Was former CYFS caregiver Earl William Opetaia a serial child abuser?

Update: Since these piece was written, Opetaia has been found guilty of 21 charges relating to the abuse of boys in his care. He is due to be sentenced in May.

In the early 2000s, Earl William Opetaia is alleged to have sexually abused young boys referred to him by Child, Youth and Families, supplying them with drugs and threatening violence in order to perpetuate his crimes. Currently, Opetaia is on trial at the High Court in Auckland, facing 27 charges, including indecent assault. Although the defendant has plead not guilty, it should be noted that he already has a similar conviction from 2014, with the police investigation into possible other offences only beginning four years later.

Before making headlines for his alleged crimes, Opetaia was best known as the caregiver of teenager Liam Ashley, who was beaten to death while in a police van by George Baker. According to David Olds, another arrestee who was the only witness to the crime, the murder began as part of an escape plot between the two, with Ashley apparently agreeing to be put in a headlock by Baker. Then, after he was rendered unconscious, the older man is said to have suddenly snapped, murdering Ashley while claiming to have gang connections:

“All of a sudden Baker was saying to him `You’re going to die’. He’s asking me `should I kill him?’ I said, `No dude, don’t kill him, don’t kill him’. That’s when I started thinking `Oh f — -, this guy’s serious.”

Baker started rambling that Ashley was a “nark” who was responsible for him being in prison, and claimed he was a King Cobra hitman who got “paid big money to kill”

The attack lasted for fifteen minutes, somehow without the guards in the van becoming aware of the violence. In the subsequent investigation, it was found that Ashley, due to his age, should never have been there in the first place, with the same being true for Baker, classified as a high risk offender who was supposed to have been segregated and observed.

As for Opetaia, he stopped his caregiving work soon after Ashley’s death, which had seen him responsible for more than 150 boys. Interestingly enough, he also appears to have connections to organised crime, with his alleged victims describing frequent visits by patched gang members during their time under his supervision. Along with various other menacing statements, Opetaia is said to have threatened to use these contacts to silence anyone who spoke out about the abuse. Exactly which gang this was is unclear, however it could well be the King Cobras, who were founded in Auckland back in the 1950s.

Since then, the group expanded into the city’s West, where Opetaia ran the Opetaia Waitakere Boxing Club, which is registered as being an incorporated society from 2003 to 2008. Five years later, the local King Cobra boss, Bert Jury, was convicted along with footballer Kindness Agwu and an unnamed gym club owner of trafficking cocaine. According to the proseuction’s case, the drugs were stored at the gym before being distributed. After he successfully claimed to be suffering from a degenerative brain condition however, charges against the owner were dropped, with his identity suppressed to the public. As a result, any connection he may have had to Opetaia is unknown.

At the same time, what is known about the owner of the Waitakere Boxing Club stretches back to the 1960s, when his younger sister Christina died after being placed in the care of family friends Ada and Takaterangi “George” Tanoa. Sentenced to six months in prison, the couple is now deceased, with Ada passing a few years after being released and her husband lasting until the 1990s. During that time, exactly what Opetaia was doing is not clear. By the start of the 21st century however, he had begun to emerge as a public figure in West Auckland, mentioned by local newspaper the Western Leader in 2001 as being “sure of a bright future for the [Waitakere Boxing Club] after many setbacks”

Although the full article is only available at the Auckland Libraries, more backstory on Opetaia is supplied by another article from the Western Leader, written and uploaded in 2009. Disturbingly, it relates to his work coaching schoolchildren, written around the time that the subject is believed to have carried out his offending:

Kids at Prospect School are boxing after school under the watchful eye of Earl Opetaia…He and his family have run clubs in west Auckland for 35 years but Mr Opetaia has spent the last decade adopting a new focus.

“For the past 10 years I’ve run a boxing club in Kelston and been a caregiver for Child, Youth and Family working with high-risk teenagers,” he says.

According to the piece, his father was a boxer, likely to have been Fred Opetaia (1–1–0), who was briefly active in the 1960s. His brother, Ralph (5-11-1), is also listed as a fighter by BoxRec around the same time. Interestingly enough, although Earl is described as having won “a number of New Zealand titles” in boxing, there is no record of him having done so, either amateur or professional.

Instead, Opetaia is described as the manager of Chris Rehu (3-9-1), who was active from 2004 to 2014. Outside of this, he and the Waitakere Boxing Club also organised fight nights, such as a 2004 fundraising tournament and again in 2007, in the latter case on behalf of Event Polynesia. Established in 2000, the company was implicated in a 2012 audit by the Ministry of Health, which found that the Health Star Pacific Trust had been overcharged by them. As it emerged, the chair of the trust, Ross Puni, was also co-director of Event Polynesia:

The audit found Puni partly owned Event Polynesia Ltd which was paid $70,000 for website costs “disproportionate” to the limited use of the site. Companies Office records show Event Polynesia currently has two directors — Edwin Puni and Rosa Puni — both registered at the same South Auckland address.

Event Polynesia was paid $22,500 for secure storage of seven trust vehicles over two years at Puni’s property in South Auckland. An aerial photo in the audit showed “insufficient” storage for six vehicles and said it appeared likely vehicles were parked on the roadside. Event Polynesia was paid $10,000 plus GST for associate sponsorship at two boxing events, which the audit said appeared to give “very limited, if any benefit” to the trust.

Back in 2007, the Waitakere Boxing Club was also the recipient of a $2,000 grant from the ASB Community Trust, now known as Foundation North. A powerful force in New Zealand’s philanthropic scene, Foundation North annually distributes tens of millions of dollars, with some going to Opetaia’s gym. Exactly what the money was for is not stated, but serves as a further piece of the puzzle behind the support Opetaia received while allegedly carrying out systemic sexual abuse in his capacity as an employee of the government.