City Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, the city’s top civil attorney, is on paid leave after receiving a target letter from the U.S. Department of Justice.
The target letter, first reported today by Hawaii News Now, is related to the ongoing federal investigation involving former Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, former city deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha. Both are under federal indictment on charges of public corruption.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell told reporters this afternoon that the letter involved Leong’s role in the controversial agreement between Louis Kealoha and the Honolulu Police Commission allowing the embattled chief to retire with benefits, including a $250,000 payout.
Caldwell appointed Leong when he became mayor in 2013.
A target letter suggests the subject is a target in a federal grand jury investigation, according to the Department of Justice website. Such a correspondence typically is issued by the Justice Department to someone being asked to appear before a federal grand jury involving an investigation into an alleged federal criminal offense.
Lynn E. Panagakos, Leong’s attorney, issued a statement acknowledging the target letter but noting that Leong “is an attorney of great integrity.”
Referring to the settlement paid to the former chief, Panagakos said, “I believe the evidence will show that this payment was properly authorized and processed. Ms. Leong’s involvement in this matter was within the course and scope of her duties as Corporation Counsel, and she performed her duties, as she always does, lawfully, conscientiously, and to the best of her ability. I look forward to Ms. Leong being exonerated.”
Leong had been scheduled to appear Tuesday before the Hawaii Supreme Court to give oral arguments on a separate case defending the actions of the city Elections Division in light of a challenge to the 22-vote Election Day victory by Trevor Ozawa that was brought by second-place finisher Tommy Waters.