Rotorua drug money laundering trial: Large cash deposits made across 31 bank accounts – expert

Hundreds of cash deposits totaling more than $400,000 that can’t be linked to a legitimate income source were put into Paula and Luther Toleafoa’s 31 bank accounts over three years, a police forensic accounting expert has told a jury.

Paula Toleafoa is on trial in the Rotorua District Court after pleading not guilty to 78 charges of money laundering.

The Crown alleges the 47-year-old knew she was banking and spending money her husband made from his extensive drug dealing.

She claims she didn’t know what her husband was up to and believed the money she was depositing into their 31 accounts had come from their businesses – her husband’s house washing business or her property management business.

Luther Toleafoa is in custody after being convicted of large-scale methamphetamine dealing and money laundering following an undercover police investigation called Operation Janzy, centred in Rotorua.

After the police operation ended, the couple’s finances were investigated.

The Crown says $449,000 of dirty money was put into their 31 bank accounts between April 2015 and December 2018.

When all income, cash deposits, expenses and spending were investigated, no source could be identified for at least $537,739.

Among the items Paula Toleafoa spent cash on were $10,000 to buy a property management business and more than $23,000 on Flight Centre holidays packages to Fiji, Samoa and Thailand.

She also spent large amounts on skincare, jewellery, handbags and sunglasses and more than $25,000 in hotel bookings in Rotorua. She also spent thousands on a birthday party at Rydges Hotel for her husband.

Under questioning from Crown prosecutor Anna McConachy, police forensic accountant David Baker took the jury through his examination of the Toleafoas’ personal and business bank accounts between April 2015 and December 2018.

It showed a range of cash deposits into the accounts – many at money machines using Paula Toleafoa’s bank cards.

Baker confirmed there were several cash deposits made in a short space of time on the same day – often within minutes of each other.

For instance, on October 5, 2016, more than $8000 in cash was deposited into different accounts in nine separate transactions between 7.06pm and 7.19pm, for sums of $960, $980 and seven deposits for $1000.

In total $524,491 was deposited in cash. Baker found there was $70,782 in legitimate payments made into Paula Toleafoa’s bank accounts for rental payments for her property management business, First Class Properties.

Baker said some receipts seized at the couple’s homes in Rotorua and Auckland showed where some of the cash was spent, but he was unable to accurately record if there was more cash spending without asking every single retailer in New Zealand.

One expense category that didn’t fully appear in their bank statements was food, groceries and takeaways. While there was some record of purchases, it didn’t match the average household expenditure figures collected by Statistics New Zealand as the amount that should be bought for an average family.

Baker said there was an entire month, in May 2016, when according to the bank statements it appeared no food, groceries or takeaways were bought, indicating it could have been bought with cash.

He calculated there was a food expenditure shortfall of about $35,000 during the period of 2015 to 2018.

McConachy took Baker through evidence that showed thousands in cash was deposited into their bank accounts using Luther Toleafoa’s bank card at automatic teller machines but CCTV footage showed she was the one making the deposits.

Closing arguments in the trial are expected to be heard tomorrow.

Judge Phillip Cooper is expected to sum up the case to the jury on Monday before they retire to consider their verdicts.

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