Rotorua money laundering trial: Cash could have been from business sale, not drug dealing, says defence lawyer

Some of the cash used on a spending spree by a drug dealer’s wife could have come from the sale of her business, a defence lawyer has told a jury.

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

The Crown alleges she knew she was banking and spending money her husband made from his extensive drug dealing but it is her defence she didn’t know what her husband was up to.

Paula Toleafoa is accused of depositing drug money into 31 accounts belonging to her and her husband, Luther Toleafoa. She is also accused of spending large amounts of cash derived from methamphetamine dealing.

Luther Toleafoa is in custody after being convicted of drug dealing and money laundering. After the police’s investigation into the drug dealing finished, the couple’s assets were seized and their finances were investigated.

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

Police forensic accountant David Baker gave evidence for the Crown by taking the jury through a ledger detailing hundreds of large cash deposits made by Paula Toleafoa.

He said in evidence the deposits were made using cards in Paula Toleafoa’s name and in other instances, security camera footage showed she was using Luther Toleafoa’s card at public automatic teller machines to deposit the money.

The Crown says Paula Toleafoa knew the money she was spending came from drug dealing as there was a large amount of money in their accounts that didn’t appear to come from legitimate income.

Some of the things Paula Toleafoa bought with cash included $10,000 for a property management business, $23,000 on Flight Centre holidays packages to Fiji, Samoa and Thailand and more than $25,000 in hotel bookings. She also spent thousands on skincare, jewellery, handbags and sunglasses.

It is the defence case the couple were in a violent relationship and at times weren’t together, including living in different cities. Her lawyer, Steven Lack, said therefore Paula Toleafoa wasn’t aware the cash came from selling drugs and believed it was money he earned from his house washing business.

Under cross-examination by Lack, Baker said there was $20,000 that was put into her property management business account after she sold the company in 2018.

That money was later withdrawn in cash. Baker agreed when questioned it was possible some of that money could have been used to buy some of the items, including hotel bookings and expenses for Luther Toleafoa’s birthday party.

Baker confirmed GST and tax returns were up to date with regards to Paula Toleafoa’s business but no tax returns were provided to the Inland Revenue Department for Luther Toleafoa’s house washing business, only GST returns.

Lack put to Baker it was possible there were electronic records showing the extent of the house washing business stored on devices seized by police during their search of the couple’s Auckland home but they weren’t looked at by police.

Baker said it was possible but also said if there were records of income received, he would have expected those to have been declared with the Inland Revenue Department.

Lack asked Baker if it was possible Luther Toleafoa was paid in cash and it was that money that was being banked into the accounts. Baker said it was possible.

Closing arguments in the trial, which is before Judge Phillip Cooper, are expected to be heard on Monday.

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