It was a word the cops had heard over and over again in the weeks they’d been secretly recording the conversations between the two men.
It didn’t take the officers long to realise it was part of a code – and a rudimentary one at that. Deciphering it was easy: petrol meant bullets. Likewise, ‘motorbike’ was really a cover word for gun, as were ‘sisters’, ‘snottys’ and ‘hadidi’.
The two criminals adopted the code words almost every time they spoke over the phone, suspecting their phones were being tapped by police.
They thought they could outsmart the cops: they were wrong.
But during one particular conversation, something was definitely amiss. Petrol didn’t mean bullets this time – it actually meant petrol.
The kind that gets you from A to B. Or in this case, the kind that gets one criminal in close proximity to another so he can settle a score.
And that had been the plan: lure the rival into the open so they could take him out.
They had the guns, bullets and even a car. So who forgot to fill up?
OUT FOR REVENGE
It was two days before Christmas 2017 and Damien Featherstone had just walked out of Bathurst jail.
But making sure he behaved himself – the cornerstone of any criminal’s time on parole – was the furthest thing from his mind.
After all, he was the self-proclaimed leader of the Illawarra chapter of Brothers 4 Life – a reincarnation of the feared Muslim gang started by convicted murderer Bassam Hamzy in 2007.
Featherstone and Hamzy had once been cellmates in Goulburn Supermax and Hamzy’s extreme beliefs had rubbed off on his disciple.
Fast-forward to December 2017 and Featherstone had already established a small but loyal following among the Illawarra’s criminal networks.
But this had led to him butting heads with other already established crooks; one in particular.
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Troy Fornaciari had risen from meddling thug to criminal heavyweight in recent years, in part due to his rather yappy big mouth and penchant for permanently inking his thoughts on his face.
By late 2017, Fornaciari had anointed himself the leader of the Illawarra chapter of the Finks outlaw motorcycle gang and was trying to make a name for the new club in criminal circles.
It’s not known what brought the two men into such vehement conflict or when it occurred, but Featherstone made his dislike of his rival well known. His nicknames for Fornaciari included the almost affectionate – “Panda” – to the downright offensive – “F–k Face”.
By December that year, Fornaciari was number one on Featherstone’s hit list.
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Damien Featherstone believed there were few people he could trust, so any job had to be done in-house.
Enter, Andrew Coe.
Coe, a young Aboriginal man familiar with the inside of a jail cell, was one of Featherstone’s prize recruits – a natural step in a friendship cultivated years earlier.
Coe was serving the last two weeks of a jail stint when he and Featherstone were recorded discussing their Fornaciari ‘problem’.
“Little mongrel won’t come out of his nest,” Featherstone told Coe in a morning call on January 13, 2018.
“F–k me dead he is hiding the motherf–ker. Me and the boys have gone hunting three or four times.”
For his part, Coe vowed to go “Quami-style” on Fornaciari when he got released – a direct reference to Farhad Quami, one of the gang’s most feared and violent leaders.
He would get his chance just a few weeks later.
Coe got out of prison on January 23 and wasted no time getting down to business.
It took just five days for he and Featherstone to devise a plan of attack against Fornaciari, although the recorded conversations between the pair show a degree of ineptitude that could be considered amusing if not for the dire consequences of what they were planning.
It seems guns weren’t the problem – it was sourcing ammunition that had the pair stumped.
“We need food for the skitzo dog,” Featherstone told Coe on the morning of January 24.
Later that night, Coe asked if they had “petrol for the motorbike”, to which Featherstone replied “nah”.
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Over the next few days, Coe and Featherstone had multiple conversations about tracking down ammunition but neither seemed able to deliver the goods.
At least they had a plan though: a female friend had agreed to lure Fornaciari from the Finks clubhouse in North Wollongong into the CBD under the pretence of selling him a gold ring.
Finally, late on January 27, Featherstone told Coe he had found them some ammunition and the plan could be set in motion.
It was all well and good to plan for a CBD hit, but it appeared Featherstone and Coe had not considered how Coe was going to get there to carry it out.
He didn’t have a car, and it was quickly decided he shouldn’t risk driving an unregistered one and getting pulled over with a gun on the passenger seat. The suggestion of a taxi came and went, and eventually Coe tracked down a vehicle to take him into Wollongong.
It ran out of petrol mid-trip. (Detectives later mused how they could hear the beeping sound of the car’s low fuel warning in the background).
Featherstone was furious and accused Coe of chickening out. Coe assured him he was “keen”, saying “it’s going to happen Bro, it’s going to happen but I got to get petrol.”
It didn’t happen, either later that day or in the next few days.
Then Fornaciari was arrested on unrelated charges on February 1 and the gang’s window of opportunity disappeared. Fornaciari was upfront with police about his predicament, telling them he was the subject of a hit by B4L and believed he’d be knocked while in prison.
He has spent his entire time behind bars in protective custody.
Meanwhile, police raided Featherstone’s North Wollongong apartment later that same day, uncovering two firearms.
But the volatile leader was nowhere to be seen. He spoke with Coe early the next morning, confirming police had seized two guns from his property.
Within days he was gone, fleeing to Canberra to escape the heat from the raid. He was arrested less than a month later on serious break-in charges and remains imprisoned in the ACT.
Meanwhile, Coe’s parole was pulled and he ended up back behind bars. Police caught up with a month later at Newcastle Police Station but he refused to talk when questioned. Police charged him anyway.