Undercover police officers, thousands of dollars in cash and methamphetamine, courtroom denials and money spent on flash cars, overseas trips and shopping sprees. It was a dramatic drug bust. Rotorua Daily Post reporter Kelly Makiha was at the sentencing for Rotorua woman Paula Toleafoa for money laundering and here she also looks into the police operation that saw others stopped in their tracks from setting up a Head Hunters gang pad in Rotorua.
She laundered more than $430,000 in cash made from her gang member husband's drug dealing. But Paula Toleafoa won't have to go to jail.
The 48-year-old appeared in the Rotorua District Court yesterday for sentencing after a jury last year found her guilty of 59 of 69 money laundering charges. The charges relate to laundering more than $430,000.
Judge Phillip Cooper has stopped short of sending Toleafoa to jail and instead sentenced her to 10 months' home detention because of her good character and prospects of rehabilitation - noting she had already made significant progress in trying to escape the clutches of her violent husband.
Toleafoa stood trial last year and denied she knew her husband, Luther Toleafoa, was a drug dealer or that the money he was giving her was the profits of selling methamphetamine.
She told the jury she thought the thousands she was spending was money he had legitimately earned from his house washing business or from buying and selling cars.
Luther Toleafoa was jailed in December for 11 years after he was found guilty at his trial earlier in the year of a raft of serious drug dealing offences, including money laundering charges relating to $460,000.
Despite his denials at his trial, the patched Head Hunters gang member admitted for the first time at sentencing he had been dealing drugs.
The Toleafoas, who lived mainly in Auckland, would travel to Rotorua and stay in hotels where Luther Toleafoa would sell large amounts of drugs he had obtained through his Head Hunters gang connections.
The Crown proved at Paula Toleafoa's trial she would then deposit large amounts of cash in money machines or personally at banks into the couple's 31 personal and business bank accounts.
Toleafoa told the jury she was a victim of domestic violence, and abusive phone calls from Luther Toleafoa were played to the jury during the trial.
Toleafoa claimed if she knew her husband was dealing drugs, she would have left him.
But at the trial, Crown prosecutor Anna McConachy produced proof from Toleafoa's personal and business, Ruff Diamonds NZ, Facebook pages that indicated the pair were still together.
At sentencing yesterday, Toleafoa's aunt, Gina Adams, addressed Judge Cooper saying Luther Toleafoa had "ruined" her niece's life.
She said her niece had a traumatic childhood and witnessed her mother suffer beatings at the hands of her alcoholic father.
Toleafoa went on to have her first child while at secondary school but by then her father had got sober and her parents were in a better position to help her. She returned to school and went on to do well in tertiary education, gaining a Bachelor of Social Science and a diploma in journalism, Adams said.
Her first job following her studies was as a fraud investigator for Work and Income.
"She blossomed into a beautiful, confident young lady. She takes great pride in the way she dresses and presents herself and has been a role model for others in our family. She has done us proud. I trust her implicitly ... I have met few people with finer character than Paula."
But it was when she met Luther Toleafoa that she too started suffering from an abusive, violent and controlling relationship, Adams said.
"She lost her unborn baby to violence ... She tried to detach herself from him but he is a scary and intimidating man. She didn't feel safe to leave him."
She said since Luther Toleafoa had been jailed, it had given her niece space and courage to leave her "reckless, abusive and terrifying husband".
But Crown prosecutor Anna McConachy said despite Toleafoa's claims about her husband, evidence was produced at trial that she hadn't left her husband and still hadn't today.
McConachy said Toleafoa supported her husband at his sentencing in December and was still posting on a public Facebook page her support of him.
McConachy questioned whether Toleafoa had suffered hardship from the offending because she used the court process to promote a new product range - called Dirty Money - online during her trial via her Ruff Diamonds NZ Facebook page.
She reminded Judge Cooper that he instructed Toleafoa to remove the Facebook posts during her trial.
"It is somewhat problematic she is out there publicly promoting a range of products that rely on the convictions themselves."
Judge Cooper read from one of the pre-sentence reports that showed Toleafoa's post traumatic stress disorder relating to her marriage had been present since 2010 and she had tried numerous times to leave the "violent, volatile and dangerous" relationship.
"This is not something that's been conjured up after the trial. It has existed since 2010."
Judge Cooper said it wasn't easy for Toleafoa to simply walk away and the Crown's suggestion that she could was "rather simplistic".
Toleafoa's lawyer, Steven Lack, said she had no previous convictions, had done well for herself and was a successful businesswoman.
"She is obviously talented, driven and successful in her own right."
During the trial, the Crown proved the couple were "living it up".
She drove a Chrysler 300C and Luther Toleafoa drove a Hummer. They had two Harley-Davidsons and "a number of" Range Rovers.
The trial heard Toleafoa always dealt in cash and spent $196,000 in cash on shopping sprees. 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.
All about greed
Those behind a massive Rotorua drug-dealing syndicate are now either behind bars or serving court sentences while no longer enjoying the luxuries their lavish criminal lifestyles provided them.
The sentencing of Paula Toleafoa is the final chapter in a four-year saga that revealed how members of the Head Hunters gang were dealing large amounts of methamphetamine in Rotorua with a goal of setting up a gang chapter in Ngongotahā.
Operation Janzi started in 2018 and intercepted texts and phone calls between March and December. During this time, Luther Toleafoa possessed, supplied, offered or conspired to deal a total of 1.7kg (62oz) of methamphetamine, valued about $620,000.
When police raided the Toleafoas' Rotorua home on December 6, they found 1173.6g of methamphetamine and $21,000 in cash.
Operation Janzi also targeted gang prospects father and son Paul and Dick Tamai, who were jailed in 2020.
It was revealed in their court case that surveillance from their phone calls and text messages showed the plan was for Paul and Dick Tamai, who lived in Ngongotahā, to become full members and help the gang establish in Rotorua.
Paul Tamai would travel to Auckland to pick up large quantities of methamphetamine, while his son would sell it in Rotorua on his behalf.
They boasted they were responsible for half the methamphetamine trade in Rotorua.
However, their ambitions were cut short in December 2018 when police seized about $420,000 worth of methamphetamine and $380,000 in cash and assets.
The pair were arrested in the raids and both pleaded guilty months later.
Following their convictions, NZME revealed the most damning evidence against the Tamais was gathered by undercover police officers.
Over the course of their deployment, the undercover agents bought 260g of methamphetamine from the Tamais, with an estimated street value of $260,000.
Paul Tamai was jailed for five years and Dick Tamai was jailed for six years and four months. The New Zealand Parole Board has confirmed to the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend both have been granted parole, although Dick was yet to be released.
The Toleafoas and the Tamais were jointly charged at the time of the raids in 2018.
Bay of Plenty Crime manager Detective Inspector Lew Warner told the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend the operation had thwarted the Head Hunters setting up in Rotorua.
"It's an outstanding result as it's prevented a lot of devastation to the community of Rotorua."
He said they were involved in dealing significant amounts of methamphetamine and as a result the syndicate would lose hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of assets, including homes and vehicles.
"The problem with these people is their greed is such they don't look at the consequences of what they are doing. A majority of them are there because of the large amounts of money they can make and they don't think about the whānau, the children of Mum and Dad who get addicted. It is all about greed."
Warner said there was no Head Hunters gang pad in Rotorua and for police that was a massive win.