Brothel owner grilled in stripper’s murder trial
A key witness in the murder trial of Melbourne stripper Ellie Price confirmed to a jury that he changed his name as a result of his ownership in brothels.
Mark Gray returned to the witness stand in the Supreme Court for a second day on Tuesday.
He denied questions put to him by Rishi Nathwani under cross examination that “silent” business partners were involved in organised crime, or that an apartment he had paid for the slain 26-year-old to live in was being used for prostitution.
Ms Price’s body was found with multiple stab wounds in her Park St, South Melbourne unit on May 4, 2020.
Her partner at the time, Ricardo Barbaro, has pleaded not guilty to her murder and is standing trial in the Supreme Court of Victoria.
The prosecution contends that Ms Price was murdered by Mr Barbaro five days earlier, on April 29, before he fled the state.
On Tuesday afternoon Mr Gray was asked by Mr Nathwani why he had told police in a statement to them that he was a sole trading accountant, without revealing that he owned brothels.
Mr Gray responded that owning brothels “was not an occupation,” and that he was a certified accountant and had studied accounting at university.
He told the jury that he ran brothels in Victoria from 1992 to 1996.
“Tell the jury why you stopped,” Mr Nathwani said.
Mr Gray said he had mistakenly employed a 17-year-old, later telling the jury it was an “honest mistake”.
“You were disqualified, weren’t you?” Mr Nathwani asked, to which Mr Gray said he had been suspended for five years.
Mr Gray told the jury that after he was disqualified from operating brothels in Victoria he opened up two in Sydney, where he said he bought businesses in 1998 and 2006.
Mr Nathwani later turned to a line of questioning focusing on a reported extortion concerning a brothel Mr Gray owned in Sydney.
“There was an extortion by a client, a client of the business,” Mr Gray said, adding that he did not know who the client was when pressed by Mr Nathwani, who then put it to him that his business partners and “silent” business partners were involved in organised crime.
“Definitely incorrect,” Mr Gray said.
“The person who extorted you is someone you are not prepared to name,” Mr Nathwani said.
“Absolutely incorrect,” Mr Gray said.
Towards the end of the afternoon he was asked a number of questions by Mr Nathwani over the rentals he had paid for Ms Price to live in, including a “sub-penthouse” on Wellington St, St Kilda, which he agreed was $1100 per week.
Mr Gray said he had no knowledge of Ms Price engaging in prostitution in that apartment.
Earlier, under questioning from Crown prosecutor Patrick Bourke KC, Mr Gray said Ms Price had demanded $100,000 from him in a phone conversation on April 21, 2020, or she would call the police and allege that he had raped her.
Mr Gray said the demand was “totally unusual and out of character.”
He said he had paid her $25,000 of the demand because “I didn’t want the possibility she may report the alleged rape.”
Mr Bourke also asked Mr Gray about a Mercedes car Ms Price was driving at the time of her death, which he said he bought for her on the understanding he would be paid back.
In his opening address last week, Mr Bourke told the jury that Ms Price’s body was found in the bedroom of unit with six stab wounds, including to her neck, chest and back.
He said Mr Barbaro had left Ms Price’s address in the early hours of the morning on the same day she was allegedly murdered, which the prosecution alleges was April 29.
Mr Bourke said Mr Barbaro’s fingerprints were at the scene, including a fingerprint on Ms Price’s bathroom mirror in blood, and the accused was arrested in the Sydney suburb of Wentworth Point on May 14.
He said Ms Price had made police complaints against Mr Barbaro over alleged violence, and she had told her mother before her death that she wanted to return to her home state of Tasmania until the accused was out of her life.
Mr Nathwani told the jury last week to ask themselves if Ms Price had “upset” anyone in her employment in strip clubs who would want to harm her.
The trial, before Justice Lex Lasry, will continue on Wednesday, with Mr Gray to continue giving evidence.