Kealoha arrests drag down HPD
At the heart of the case are charges of conspiracy, making false statements to federal officers, obstruction and bank fraud, stemming from a family financial dispute and an alleged plot to frame a relative and misuse HPD personnel in the process.
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It’s unlikely that the Honolulu Police Department has ever endured a battering as bruising as the one that played out over the past week — a series of charges in a corruption case, the details of which emerged after years of federal investigation. The defendants: a roster of ranking HPD officers, topped with the names of the former police chief, Louis Kealoha, and his wife, deputy city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.
At the heart of the case are charges of conspiracy, making false statements to federal officers, obstruction and bank fraud, stemming from a family financial dispute and an alleged plot to frame a relative and misuse HPD personnel in the process. Additionally, Katherine Kealoha is charged with aggravated identity thefts.
These are allegations that, the Kealohas and their attorney have said, will be disproven in court. But the criminal indictment naming the couple is so complex and detailed that the proceedings of the case are sure to leave a stain on the department, however they finally resolve.
And it’s all blowing up at the precise moment when HPD, and its supervising Honolulu Police Commission, are preparing for a major reboot. Two positions on the commission are about to be filled, and the new police chief will be named soon.
The litany of charges stands as a reminder of how crucial it will be for the department to find its footing again. This saga has damaged the department’s credibility. Acting Chief Cary Okimoto acknowledged the blow to officers’ morale, as well. “(Morale) can’t be good. I know my morale is not too good,” he said on Friday, after the Kealohas had been released on bond.
And, in an equally difficult challenge, the commission now must convince doubting Oahu residents that it’s looking out for the interests of its public constituency, rather than cheerleading for the police department brass. There is some progress there, with new members asking probing questions.
But remember: This commission, albeit with some different members, had issued a glowing evaluation for the former chief as the controversy first unfurled, so it still has a lot to prove.
The allegations are startling, and disturbing. If proven in court, they would stand as evidence of an egregious abuse of power. All the money issues aside, it’s the idea that HPD could be misdirected in this way that is the most chilling.
As for the money, and to summarize: Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana, was accused of stealing a mailbox from the Kealoha home in Kahala, in the course of a dispute over family funds. That led to a federal case against Puana that ended in a mistrial.
But Puana’s attorney accused the police chief of purposely causing the mistrial to avert a not-guilty verdict that would hobble the Kealohas’ civil suit against the uncle.
A federal investigation began and two years later, retired police officer Niall Silva pleaded guilty to conspiracy for conspiring to frame Puana for the mailbox theft.
Others in HPD were part of what was alleged to be a “frame job” targeting Puana. Lt. Derek Hahn, Officer Ming Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, Sgt. Daniel Sellers and retired Maj. Gordon Shiraishi all have been arrested on charges associated with the case.
If the charges are proven at trial, this would be an alarming display of police being deployed in pursuit of a private matter for the chief of police.
The amounts of money involved in the private dispute are laid out in the indictment document, which noted the Kealohas opening and controlling 30 separate bank accounts. Among the accusations: Katherine Kealoha was named trustee for accounts totalling $167,000 held on behalf of two minor children, not named in the court document.
She allegedly made withdrawals without authorization from her co-counsel or the family, so that almost all the money was spent over the course of eight years. She also is accused of misappropriating money meant for investment, and funds from her grandmother’s reverse mortgage, diverting thousands to pay off personal expenses for herself and her husband.
According to the indictment, these included $26,394 for a brunch celebrating her husband’s induction as chief, $10,663 in car payments for a Mercedes Benz and a Maserati, $7,800 for an air conditioning system at their home, $7,000 in payments to a Realtor and thousands more in charitable donations, concert tickets and travel expenses.
As appalling as this level of alleged self-indulgence would appear, the most galling of the accusations is that others in the police department were roped into the scheme. These are supposed to be public officers protecting the community, not taking advantage of their power and authority for their own ends.
This may be far more difficult than anyone anticipates, but the commission and the new HPD leadership it puts in place now must focus on rebuilding that trust, demonstrating that they can be accountable and transparent in fulfilling their mission. Perhaps witnessing that would help offset the ugliness that’s about to unfold.
Louis and Katherine Kealoha Indictment by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd