Cooper), you work really hard for your money. Give it to me, I'll gamble it away.''

Gobbo had little idea about Cvetanovksi in the early days of 2006, but in the months ahead she would get to know him better.

Police notes informer 3838 says "Steve square head, money man Steve.''

She tells police his surname.

"He is the guy who I believe, can't say I know for a fact, but he is turning over or laundering or stashing or investing, or all of the above, ....... money.''

Over almost three years, via Gobbo, police amass pages of intelligence on Cvetanovski as they investigate and charge him.

There were no barriers to the intelligence given despite the fact she was giving Cvetanovski legal advice.

Gobbo told police about the cars he drove, the phones he used, the associates he met with and his personal problems.

She even told her handlers about the meeting they had at a car wash she owned, and how he feared being charged by police.

Cvetanovki first met Gobbo while they were visiting a mutual friend in hospital sometime in 2005.

Tony Mokbel leaves Melbourne Magistrates’ Court with his lawyer, Nicola Gobbo.
Tony Mokbel leaves Melbourne Magistrates’ Court with his lawyer, Nicola Gobbo.

 

But it wasn't long before she was trying to join the dots.

"Horty Mokbel possibly knows Cvetanovski as well,'' Gobbo tells police in January, 2006.

Mr Cooper identifies with Cvetanovksi, and says he sees him as someone to invest with.

He knows he will soon be jailed after his 40th birthday and his plan is for Cvetanovski to "build houses for me and look after my investments …''

Although he doesn't know it, Cvetanovski has a target his back.

Gobbo will find out everything she can, through her relationship with Mr Cooper, about him.

Police, via Gobbo, know he drives a blue E Class Mercedes, and that he is married, has kids, and has a girlfriend on the side.

Gobbo tells police about a $400,000 gambling binge at Jupiters casino on the Gold Coast.

While she sets Mr Cooper up, Cvetanovski will be among the dominoes to fall even though she says he's not ''overtly flashy'' and doesn't think he's been in trouble before.

In February, 2006, the property developer becomes the "front man'' of a strip club business - Peaches.

"Purpose to launder money … licence says they can lap dance but are all whores,'' Gobbo tells police.

By March she tells police Cvetanovski has been involved in "cooks'' and he wants to become a fully fledged drug cook.

 

 

But he is a "bit put out'' Mr Cooper is working with Frank Ahec, another Mokbel acolyte, Gobbo tells police.

Gobbo, in April, 2006, hopes one of the Mokbels, Ahec and Cvetanovski are arrested at the same time.

Gobbo not only tipped off police to the drug lab in Strathmore, she wants to be a part of the police operation.

But Cvetanovski wasn't arrested at the Strathmore drug lab.

But associates Mr Cooper and Frank Ahec were.

She helps police "roll'' Mr Cooper, and then organises to meet Cvetanovksi.

The next day she allays his fears in a meeting the next day.

On April 26, 2006, Cvetanovski was arrested and questioned. Gobbo gave him legal advice.

He was arrested again and again in the coming years has his investment properties restrained by police.

Cvetanovski says when he was arrested he would see Gobbo because: "She was my go to person''.

Gobbo fed almost everything back to the police for almost three years, and even suggested police get Cvetanovski's wife to snitch on him after finding out their marriage was on the rocks.

 

Lawyer X Nicola Gobbo.
Lawyer X Nicola Gobbo.

 

Cvetanovski faced multiple trials, which wound up in 2011 in a guilty verdict by jury.

In one of his trials, his barrister, Michael Pena-Rees, almost outed Gobbo as an agent of police.

Cvetanovski has since fought to be released from prison and have his convictions quashed since the Lawyer X stories were published by the Herald Sun in 2014

On Friday, already out on bail, his conviction for large commercial drug trafficking was quashed.

It came after it was conceded by the Director of Public Prosecutions that secret payments made to Mr Cooper by Gobbo and Victoria Police, while he was a key witness against Cvetanovski, was never disclosed to him.

The money was paid into Mr Cooper's canteen account while he was in prison under his sister's name.

And it was also never disclosed to Cvetanovski that Gobbo, who had acted as his lawyer, was a registered police informer.

These concessions will be important to all of those caught in the Gobbo-Cooper web, including Tony Mokbel.

Mokbel was convicted of drug trafficking by police operation Quills, in which Cooper's evidence was used.

It was also a part of the police case to extradite Mokbel from Greece in 2008.

Gobbo was Mokbel's lawyer from 2002 until 2008.

Mr Cooper made in excess of 40 police statements against the Mokbels and their crew, leading to the convictions of 23 people.

As for Cvetanovksi, he will now put whatever chips he has left back on the table - and sue the police.

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anthony.dowsley@news.com.au

Originally published as How Lawyer X served up Mokbel's money man to police


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