Police said about 100 staff raided 34 properties throughout the Auckland region after the long-running investigation Operation Cincinnati. Photo / NZ Police
An immigrant from Australia who helped her 501 deportee partner with a Comancheros-directed methamphetamine supply scheme in New Zealand now faces the potential of being deported herself.
Elizabeth Maria Bolea’s lawyer asked Justice Neil Campbell today for a discharge without conviction, arguing that a conviction would be out of all proportion to the crime and “disproportionately unjust or severe” as it could result in the forced break-up of her family.
If banished from New Zealand, she would be forced to raise their 20-month-old daughter in Australia while partner and co-defendant Rhakim Eneliko Mataia would be unable to join or visit them due to his 501 status, Christchurch-based lawyer Andrew Bailey noted at today’s hearing in the High Court at Auckland.
Justice Campbell denied the discharge without conviction request and instead sentenced her to four months’ home detention.
“I’m not satisfied the consequences [of conviction] would be out of all proportion,” he said, noting that “out of all proportion” is a high threshold.
The judge also noted that deportation is not a foregone conclusion, with the possibility she could receive a reprieve from a Government minister or through an immigration tribunal.
Bolea pleaded guilty in July to participating in an organised criminal group, on the first day of what was supposed to be a trial alongside acting national commander of the Comancheros Seiana Fakaosilea, two Rebels motorcycle gang members and nearly a dozen others.
Fakaosilea was later convicted of multiple charges, including conspiring to import a massive 600kg haul of methamphetamine – estimated to be worth roughly $90 million – into New Zealand from South Africa. He’s set to be sentenced next month alongside Bolea’s partner, who was a Comancheros prospect at the time of offending.
Prosecutor Ben Kirkpatrick acknowledged today that Bolea’s involvement in the scheme was of a much lesser extent than the main players.
She acknowledged knowing about a scheme to sell a commercial quantity of drugs in August 2020, when she hired a car from Auckland Airport and accompanied her partner on a road trip from Auckland to Christchurch. The Comancheros were already under surveillance at that point, and the vehicle was secretly searched by police during the ferry crossing to the South Island. An estimated 500 grams of methamphetamine were discovered in the vehicle.
“You were aware there was some methamphetamine in the car, but you were not aware of the amount,” Justice Campbell noted.
After arriving in Christchurch, Bolea stayed at Mataia’s family home while he and another co-defendant went to the Rebels’ gang pad to deliver the drugs.
Prosecutors suggested she had known about the illegal scheme for months, pointing to a text from her partner in January 2020 in which he stated: “What I make in three months I make here in one frickin’ night.” In May of that year, she bought scales for her partner.
When police executed a search warrant on the home she shared with Mataia, officers found guns, ammunition and an encrypted phone common in the drug trade.
But her lawyer pointed to other communications that suggested she was largely in the dark about what was going on.
“What’s it for?” she asked at one point when her partner instructed her to hire a car.
“Can you just do it, please. Book a rental,” Mataia responded without explanation.
“She wasn’t asking questions,” her lawyer said, describing her as not an active member of the group.
Bailey said his client’s childhood was marred by witnessing domestic violence, making her more susceptible to manipulative relationships. Imposing a broken home on her own daughter through deportation would pose the risk of repeating the cycle, he suggested.
Despite Bolea’s upbringing, she had no previous convictions and was described by her employer and others as selfless, with a strong work ethic. She is on the cusp of becoming a productive member of society, he said, adding that a conviction would make it more difficult to continue those gains.
If she was to be convicted, he requested that she receive a sentence of community detention.
The judge agreed that Bolea, who was 22 at the time of offending, did not play a leadership role, her participation was limited and she appeared to have received no personal benefit from her involvement.
But deterrence could not be achieved with a community detention sentence, Justice Campbell said, opting for electronically monitored home detention instead.
If she is eventually deported, he added, the law makes it clear it will be because of the underlying crime instead of the conviction itself.