A young man’s fake Tinder persona of an attractive blonde woman was so convincing he managed to persuade an active police officer to hand over his patrol car and body armour vest.
Tyler Rawiri Tetera, then 23 and long fascinated with police, used the car and vest in an elaborate sex-money scam, swindling tens of thousands of dollars in total from three victims. They bought him iPhones, a car, and in at least one case, had sex with him.
Court documents tell the story of an easily bored young man skilled at using superficial charm and deceit to create chaos.
Suppression orders on Tetera’s identity and file were lifted last week, shedding light on his spree of lies and deception from January 2020 until his arrest in March the following year.
The New Zealand case follows another case of deceit overseas that involved the same dating app. Netflix crime documentary The Tindler Swindler, released this year, tells of Israeli conman Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) who used the app to connect with women who he then emotionally manipulated into financially supporting his lavish lifestyle. He told them he needed the money to escape his “enemies”.
He called himself ‘Lord’
Tetera’s relationship with his first victim, named in court documents as Ms H, was a farce from the start.
They met on Tinder in January 2020 and for nine months, he fooled her into thinking he was a police dog handler and in an undercover role.
To solidify his act, he sent her photos and videos of himself in police uniform – it is not clear how he got the uniform – photos of police staff, police cars, the inside of police stations, as well as audio from a police radio. He also told her he owned multiple properties and a business called Empire Capitals, sending her emails from a fictional assistant called Mark and calling himself “Lord”.
As part of his business advice, Tetera convinced her to buy a car for him in her name, saying it would increase her credit score.
She also bought him an iPhone after he said he couldn’t buy it himself because he had business disputes with Spark and Vodafone.
He eventually returned the car, beat up and needing costly repairs. He never returned the phone. The pair had a romantic relationship between January and September 2020.
The sworn policeman
Tetera struck again shortly after that, this time as a woman.
Using photos stolen from a former policewoman’s social media, including her in uniform, he created the Tinder profile of an alluring blonde called Tori and started messaging the second victim, an active police officer called Mr L, in early October 2020.
“Tori” told Mr L she was working in an anti-corruption operation and needed his help to plant a listening device in a police car.
On 11 November 2020, Mr L brought a marked police patrol vehicle to Auckland and handed it to Tetera, thinking he was Tori’s colleague.
Tetera had the car for about four hours that first time, and managed to get the police car a second time later the same month. Tori had told Mr L the listening device did not work and they needed the car again.
Later that month, Mr L handed over his spare body armour vest, again under the ruse of Tori’s undercover work to insert a listening device in it for placement at a police station.
Like the first victim, Mr L was scammed into buying an iPhone 12 for Tori, who said her wealthy father’s board members did not want her to have a personal phone or social media for fear of it getting hacked.
Tetera returned the police car, but not the vest.
Much later, he told police after his arrest that getting the patrol car was “worth it for the thrill of driving a Holden Commodore”.
Who is Tyler Tetera?
From Whakatāne, Tetera was on parole at the time for similar offending. He was first convicted in 2017, and jailed in 2019 for impersonating police and for deception charges.
He had an interest in the police since he was a child, according to a court-ordered psychological report. Easily bored, he tended to portray himself favourably and was skilled in using charm and deceit to get what he wanted.
He told the report writer he was groomed by an older man when he was 14, who gave him gifts and money in return for sexual abuse that ended only when he moved to Auckland at 17. He said lying to his parents was his first experience of deception. He lost his father growing up, but also said he came from a good background where he felt loved.
“Mr Tetera presents with a complex offence pathway,” the report says, noting his distorted problem-solving and rejection of the consequences of his actions.
None of this could explain or mitigate his culpability, said district court Judge Kathryn Maxwell when sentencing Tetera to jail in July. Any possible link between his background and his offending was offset by what she called his calculated decision “to live outside societal norms and, to be frank, cause chaos”.
The security guard
Tetera’s fascination with the police connected him with his third victim, a security guard who had always wanted to be a police officer.
Using Tori’s profile, Tetera met the 32-year-old father of two on Tinder, reeling him in with the promise of his dream job. Over texts and Snapchat, “Tori” convinced the man she was a senior sergeant in the National Organised Crime department running secret operations, and could help him get into her team through a back route.
For that, he would have to meet her boss Sione, who would turn out to be Tetera in disguise.
Wearing Mr L’s police vest, Tetera drove a Holden Commodore, modified with lights and aerials to look like a police-issued vehicle, to the security guard’s house for their first meeting. Tetera looked the part, used the right police jargon and was very confident, the man told the jury when the case went to trial.
After that first meeting, a friendship began where the two men saw each other frequently for nearly three months. The security guard visited and stayed at Tetera’s family home in Whakatāne. Tetera in turn met the man’s two children.
Tetera convinced the dad to invest in a watch, promising it would yield a large return when resold. The man took out a bank loan, withdrew money from his children’s bank accounts, and transferred $15,000 to Tetera.
The two men also had sex.
The sex charge that went to trial
The Crown initially accused Tetera of duping the security guard into having sex with him by threat, and the case went to trial in late November before a jury.
Prosecutors charged that Tetera, posing online as Tori, used the promise of three-way sex, combined with increasingly large amounts of money and the offer of his dream job in the police, to get the man to have sex with him.
If he refused, they alleged, the father of two would lose the money promised, the $15,000 he invested, and his spot in their police team.
“Basically, what I’d done until then would be a waste of time,” the man said when questioned by senior Crown prosecutor Brett Tantrum.
Tetera played the part of a straight man with an ex-wife and child the whole time they were together, and both of them were acting on instructions from Tori, the man told the court. And these were instructions sent through Snapchat or text from a woman he had never met in real life.
Defence lawyer Tiffany Cooper argued no threat was ever made. Despite what she called unusual circumstances, “a romantic and ultimately sexual relationship ultimately formed”.
“You say you’re a heterosexual man, you come from a religious background, and this gay sex had no interest to you,” she put to the security guard.
“Correct,” he said.
“I suggest that simply can’t be right. You’re telling the jury that as a completely straight man you repeatedly engaged in this sex reluctantly,” she said, before asking, “Isn’t the reality that you started enjoying this with Tyler?”
“No,” he said, “I hated every moment of it. [Tori] kept saying I had to prove myself and later on to love [Tetera].”
After two days of evidence, the trial was aborted and the jury dismissed. Crown prosecutors dropped the sex charge on the same day.
‘Breach of trust’
Tetera admitted his 11 other charges – six of obtaining by deception, three of impersonating police, and two of possessing police property.
He was sentenced to three years and two months’ jail on eight of the charges in July.
Posing as a police officer to deceive civilians was a breach of trust, Judge Maxwell said in sentencing, and Tetera’s deception “quite extraordinary” given the length of time and impact on the victims.
Fake representation of authority was a danger to the public, and police resources were diverted away from the protection of the community, she said.
Assistant Commissioner of the Police Richard Chambers said a thorough investigation was launched as soon as they became aware of the matter, involving a team of investigators over several weeks.
Tetera either obtained police photos by impersonating an officer or stole photos from the social media accounts of police staff to use in his act. He said staff are now strongly recommended not to post photos of themselves in uniform.
An employment investigation also found misconduct in the case of the officer who handed over his patrol car and vest. “However, Police also took into account the member had been a victim of deception and welfare was made available,” Chambers said.
The officer, who left the police while the court process was underway, was left distressed and embarrassed by what happened. He ended his victim impact statement to the court by saying, “Words cannot describe what that feels like.”
* This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald.
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz