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HPD chief’s wife: Just wanted to help family

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The wife of the Honolulu police chief on Wednesday tried to explain expenditures made from a joint account she shared with her 95-year-old grandmother.

Katherine Kealoha returned to the witness stand in a trial where she’s accused of stealing money from her uncle and grandmother. She testified she was just trying to help when she got involved with taking out a reverse mortgage on her grandmother’s home to obtain funds to buy her uncle a condo.

The uncle, Gerard Puana, and his mother, Florence Puana, asked Kealoha for help, Kealoha testified. She said because he’s on disability, he couldn’t qualify for a mortgage, so she suggested a reverse mortgage, which provides cash from the equity in a home.

Kealoha said she didn’t get involved with the transaction but later deposited the proceeds into a joint account she shared with her grandmother. That’s the money she used to buy the condo in 2009, she said.

The lawsuit over the family squabble has led to allegations of police misconduct in a separate case involving a mailbox stolen from the Kealohas’ home. A federal trial against Gerard Puana ended in a mistrial last month after Chief Louis Kealoha gave improper testimony about Puana’s criminal history. The case was later dropped.

Gerard Puana’s public defender, Alexander Silvert, said his client was framed in an attempt to discredit him in the lawsuit he and his mother filed against Katherine Kealoha. They accuse her of spending money that was left over from the mortgage after the condo was purchased.

Their attorney, Gerald Kurashima, questioned Kealoha about expenditures made from the joint account. According to court documents, more than $2,000 was spent on Elton John tickets, $4,000 for a Mercedes-Benz lease payment and nearly $24,000 for her husband’s police chief induction breakfast at the Sheraton Waikiki.

She testified Wednesday that even though she said in a previous deposition that the tickets were for her, she has since remembered the tickets were for her uncle.

“It happened so long ago my recollection was different from actually what happened,” she said.

She said she also made payments for her Mercedes, paid her own cellphone bill and paid for her husband’s induction breakfast. She said she made an early payment on the Mercedes because she was trading it in for a Maserati. Her husband didn’t know how much the breakfast cost because he doesn’t even have a checkbook and she handles all their finances, she said.

Those expenses were made with her money, she said: “That was money that I had loaned them. That was money to be paid back to me.”

Kurashima previously told jurors that the Puanas trusted Kealoha because she’s a highly educated attorney.

Kealoha testified that she spent her own money on expenses for her uncle, including furniture for the condo and costs associated with the property purchase.

“She asked me if I could get some furniture for it so it wouldn’t be an empty apartment,” Kealoha said of her grandmother. “She made clear she wanted him to have a bed and a night set.”

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