Rotorua money laundering trial: Jury finds Paula Toleafoa guilty of 61 of 69 charges

A jury has found Rotorua woman Paula Toleafoa guilty of 61 of 69 money laundering charges.

The 47-year-old has been on trial in the Rotorua District Court for the past three weeks after pleading not guilty to the charges.

The jury found Paula Toleafoa was banking and spending large amounts of cash that were made from her husband’s methamphetamine dealing.

It was Paula Toleafoa’s defence she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of Luther Toleafoa and she didn’t know he was a drug dealer. She tried to convince the jury she thought the large amounts of cash they had were from his house washing and house panting business and proceeds he made buying and selling cars.

The jury retired to consider their verdicts mid-afternoon on Friday. They continued deliberating yesterday and returned their verdicts just after 6pm last night.

The jury forewoman cried at times as she read the 69 verdicts. The 61 guilty verdicts were not unanimous decisions with the forewoman saying they were majority verdicts with one juror disagreeing. The eight not guilty verdicts were unanimous.

Paula Toleafoa stood quietly listening to the verdicts, sobbed and shook her head as the guilty verdicts were read out.

During the course of the three-week trial, the jury heard evidence the Toleafoas were “living it up”.

She drove a Chrysler 300c and he drove a Hummer. They had two Harley Davidsons and “a number of” Range Rovers.

They lived mainly in Auckland but would travel to Rotorua and spend time at either the Regal Palms Hotel or Rydges Rotorua – which was where Luther Toleafoa was convicted of doing most of his methamphetamine dealing from.

The Crown was able to point to banking evidence that showed Paula Toleafoa was also in Rotorua during most of those stays and was making hundreds of cash deposits either via ATMs or in person at banks into the couple’s 31 personal or business bank accounts.

The Crown said Luther Toleafoa was selling the drugs and making the cash and Paula Toleafoa was the financial brains of the operation and was splitting the money and either banking it or spending it.

The Crown case produced evidence showing Paula Toleafoa banked nearly $170,000 in cash into the pair’s different bank accounts between 2015 and 2018 in hundreds of transactions.

During the three years in question, Paula Toleafoa also dealt in cash on a day-to-day basis and spent $196,000 in cash on shopping sprees as well as well as several overseas trips.

The Crown produced evidence she spent $10,000 in cash buying a property management business, about $23,000 at the Flight Centre buying holidays overseas and $24,000 on hotel bookings.

She told the jury she would have left him if she knew he was drug dealing.

But Crown prosecutor Anna McConachy produced evidence from Paula Toleafoa’s personal and business, Ruff Diamonds NZ, Facebook pages that indicated the pair were still together, not only after Luther Toleafoa was arrested in December 2018 but after he was convicted in August this year after his trial.

Paula Toleafoa tried to explain away the posts saying they were a “marketing” tool purely because clients of her online jewellery business liked the “bad boy” image. She said she didn’t remember making the posts but said it was possible she did it.

McConachy said the posts said things such as: “Love you babe”, “I still choose you”, “Till death do us part”, “F*** the system”, “F*** corruption” and “Inhale the good s*** and exhale the bulls***”.

Paula Toleafoa also claimed she wasn’t responsible for the shopping and holidays and it was Luther Toleafoa who handed over the cash. This was despite the Crown producing evidence there were cash receipts in her name.

Paula Toleafoa said in every instance, the person serving them wrongly put her name on the receipts, likely because she was the one doing the talking.

The defence case highlighted a side of Paula Toleafoa not many saw in the public eye.

Her lawyer, Steven Lack, said she was the victim of domestic violence and was receiving ACC payments from suffering post traumatic stress disorder.

He played abusive phone calls between the pair to the jury where he verbally threatened her.

Lack said his client had told the jury more about their abusive relationship than she had told close friends and family.

It was their case that because of the nature of their relationship, he was capable of not being honest to her about his drug dealing and therefore Paula Toleafoa knew nothing about how he earned his cash.

Lack also produced evidence which tried to show the pair weren’t together for long periods during 2015 and 2018 so, in his evidence, it was likely he didn’t tell her everything.

The defence argued the money could be explained by their other legitimate cash earnings and there was little other evidence apart from the fact there was “too much cash” to point to Paula Toleafoa’s guilt.

Judge Phillip Cooper thanked the jury for their hard work, saying it was a difficult trial in challenging circumstances that took twice as long as originally hoped because of delays from Covid-19 and legal arguments.

He told the jury it was important people were judged by their peers.

He said they had done their job and now it was up to him to do his job. He assured them Paula Toleafoa’s personal circumstances would be taken into account when he was deciding her punishment and he commented that Luther Toleafoa was the primary offender in the operation.

“Culpability and personal circumstances will be taken into account.”

Paula Toleafoa was remanded on bail for sentencing on March 25 next year. Luther Toleafoa is in custody awaiting sentencing.

Source: Read Full Article