Gang jailed for wave of 'terror and violence'

CCTV of Bundoora hotel armed robbery
CCTV of Bundoora hotel armed robbery
Rayan Polos, Lawrence Khoshaba and Ameer Younan in court.

Rayan Polos, Lawrence Khoshaba and Ameer Younan in court.

CCTV of Bundoora hotel armed robbery

CCTV of Bundoora hotel armed robbery

CCTV of the Bundoora armed robbery.

CCTV of the Bundoora armed robbery.

A Melbourne courtroom erupted on Wednesday after two 20-year-old men received long prison terms for a series of armed robberies – including one executed with "maximum terror and violence" – inflicted on staff and patrons at suburban Melbourne gaming venues.

Rayan Polos, who committed five armed robberies and Ameer Younan four, were aged 18 during their 10-week "premier division" crime rampage from late 2010.

Incredibly, the pair struck again on January 8 this year at another hotel gaming venue – while on bail and just weeks from facing trial for the earlier offences.

Confronted by police outside the Dorset Gardens Hotel, the masked bandits fled and during a high-speed chase Polos twice leaned from a stolen car and pointed a loaded gun at police.

Andy Younan angrily shouted at police in the County Court after his brother was jailed for 11 years with a minimum of eight years.

When he stormed from the court followed by detectives, his raised voice could still be heard as his mother also angrily remonstrated with police.

Younan and Polos pleaded guilty earlier this year with associate Lawrence Khoshaba, 23, a painter, who admitted one charge of armed robbery at the Bundoora Hotel, which was committed by all three who have prior convictions for criminal offences.

Prosecutor Neill Hutton described this crime as having "all the hallmarks of the most serious category" of armed robbery.

Mr Hutton had told Judge Felicity Hampel in the County Court that it involved planning, reconnaissance missions, a stolen car – backed up to the venue with the engine running – disguises and "maximum terror and violence".

He said it was at the "absolute highest end of egregiousness" as seen in CCTV footage where distressed staff and patrons – including a woman who felt she was having a heart attack – had retreated to the strongroom to temporarily escape the masked bandits.

In her sentencing remarks on Wednesday, Judge Hampel said each man took active steps to avoid police surveillance for crimes she described as sophisticated, with each offender allocated well-rehearsed roles.

Judge Hampel said the victim impact statements made "sad reading" from innocent people just doing their job, or others passing time lawfully.

They were vulnerable people unable to protect themselves and now left frightened and distrustful with many unable to return to their jobs.

She told the three men they were intelligent, educated and with social skills who "understood the likely impact on the victims of your conduct".

But they had "failed to take advantage of the opportunity your parents had worked so hard to provide".

The CCTV footage of the armed robberies conveyed how "chillingly prepared and organised" the offences were and "how terrified many of your victims were".

Barristers George Traczyk, for Polos, unemployed, and Bruce Nibbs, for Younan, a builder, had told Judge Hampel that at the time their clients had $2000 daily "ice" habits.

They said after their arrest in 2011, inmates in custody and "elements" in the community had pressured them for a share of the robberies' proceeds, then estimated at $500,000.

But in the five armed robberies a total of $178,000 was stolen, of which $25,000 was recovered.

Rumours had circulated, even before Polos's arrest, about his involvement and Mr Traczyk argued it was not fanciful to suggest others were "trying to get a piece of the action".

He compared it to the fallout among the criminal underworld after the Great Bookie Robbery in 1976 when a gang stole about $15 million from bookmakers at the Victoria Club.

Mr Nibbs made a similar submission, while both barristers told Judge Hampel their clients committed the Dorset Gardens offence to repay a drug debt after relapsing into ice usage.

Luke Baker, for Khoshaba, then 20 and at that time also a heavy ice user, had "rebelled of sorts" against his father who had "ruled the family in a fair, strict and fairly cloistered way".

Mr Hutton said all offenders entered each venue heavily disguised and carrying handguns, knives, screwdrivers or bolt cutters.

Younan and two unknown men, wearing hooded jackets and gloves and with faces covered with wraparound clothing, first robbed the Taylors Lakes Hotel at 1.28am on December 7, 2010.

Younan held a knife and his accomplices held semi-automatic pistols as patrons, staff and security guards were ordered onto the floor before the bandits fled with $61,751.

Two days later, Polos and Younan, with a similarly disguised unknown man, burst into the Epping RSL at 10.22pm.

Confronted with men brandishing a pistol and a knife, staff and patrons obeyed orders to get on the floor as Younan jumped a counter to steal $16,362 from safes and cash drawers.

Mr Hutton said that from December 20 police began to intercept calls on Younan's mobile phone, which was registered under a woman's name at a false address.

The next morning at 4.20, Younan, with Polos and an unknown male, forced open the locked glass automatic doors at the Kealba Hotel with bolt cutters.

Staff, patrons and security guards were ordered to the floor as Younan removed $73,000.

From early January, 2011, police intercepted calls on Polos' and Khoshaba's phones – the former's registered under another name at a non-existent address, the latter's under a false name unknown at the address.

Mr Hutton said investigators also watched Polos and Younan meet and conduct reconnaissance missions at various venues before in February after deploying tracking and devices.

At 3am on February 15, the three men reversed a stolen car to the front doors of the Bundoora Hotel and then forced open the security doors enough for Khoshaba to squeeze through.

Two staff and four patrons had fled to the strongroom as Younan and Polos jumped the counter and rifled cash tills and drawers.

Mr Hutton said Khoshaba, holding an imitation handgun, shouted at a security guard and an employee not to move and threatened to "put a cap" in one of their ankles.

He said: "Younan and Polos approached the strongroom and ordered staff to open the door, threatening to 'blow someone's head off'.

"Younan and Polos kicked the strongroom door, forcing entry after 30 seconds."

The gaming supervisor rang 000 before Polos took the phone and hung it up before the pair forced an employee to open a safe.

"They remained inside the strongroom for about three minutes, loading money into the black backpack," he said, while at the same time a police car drove into the hotel car park.

Khoshaba alerted the others and the three ran off, abandoning the getaway car, as the police dog squad and air wing searched the area unsuccessfully.

Polos and Younan were arrested by – but unwisely tried to escape from – the special operations group at 8.15 that morning in Thomastown, while Khoshaba was arrested later that day by appointment at a police station.

Polos and Younan spent some months in custody before being bailed, but on January 8 this year – disguised and wielding a gun and a knife – they robbed the Dorset Gardens Hotel soon after 9am.

Mr Hutton said that while Younan demanded money from staff, Polos walked around the gaming area "controlling" people as some patrons remained at pokies machines and others hid "fearing their lives were in danger".

Leaving the car park, they were confronted by two police vehicles and a high-speed chase began during which Polos "leaned out of the front passenger window and pointed the handgun at the police members".

One of the police drivers, Mr Hutton said, "applied the brakes heavily, causing a collision with the unmarked vehicle which was directly behind the divisional van".

As the chase continued with the second police car, Polos again pointed the firearm – fully loaded but malfunctioning – "directly" at the two officers before the offenders abandoned their vehicle and fled on foot.

Polos was chased through several properties and finally captured, while Younan escaped.

Police found several items of clothing in Younan's wake as he ran, partially naked, through the backyards of several properties before his arrest on January 28.

Mr Traczyk told Judge Hampel that a psychologist reported at Polos's bail application in 2012 that he had not been "enjoying life" and had "gravitated to older, negative peers".

"Elements" in the community had demanded a share of the robbery proceeds, and when he refused his family was threatened and shots were fired at his house, he said.

In evidence, his mother described him as the "best" of her four children and confirmed the threats, the shooting of her house, a fire bombing of her car and that another son had been bashed.

Mr Traczyk said the Dorset Gardens robbery was committed to pay a drug debt and to "cover" a share from the first offences.

Mr Nibbs said Younan was bailed a year ago to a rehabilitation residence, from which he was released last August, only to relapse into drug use.

This had followed approaches in custody from people wanting a share of the robberies' proceeds and people threatening his family, he said.

Mr Nibbs submitted that the CCTV footage of the Bundoora robbery gave Younan an "insight into the crimes he did not have when he committed them".

"He got into the premier division of crime very quickly," Mr Nibbs said.

Mr Barker conceded that the offences had all the hallmarks of well-planned, professional armed robberies that had violated the rights of people and threatened their lives.

He said Khoshaba, who was convicted of an unrelated armed robbery after the Bundoora one, started using ice frequently in the nightclub scene, which had then "spiralled out of control" until his arrest.

While Khoshaba's life had now changed "180 degrees", Mr Barker admitted the "effect on the victims may not be so reversible".

In his sentencing submissions, Mr Hutton emphasised that the effect on the victims would last for "many, many years" from crimes that were at the "absolute top end of the scale of armed robberies".

He argued that if Polos and Younan were pressured by various people to commit the Dorset Gardens offence to pay a debt, then "they were content to inflict on others the violence they say they were scared of themselves".

Judge Hampel said there was nothing to suggest from the telephone intercepts that the men were drug impaired at the time and she also did not accept that ice usage was a mitigating factor.

She told Polos she was satisfied there had been shots at his mother's house and threats made to her, but described as "implausible" and unsupported by evidence his explanation for the Dorset Gardens armed robbery.

He was sentenced to 10 years with a minimum of seven years.

She told Younan he was lucky to have family support but found also there was no evidence of remorse for his victims.

There was also nothing to suggest he had developed any insight into his behaviour that would justify a finding of remorse other than being overwhelmed by guilt and that he had let his family down, Judge Hampel said.

She told Khoshaba he felt sorry for himself and for the upset and distress he had caused his family, and regarded his prospects of rehabilitation as good.

He was jailed for four years and three months with a minimum term of two years and nine months.

This story Gang jailed for wave of 'terror and violence' first appeared on The Age.