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Credibility takes center stage in Kealoha trial

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  • DENNIS ODA / JAN. 20
    Florence Puana

The defense in a civil trial against the Honolulu police chief’s wife started its case Wednesday by trying to cast doubt on the credibility of the uncle suing her.

Chief Louis Kealoha’s wife, Katherine Kealoha, is accused of stealing money from her uncle, Gerard Puana, and her 95-year-old grandmother, Florence Puana. They claim she took money that was left over from a reverse mortgage on her grandmother’s home.

Wednesday’s first defense witness was a Bank of Hawaii employee who testified Gerard Puana in 2013 tried to get statements from an account shared by his mother and niece. Destenie Turner said she told Puana she couldn’t release any information to him because he wasn’t named on the account.

Puana handed her his cellphone with a woman on the other end claiming to be Katherine Kealoha, Turner said. Puana told Turner the woman was his sister, instead of his niece, and she gave permission to release the statements.

The next day, when Turner called the number listed on the account, Kealoha went to the branch and said it wasn’t her who requested the statement.

"I told her about the whole situation that happened the day before," Turner said. "She said that she didn’t request those statements and she couldn’t believe this was happening because it wasn’t her who was on the phone."

Turner said she then filed a suspicious activity report.

Kealoha denies stealing from her relatives. She testified that the money she spent from the joint account was money that belonged to her. The Puanas said she promised to pay off the reverse mortgage and that she used the money to consolidate and refinance her debts.

Kealoha’s parents, Rudy and Lealani Puana, testified that if their daughter was having money problems she knew she could go to them for help.

They described Gerard Puana as having financial problems.

Rudy Puana testified: "I’ve never borrowed a cent from Gerard. In fact I gave him money at times."

Rudy Puana said he helped renovate his daughter’s home and got Gerard to help. "I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this but I wanted to get him busy because he was sort of strung out."

In a separate case, Gerard Puana was on trial for stealing the mailbox at the Kealohas’ former home. But the case was dropped after Chief Louis Kealoha improperly testified about Gerard Puana’s criminal history, leading the judge to declare a mistrial.

The criminal trial involving the stolen mailbox led to allegations of police misconduct. Puana’s public defender in the case has said the Kealohas framed Puana in an attempt to discredit him in the civil case.

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