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Vincent Benvenuto was accused of setting up Victor Peirce's murder by Andrew 'Benji' Veniamen.

A MAN who refused to implicate Melbourne underworld figure Mick Gatto in a gangland execution – but was himself charged with it – has been acquitted of the murder. By Steve Butcher, theage.

The Age can now reveal that a Supreme Court jury acquitted Vincent Benvenuto of murdering notorious criminal Victor Peirce in May, 2002.

Benvenuto, 58, was found not guilty in 2009, but an order has suppressed his identity because at the time he faced serious, then unresolved but unrelated, charges.

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After Benvenuto yesterday pleaded guilty to 13 of those charges in the County Court, including drug, weapons and fraud offences, Justice Mark Weinberg lifted his order.

It can now be reported that the prosecution case was that Benvenuto arranged for Peirce to be in Port Melbourne so hitman Andrew ”Benji” Veniamin could shoot him.

It was alleged that Peirce expected to buy drugs from Benvenuto.

The jury was told that Benvenuto’s brother Frank was murdered in May 2000 and that Benvenuto believed Peirce – once Frank’s bodyguard – was responsible. Another man who cannot be identified was convicted of the murder.

Defence barristers Christopher Dane, QC, and Sean Cash submitted that for Benvenuto to be guilty he would have had to know that Peirce would be murdered then and there.

In a letter through his lawyers, Mr Gatto once accused the Purana taskforce investigators of telling Benvenuto that ”irrespective of the truthfulness or accuracy of what he may be able to say about Mr Gatto, if he was prepared to make a statement against our client he would be supported in a bail application and his charges would be resolved favourably”.

Prosecutor Claire Quinn yesterday said that for almost a year from September 2006, Benvenuto was caught on about 24,000 bugged phone calls and listening and surveillance devices in his office and car trafficking in an aggregate large commercial quantity of various drugs.

Ms Quinn said he was the seller, supplier and purchaser of drugs, had orchestrated false and unauthorised bank transactions and threatened to injure seriously a man behind a failed investment scheme.

He admitted he used his name to intimidate people ”due to its connection with gangsters”, Ms Quinn said.

Mr Cash said Benvenuto sold drugs to feed his addiction and for greed, but had no ”trappings of wealth” and had spent 26 ”depressive and oppressive” months in protective custody because he had faced a ”gangland” trial.

Judge Jim Duggan will sentence Benvenuto, a financial broker who has served more than three years in custody, on March 31.