A current police officer and a retired police major were both released from federal custody on $50,000 signature bonds Monday, a day after they were arrested in connection with a public corruption case tied to the investigation of the alleged theft of retired Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s mailbox.
Officer Minh Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, 43, and retired Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, 61, appeared Monday afternoon in U.S. District Court dressed in light beige jumpsuits.
Nguyen is charged with conspiring with others to alter or falsify records, obstruct an official proceeding and make a false statement, according to the criminal complaint filed against him.
Shiraishi is charged with obstructing an official proceeding, according to his criminal complaint.
It remained to be seen Monday whether Kealoha or his wife, Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, will also be charged in connection with the June 2013 report by the Kealohas that their mailbox had been stolen.
Prosecutors say the report was false and that the subsequent police investigation was a conspiracy to frame and discredit Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle.
Randall Hironaka, Nguyen’s attorney, said in court, “I believe there’s some grandstanding going on” by deputy U.S. attorneys Colin McDonald and Janaki Gandhi, who sought stiffer bail terms for Nguyen and Shiraishi. But Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi chose to agree with pretrial service officers’ recommendations that they be released on $50,000 bonds. They must also surrender any guns they own as well as their passports.
Much of the information in the charges stems from testimony and information provided by Niall Silva, another retired police officer, who pleaded guilty in December to a conspiracy charge in a deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation. Silva said under oath that he and others participated in the conspiracy in an effort to discredit Puana. At the time, Puana and his mother were embroiled in a family legal dispute in which they claimed that Katherine Kealoha had stolen $150,000 from them in connection with a reverse mortgage.
The theft of the mailbox was investigated by officers in HPD’s Criminal Intelligence Unit. Shiraishi was a supervisor in CIU, and Nguyen and Silva were assigned to the unit at the time. Also at the time, Nguyen lived in the back of the Kealohas’ house in Kahala and was married to Katherine Kealoha’s niece, court documents said.
The purpose of the Criminal Intelligence Unit is to gather intelligence for organized-crime and terrorism cases, the court documents said.
McDonald said there was probable cause to believe that Nguyen and Shiraishi lied numerous times to “perpetuate a fabricated timeline of events” in an effort to arrest and prosecute Puana, and then hide the truth. As police officers “they swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Hawaii,” he said.
Gandhi said it was Nguyen who retrieved a hard drive containing security video from the Kealohas’ house that purportedly showed Puana stealing the mailbox, even though, according to Silva, he and Nguyen conspired to tell investigators that Silva retrieved it later.
“We certainly disagree with their version of the events,” said Lars Isaacson, Shiraishi’s attorney.
The Kealohas and Nguyen all identified Puana as the suspect in a video of the mailbox theft, a court document said.
Preliminary hearings for Nguyen and Shiraishi are scheduled before Puglisi at 2 p.m. Nov. 1.
Nguyen and Shiraishi were arrested separately Sunday morning and held overnight in the Federal Detention Center near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport.
Shiraishi had 33 years of service with HPD when he retired in March as a major in the Information Technology Division.
Nguyen has 11 years of service. He also is in the Information Technology Division after his powers were restricted last year after being issued a letter from federal officials informing him he was a target in a criminal investigation.
Late Monday, Acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto indicated that Nguyen was placed on leave without pay pending the investigation.
Miles Breiner, the attorney for the Kealohas, sat through Monday’s hearing and described it as a “dog and pony show” on the part of U.S. deputy attorneys.
“There was no need to have them arrested on a Sunday except to maybe give them a taste of what it’s like to be in prison and hopefully intimidate them — I doubt that happened,” Breiner told reporters outside the courthouse.
“I think it was pretty obvious to all of us in the courtroom that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is struggling to keep this case alive and to keep a grand jury empanelled,” he said.
A federal grand jury has been looking for nearly two years into the case involving the Kealohas. The grand jury’s term expires Thursday.
‘Only the beginning’
The 2014 federal mailbox case ended in a mistrial after Louis Kealoha, while on the witness stand, presented unsolicited information about Puana during his testimony.
First Assistant Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert, Puana’s attorney in the mailbox case, said the evidence pointed to a conspiracy, and handed over the evidence to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Breiner said U.S. attorneys chose not to retry the case against Puana, he said. “That doesn’t mean that Gerard Puana has been exonerated; that doesn’t mean that Gerard Puana was found to have been falsely arrested. … The fact of the matter is that this case against Gerard Puana potentially could still exist.”
Breiner said neither he nor either of the Kealohas had been contacted by federal authorities this week. He said he contacted an FBI agent Sunday to ask whether there were warrants out for the arrest of his clients and was told there were not.
Silvert told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser late Monday that the charges against Nguyen and Shiraishi are an indication that indictments against others are forthcoming.
“This is only the beginning,” Silvert said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Paul Delacourt said in a news release that police corruption is among the agency’s highest priorities. “Corrupt activities, such as those alleged to have been committed, erode the public’s faith in law enforcement,” he said. “The citizens of Hawaii demand and deserve diligent police officers who adhere to the highest standards of conduct.”
Louis Kealoha placed himself on paid administrative leave in December after federal authorities informed him he was a target of a criminal investigation. In January, Kealoha reached an agreement with the Honolulu Police Commission to retire March 1 and receive $250,000 in severance. The terms call for the money to be returned to the city if he is found guilty of a felony.
The commission is expected to choose Kealoha’s successor from among seven panelists sometime late next week.