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Clyde Campbell: The Latin dance craze that turned a young man to crime

The plane at the centre of the court battle between Clyde Campbell and Fiat Chrysler Australia, with photographer Andrew Vukosav standing in front. Photo: SuppliedThe $500,000 boat at the centre of it all
Nanjing Night Net

EXCLUSIVE

Whether working as a car thief or car chief, Clyde Campbell has always loved a party.

The high-flying ex-boss of Fiat Chrysler Australia hosted Harry Kewell, Shane Warne and Jesinta Campbell at his lavish soirees at Crown Casino and Portsea.

Mr Campbell’s first business venture was a long way from the star-studded parties at Crown. The Sunday Age can reveal he started out promoting  Lambada  dance nights in Victoria’s LaTrobe Valley, along with a group of mates from the Seventh Day Adventist Church.

Last month, The Sunday Age revealed that Mr Campbell was charged and convicted over string of car theft offences between 1990 and 1992.  Court documents reveal that it was the mounting debts from failed Lambada dance venture that enticed Mr Campbell and his friends – a group of young men who grew up as Seventh Day Adventists – to establish an interstate car theft racket.

Mr Campbell is now being sued by his former employer for misusing and misappropriating more than $30 million of company money to help fund a lavish lifestyle, and is expected to file his statement of defence in case on Friday.

Back in 1989, Mr Campbell worked as a nightclub bouncer at a Melbourne bar called Cafe Clicquot with his friend and flatmate Darren McGrath. Both men grew up together in Adelaide.

Mr Campbell’s father, Tony Campbell, was a Seventh Day Adventist pastor, and moved his family to Melbourne to take a position at the church’s Blackburn headquarters in the mid-1980s.

Mr McGrath followed several years later, along with another friend from the church, Grant Jasper. The three friends rented a house together in Donvale, in Melbourne’s east.

Mr Campbell and Mr McGrath befriended a Spanish entertainer named Rafael Garcia at Cafe Clicquot. After learning that Mr Garcia could dance the Lambada, the three men decided to promote dance nights together in the LaTrobe Valley.

A South Australian court was told about the business venture at the trial of Darren McGrath and his brother Brenton, a panel beater who was also involved with the car theft ring.

“At about this time, there was a dance craze that was sweeping through Victoria, through the nightclubs,” the court was told. “The craze was called [Lambada] and Garcia, being Spanish, was apparently well acquainted with that dance and able to dance it and to promote it. He was successful at doing this at the club at which both he and [McGrath] worked.

“As the craze developed, Garcia said to both Campbell and McGrath that he was proposing to hold Lambada nights at various nightclubs in the LaTrobe Valley.  The defendant, and indeed Campbell, were quite persuaded that this was a viable business.”

The trio booked a venue called the Traralgon Astrodome, which has hosted such rock bands such as INXS, Rose Tattoo and Hunters & Collectors.  The Lambada nights, however, were far from viable.

“The nightclub position boomed to start with,” the court was told. “For the first month, it really looked as though the business had taken off, but after that time it started to drop away. At this stage, Campbell and [McGrath] had loaned Garcia some $20,000-odd between them. This was unsecured in any way, and, as the dance craze dropped off, it was becoming more and more apparent that they were going to lose their money.”

As debts mounted, the group of Seventh Day Adventists and their Lambada-dancing friend started selling stolen cars, taken from South Australia and NSW. They “rebirthed” those cars using wrecks bought at auction houses.

An 18-month investigation by South Australia’s Organised Crime Task Force and Victoria Police finally cracked the criminal gang. The breakthrough came in September 1990, when a young man with long black hair and a gold earring drove a white XF Falcon with South Australian licence plates into a car yard in Blackburn, and tried to sell it for $10,000. That man was Clyde Campbell.

The salesman working that day, Paul Schild, would later tell police he was suspicious because “the normal trade price for the car would be around $17,000.” Mr Schild offered Mr Campbell a personal cheque for $9500 for the car.

While Mr Campbell was trying to deposit that cheque at a nearby Commonwealth Bank, the car yard’s manager contacted South Australian Police, who confirmed the Falcon was stolen. “They were only caught because Clyde Campbell sold the car way too cheap,” a former police officer involved with the case told The Sunday Age.

The Task Force started surveillance on the car gang. Mr Campbell and Mr McGrath were charged in Victoria and then extradited to South Australia to face further charges. Mr Garcia fled the country and avoided arrest.

In January 1991, Clyde Anthony Campbell, then aged 23, appeared before Melbourne Magistrates Court and pleaded guilty to two charges of receiving stolen goods and one charge of obtaining property by deception after being found in possession of a stolen vehicle.

He was sentenced to a good behaviour bond of $2000 for 12 months, fined $1000 and ordered to pay $10,000 in compensation. He also pleaded guilty to charges in South Australia.

Mr McGrath was given three-year suspended jail sentence for his involvement in the crimes. “I am not proud of my involvement and do not deny I did the crime,” Mr McGrath has told Fairfax Media.

Mr Jasper pleaded guilty to possession of three stolen vehicles, and a further two charges of receiving financial gain by deception, over his involvement with the gang.

In one final ironic twist, Mr Jasper still works in the car industry. He is the general manager of the Belcar Chrysler Jeep Dodge dealership in Adelaide. According to several of his colleagues, he was hired on the recommendation of Clyde Campbell.

Mr Jasper refused to answer questions when contacted by The Sunday Age.

Mr Campbell’s lawyers deny any wrongdoing by their client, and have repeatedly refused to answer questions.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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