A bounty to murder criminal lawyer Joseph ‘Pino’ Acquaro had reportedly increased to $500,000 in recent months.
Mr Acquaro, 54, was found dead in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick East at 3am Tuesday by a garbage truck driver, metres from a popular cafe strip. Victoria Police detectives believe he was deliberately shot.
An initial $200,000 reward for his killing was increased to $500,000 in recent months, The Herald Sun reported on Wednesday. He was reportedly warned by police of the increase.
The lawyer frequently acted for alleged members of Melbourne’s criminal underworld. He was also a past president of the Italian Chamber of Commerce and was involved in the Brunswick Reggio Calabria Club.
Mr Acquaro was a director of the popular ice-cream and Italian cake shop, Gelobar, around the corner from where his body was found. The shop was damaged by a suspicious fire two months ago.
Detective Inspector Mick Hughes said on Tuesday that the lawyer was shot while walking to his car after shutting his business about 12:40am.
“A witness has heard a car travelling down that street away from Lygon [Street] at a reasonably high speed,” Mr Hughes said.
“If anyone has seen cars in the area prior to the shooting [and] just after the shooting, please contact Crime Stoppers.
Fairfax Media initially reported there was a $200,000 contract out for the lawyer’s murder.
It was suggested the victim was warned by police that his life was in danger, and was told to take protect measures, but he refused to do so.
Det Insp Hughes believed it was a targeted attack.
“It’s always a concern when someone meets their death in a public place,” he said.
“From a safety perspective, it does appear to be targeted and as our investigation unfolds today, and over the next few days we’ll probably know more about that.
“But certainly at this stage it certainly looks as if it’s a targeted attack.
“The other possibility we’ll certainly look at is robbery.”
Det Insp Hughes said Mr Acquaro was known to police “through other associations” not because he had been convicted of any crime.
“There was a previous incident here that police were aware of.
“From what I’ve been told, it appears that was a very minor incident that wouldn’t result in something as tragic as this.”
Det Insp Hughes would not say how many gunshot wounds the man suffered or what type of gun was used in the murder.
‘He was a beautiful person’
Neighbouring restaurateur Teresa Bruno was devastated to hear about the Mr Acquaro’s death.
“He was such a beautiful person,” she told AAP.
“I knew him since he started his business five years ago. He used to come here every week for dinner.
“Whenever he saw me he would offer me coffee.”
Ms Bruno said she heard sirens at about 3am on Tuesday morning but then fell asleep.
When she woke up she was told by her niece that the business owner and lawyer had been killed.
“All of the neighbours … we’re shocked,” Ms Bruno said.
A woman who is understood to run the Gelobar shop arrived at the scene early Tuesday morning and was visibly distressed.
SES workers conducted a line search in the area where the body was found.
-with AAP and ABC