Rotorua drug money laundering trial: Abusive calls between Luther and Paula Toleafoa played to jury

Audio recordings of three abusive phone calls between Paula Toleafoa and her husband have been played to a jury that is to decide if she’s guilty of laundering cash from his methamphetamine dealing.

Paula Toleafoa, 47, is on trial in the Rotorua District Court after pleading not guilty to 78 charges of money laundering.

Her husband, 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 was terminated, the couple’s finances were investigated. Paula Toleafoa was found to have deposited large amounts of money into 31 bank accounts and had also spent a lot of cash.

It’s the Crown’s case that $449,000 was put into bank accounts belonging to Paula and Luther Toleafoa between April 2015 and December 2018.

Crown prosecutor Anna McConachy has told the jury Paula Toleafoa bought a property management business using $10,000 and paid more than $23,000 on several Flight Centre holidays packages to Fiji, Samoa and Thailand.

She also spent large amounts on skincare, jewellery, handbags and sunglasses and paid cash for hotel bookings including $14,000 at Rydges Rotorua and more than $13,000 at Regal Palms.

It is the defence’s case that Paula Toleafoa was in a violent relationship with her husband, she did not know the cash came from drug dealing and thought it was from her husband’s house-washing business.

Today, the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Joshua Tapsell, was cross-examined by Paula Toleafoa’s lawyer, Steven Lack, and three abusive phone calls were played to the jury.

In the phone calls, Luther Toleafoa was trying to make his wife apologise for something and was calling her names and threatening to hurt her.

He said things such as: “You wait, c***” and “You are going to suffer this time, c***”.

He told her she was selfish and everything was always about her. He said he bought all her family vehicles.

Paula Toleafoa repeatedly told her husband she was sick of his abuse and he had been abusing her for 10 years. She said he didn’t have to buy her family vehicles.

She said he was the only person who saw her in the offensive way that he described.

In a re-examination by Crown prosecutor Anna McConachy, Tapsell confirmed there were hundreds of phone calls between the pair and only three were abusive.

Several calls were played between the pair which showed them talking respectfully to each other about buying houses together and telling each other they loved each other.

Police forensic accountant David Baker gave evidence saying he analysed the 31 bank accounts belonging to the pair.

He highlighted large amounts of cash deposits were regularly being made from unknown sources.

He said Luther Toleafoa’s house-washing business had failed to provide tax returns during the periods of the accounts he analysed, between 2015 and 2018. While there were tax returns filed for Paula Toleafoa’s property management business, they showed large losses during that three-year period.

In relation to the house-washing bank account, while there was evidence earlier on that it was receiving money from legitimate customers, towards the end the account was only receiving large cash deposits which did not appear to come from legitimate sources.

The Crown called David Grassick to give evidence on how he sold his business, Impact Property Management Ltd, to Paula Toleafoa in 2018.

Grassick told the court it was agreed that she would pay $10,000 as a deposit for the $20,000 total to take on the management of 12 properties under his portfolio.

Paula Toleafoa was recommended to him via a business networking group as someone who already ran a property management business, First Class Properties, but wanted to expand her portfolio.

Grassick told the jury Paula Toleafoa paid the $10,000 in cash.

“It did surprise me a little. I thought it would be transferred into my bank but I was told it was easier for them to do it that way and I didn’t question it.”

The trial, before Judge Phillip Cooper, continues.

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