The 95-year-old grandmother of the Honolulu police chief’s wife testified Friday that she trusted her granddaughter and was devastated when she found out a reverse mortgage on her home hadn’t been paid off as promised.
Florence Puana and her son, Gerard Puana, are suing Chief Louis Kealoha’s wife, Katherine Kealoha, accusing her of stealing their money. They said she took money that was left over from a 2009 reverse mortgage on Florence Puana’s home, taken to buy Gerard Puana a condominium. He accuses his niece of stealing money that he gave her to invest.
Kealoha, on personal leave as head of the career criminal unit of the Honolulu prosecutor’s office, denies their accusations. She testified that she helped her grandmother with the reverse mortgage, but the money Kealoha spent from a joint account shared with her grandmother was money that belonged to Kealoha.
Florence Puana started her testimony by telling jurors about her life — remembering the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, working 32 years as a housekeeper for priests after raising her nine children and driving until the age of 90.
She described Kealoha as a smart attorney. "She was very, very bright, and I loved her," Puana said.
Gerard Puana, who sits next to his mother at the plaintiffs’ table in the courtroom, sounded as if he was sniffling during some of her testimony. Kealoha, who sits on the opposing defense table, took notes during some of her grandmother’s testimony, as she’s regularly done during the trial.
Kealoha promised to pay off the reverse mortgage by using the money to consolidate Kealoha’s debt, Florence Puana said. She said her granddaughter later assured her the mortgage was paid off, which Kealoha has denied.
"I believed her and we all trusted her," Puana said, adding that she thought Kealoha was a "wonderful person."
She said she was devastated when she learned the mortgage wasn’t paid off. "I never ever dreamed that she would do this," Puana said.
She started to cry when she described her decision to sell the house that her late husband built. She said she and her husband always wanted their children to divide proceeds from selling the house. The east Honolulu home sold for $928,000 in 2013.
Allegations of police misconduct surfaced in a separate case that accused Gerard Puana of stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox. The case was later dropped after Chief Louis Kealoha testified about Puana’s criminal past, sparking a mistrial.
Puana’s public defender, Alexander Silvert, has said the Kealohas framed his client in an attempt to discredit him in the civil trial.