(L) Johnny Nguyen as a gangster and (R) Johnny said drug dealing was not glamorous. Picture: Melvyn Knipe
(L) Johnny Nguyen as a gangster and (R) Johnny said drug dealing was not glamorous. Picture: Melvyn Knipe

Gang's ice tester boy talks drugs, cars & good times

JOHNNY Nguyen's dad found a pound of marijuana in his bedroom when he was 17. He was given a choice - get rid of the drugs or move out.

The Vietnamese teen from Sydney's south west moved out. This decision determined his fate.

He entered a world of drugs, gangs, cars and good times.

With uncles in the notorious 5T Gang, it was easier for him to get involved in the darker part of society.

From 22 to almost 26 he was a fulltime ice user, smoking a quarter ounce a week with a street value of $2000.

He became 5T's ice tester boy because of his knowledge on the drug.

His job was to determine the purity based on taste and "how it crunched in the pipe".

He could tell how much it was worth on the street. He was a valuable asset.

The 5T gang was a Vietnamese crime gang active in the Cabramatta and Bankstown area.

The gang rose from youths in the 1980s and stands for five Vietnamese words - Tinh, Tien, Tu, Toi and Tu, translating to love, money, prison, punishment, suicide.

It also means tuoi tre thieu tinh thuong which, according to Google, roughly translates to "childhood without love".

The gang dominated the heroin trade in Cabramatta.

Australian politician John Newman spoke prominently on the gang problem in Sydney's south west in the late 1980s.

He campaigned strongly against gang activity and received regular death threats before his murder.

The Cabramatta State MP was shot twice and killed outside his Woods Ave home on September 5, 1994. He was the first Australian politician to be assassinated.

Former Cabramatta MP John Newman.
Former Cabramatta MP John Newman.

5T gang leader at the time, Tri Minh Tran was the prime suspect.

Tran was born in Vietnam in 1975 and came to Australia as a seven-year-old.

By 11 he had been arrested for carrying a sawn-off shotgun. A couple of years later he was suspected of the murder of two rival gang members.

One of Tran's relatives made a statement to police, that Tran rejected an offer of $10,000 from Phuong Ngo to kill Newman.

Ngo, a club owner and political opponent to Mr Newman, was convicted of the killing in 2001 six years after Tran had been killed.

5T gang leader Tri Minh Tran
5T gang leader Tri Minh Tran

Mr Nguyen said entering the world of gangs was an easier transition because he had uncles already in the ranks.

"First thing in the morning I blazed the pipe. My life revolved around drugs," he said.

He branched off, selling his own drugs and was raking in $15 to $20k a week.

He had four drug runners selling to regulars but he still loved to get his hands dirty and stay on the selling front.

His drug use resulted in severe paranoia.

"More paranoid than your usual drug dealer," he said.

"I couldn't see myself breaking free from it. I had the mindset that if I died tomorrow it'd be okay."

His turning point came when three close associates were arrested and given five year sentences for drugs and weapons.

"When you're in a gang you know when they're (police) after you. I left everything and got a job, hoping they'd forget about me."

He gave up the drugs ... cold turkey.

He changed his number, moved house and sold all his cars.

He bumped into a guy from a Middle Eastern gang at a petrol station.

He invited me to an event where an ex-Australian soldier talked about his violence resulting in jail time, and how he'd turned his life around.

"I'm now working a fulltime job and what I get in a week's wage today I earned in half a day," he said.

"It's not as glamorous as you think. Behind the tattoos, gold chains, nice cars and girls is emptiness ... a broken heart."

Mr Nguyen, who lives in Merrylands, still has friends in the drug and gang scene and said it breaks his heart to see their addition.

Vu Pham spent 19 birthdays behind bars. He survived a bullet to the head.

He's spent time in Silverwater, Parklea, Long Bay, Windsor, Cessnock and Goulburn correctional centres.

"I come from a broken family. When my parents separated when I was 13, it was a crucial point in my life," he said.

"It started in the classroom and with hip hop culture. Gangstaism was glorified. Everyone idolised Notorious BIG and Tupac.

"I had no father figure and no one to tell me right from wrong."

Mr Pham spent almost two decades behind bars and has been out of jail for almost a year.

"This is the longest I've been out of jail for," he said.

"I'm on a totally different path. I want to help others. I help mentor a lot of guys here at The Potter's House Church.

"It's rewarding to help others."

News Corp Australia

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