A routine traffic stop of two patched gang members resulted in the discovery of a corrupt motorbike licence instructor on the West Coast who had falsified hundreds of licences for gang members. SAM SHERWOOD reports.
Westport had at least one thriving industry, according to Petre Kalinowski.
It was motorcyclist licencing and Kalinowski had it down to a fine art. He had a red Ducati with which he followed the motorbike rider he was testing. They communicated by way of radios in their helmets and Kalinowski could issue his instructions, marking the rider as they went.
He would look for head checks, ‘life-savers’, mirror usage and lane positioning.
Westport, with its quiet streets and nearby rural areas, was ideal for testing, both for the instructor and the rider wanting the licence. Motorcyclists came from far and wide to do their test with Kalinowski. They could visit family or enjoy the area at the same time.
Kalinowski, who drove a mining truck as his main job, was thorough and each of his test reports itemised several errors the rider would need to work on. His charges were very reasonable.
It was a busy life for Kalinowski, which he acknowledged himself in a post on Facebook in June last year.
“Been a busy year, full time job up the coal mine, training and testing the weekends, and trying to fit in the occasional pleasure ride. Life is good at 65,” he wrote.
His client list included a Who's Who of the country's gangs. They were members of the Hells Angels, King Cobras, Mongrel Mob, Head Hunters, Black Power, Killer Beez and Rebels.
Kalinowski, now 66 – who came to New Zealand from the United Kingdom where he had clocked up several convictions, including fraud and dishonesty offences – pocketed more than $50,000 from his corrupt operation. He could have made a lot more. His bank records revealed reckless spending on travel, dining, motorcycle gear and luxuries.
In April 2021, police pulled over two patched Hells Angels members for parking their motorbikes in a bus lane in Wellington. The pair were on bail, the conditions of which meant they weren't allowed to ride their motorbikes. One also had a gun, cash, and some drugs.
Police examined their phones and found several messages between one of the gang members and Kalinowski about ordering licences for himself and several associates.
Wellington police discovered where Kalinowski was living and sent the information to staff on the West Coast, who began Operation Ketch.
The investigation began by speaking with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and going through Kalinowski's records. Then came six months worth of text data, which police used to compare with his bank records and the list of licences issued.
Police now had a clear list of offences.
They discovered the offending was escalating, from 15 bogus certificates in 2018 to 102 in 2021 by the time of his arrest.
On June 16, police raided his home. Kalinowski was in Christchurch, and agreed to an interview in Greymouth. On the way, he deleted incriminating messages on his phone and hid both the phone and a tablet computer at the home of a patched Rebels gang member near the Greymouth police station.
During his formal interview, Kalinowski denied all the offending, despite police showing him “extensive documentary evidence”.
There was only one problem. Hardly anything about the above scenario was true. Kalinowski was issuing licences from Westport, but he wasn't conducting tests on his red Ducati. All he was doing was issuing certificates (required for licences), notifying the authorities the test had, despite a few mistakes, been adequately completed.
The customers of his corrupt service were mainly gang members who did not want to go through the usual processes. Over about three years, Kalinowski dishonestly issued 285 certificates, of which 257 were successfully used to obtain different classes of motorcycle licences.
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Even people who signed up for the test expecting to be put through the hoops were told not to worry. Their licence would be issued without an assessment.
For those outside of the area, there was an extra charge. Postage.
Kalinowski insisted he had met and tested everyone he had ever issued a qualification to, without exception.
Police then showed him several conversations in which the timing made it clear that no such assessment could have been arranged before he promised to post the certificate the following morning. Nonetheless, he was steadfast in his version of events.
He declined to work with police to identify the people who had received bogus certificates.
The investigation revealed several flaws in Kalinowski’s offending. The main flaw was using four main registration numbers on the fraudulent score sheets for the vast bulk of his offending. Inquiries with the registered owners allowed police to quickly establish most of the fake test records.
Another flaw was that he had only set up testing routes in Westport and Greymouth, but was conducting most his business with customers from all over the country, including a growing number in Christchurch.
Police believe Kalinowski had become aware of the flaws and had purchased a new motorbike and started setting up a Christchurch route so his future planned offending would no longer leave such a clear paper trail.
Inside his home, police found an order for about 12 booklets of fresh score sheets and Competency Based Training Assessment (CBTA) certificates.
“Prior to his corruption, this would have been enough to last him at least five years, but at the rate of his offending had been escalating he would have run out by the end of 2021,” the police summary of facts said.
Police believe obtaining money was Kalinowski’s primary motivation.
“It was greed, not any hardship that drove him.”
Word of mouth
Kalinowski, who started his testing business, Roadcraft NZ Limited, in 2014, appears to have started cutting corners in 2018.
Like any good business, his customer base grew through word of mouth. About half his customers were West Coasters who turned up expecting to be tested. Kalinowski would feign a problem such as a sore back and sign them off. No-one appears to have objected.
The rest of his customers lived further afield, with clientele in Auckland, Wellington and Ashburton. Most were gang members and some had extensive criminal histories. They arranged their certificates over the phone, some through third parties Kalinowski had previously dealt with.
Kalinowski would request a photo of the applicant’s licence along with their postal address, and would send his bank account details for them to pay the normal fee for an assessment: $99 for the Basic Handling Skills Test, $199 for CBTA restricted, and $175 for CBTA full licence, the same price he always charged whether legitimate or illegitimate.
He would then fill out entirely false details on the score sheet, fabricating a test time, date and location, and forging a signature purporting to be that of the applicant.
Once he received the funds he filled out two copies of the relevant certificate and posted them to the illegitimate customers, who were then able to obtain different classes of motorcycle licences.
Through the first half of 2020, Kalinowski developed an ongoing relationship with a regular customer in West Auckland who already held a full motorcycle licence but would regularly order licences for others.
He also had a relationship with a repeat shopper who largely ordered on behalf of Mongrel Mob gang members based around Porirua.
His customers would often text him to say they belonged to a gang or were referred by another gang member who had passed them his number.
From October 2020, Kalinowski routinely gave customers a cover story for people to use, warning that they may be called by quality control.
“He told illegitimate customers to say they sat the test while on holiday or visiting family in Westport, that he followed them on a red Ducati motorcycle, and they used radios in their helmets to communicate,” the police summary of fact says.
“He stressed to customers and repeat purchasers the need for everyone to be well versed in the false cover story.”
Telco data showed that in February 2021, Kalinowski arranged certificates for two King Cobra gang members in Christchurch.
They quickly inquired as to how many licences he could help them obtain, and he replied that five or six a day was the maximum to avoid suspicion.
The King Cobra members said they could possibly provide 10 customers a week and would pay a standard flat rate of $300, regardless of qualification type.
Kalinowski accepted the deal and began using a motorcycle workshop as a regular place to either meet in person or leave a package containing several certificates at once.
He received several large sums through bank transfer for his work but progressively moved towards receiving his payments in cash.
He was employed full-time through most of the period of his offending, but in February 2021 started receiving ACC payments of $747.89 a week due to an injury. The injury did not prevent the issuing of false certificates.
A serious risk
There are only 101 other CBTA-approved motorcycle instructors throughout New Zealand, and only one other on the West Coast.
The CBTA scheme was introduced by NZTA in 2014, allowing approved motorcycle instructors acting as private contractors to take people for practical assessments for their restricted and full licences. The tests meet the criteria of a standard assessment but are deemed a higher level of assessment as the instructor must follow the applicant on their own motorbike.
“[Kalinowski] held a rare position, which he repeatedly abused in escalating fashion to incremental but considerable financial gain,” the summary of facts said.
“Each person to whom the defendant has issued illegitimate qualifications has been placed at serious risk of harm by his actions, regardless of whether they are among those he has corrupted or those already corrupt. The defendant’s actions have also placed at risk any passengers subsequently carried on illegitimate licences and all road users in general.”
One of his repeat customers, a patched Hells Angels member, was riding a Harley-Davidson while aggressively lane splitting in Auckland when he rear-ended a woman driving ahead of him.
Another customer linked to the same gang was recorded by Kalinowski as having sat his CBTA restricted test on May 29, 2021, finishing at 11.20am.
However, at 4.10pm the same day, Waitemata police caught him riding his Harley-Davidson 121kmh in a 50kmh posted speed limit area of Albany.
The motorcyclist was charged with dangerous speed, but later received his CBTA certificate in the post and obtained his restricted licence on July 13.
As part of a joint investigation, police and NZTA found about 160 people had invalid licences, and several of Kalinowski’s customers are now facing fraud charges of their own.
'I’ve lost everything’
Stuff contacted Kalinowski following his arrest. At the time, he said the charges were “just accusations”, and he was yet to speak to a lawyer, but intended to plead guilty.
He said he did not initially know he was dealing with gang members.
“If someone turns up for a motorcycle test, and they’re not wearing patches or colours or stuff like that, how can I be accused of ... working with the gangs or whatever.
“My job is to meet up with motorcyclists and ... do their motorcycle tests.
“Not everyone turns up in Mongrel Mob regalia for a motorcycle test. No-one would be that stupid, would they?”
Eventually, he realised some of his customers were gang members, he said.
“I’m not stupid... I sort of realised that once they got their claws into me, it wasn’t going to ring well.”
He claimed he was bullied and threatened by the gangs when he said he could no longer issue the licences.
Asked what he got out of the corrupt scheme, he said he got nothing.
“I never charged any more than my normal price,” he said.
The impact of his offending was massive.
“I feel s.... I’ve lost everything.”
On Thursday, Kalinowski pleaded guilty in the Westport District Court to 24 representative charges of dishonestly creating false CBTA score sheets and certificates. He will be sentenced on March 9.
Outside court, he had little to say.
“I'll just be glad when it's all over."