Katherine Kealoha did not reveal conflict, prosecution witness testifies
In September 2013 Deputy Prosecutor William Kaina Awong, whose supervisor was Katherine Kealoha, filed a motion in state court seeking to correct an illegal sentence against Kealoha’s uncle.
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In September 2013 Deputy Prosecutor William Kaina Awong, whose supervisor was Katherine Kealoha, filed a motion in state court seeking to correct what was described as an illegal sentence against Kealoha’s uncle.
Awong was personally assigned the case by Kealoha.
But he wasn’t told about that relationship, that the uncle had sued Kealoha over a financial dispute or that the uncle had been accused of stealing the mailbox at the Kahala home of Kealoha and her husband, then-Police Chief Louis Kealoha, according to testimony Thursday in the conspiracy trial of the Kealohas and three former and current
Awong’s motion, if granted by the court, effectively would have restored a conviction against Gerard Puana for illegally entering a neighbor’s home in 2011.
But at the time the motion was filed, Awong didn’t know that Puana was Kealoha’s blood relative and that he had been accused of stealing the mailbox, Awong testified.
“That creates a potential conflict,” said Awong, who is now with the state Attorney General’s Office.
Had he known about that potential conflict, he likely would have discussed it with another supervisor, Awong testified. His motion eventually was denied.
Awong was called to testify by federal prosecutors, who continued to build their case against the defendants in the sixth day of trial in federal court. The defendants are charged with conspiring to frame Puana for the mailbox theft and for lying to federal investigators about it.
The prosecution is arguing that the couple abused their law enforcement positions to try to discredit Puana and to keep him from revealing fraud that supported a lavish lifestyle.
About the time the motion was filed in 2013, Awong said he learned that Puana was Kealoha’s blood uncle, not a generic “uncle” customary in Hawaii.
Upon questioning by Cynthia Kagiwada, Katherine Kealoha’s attorney, Awong said he believed that he had a valid legal basis to file the motion to correct the sentence. He did not state what that basis was.
Puana pleaded no contest to unlawful entry of a dwelling and initially was sentenced to five years’ probation.
But the court granted his motion to defer acceptance of the plea, whick kept the conviction off his record.
Puana’s attorney in 2013, a public defender, opposed Awong’s motion and filed her own, asking the court to disqualify the prosecutor’s office because of Kealoha’s connection to the case. That motion also was denied.
Also testifying Thursday was an FBI specialist who examined the hard drives containing the surveillance video of the alleged mailbox theft.
Thomas Woodard, a video communications specialist from FBI headquarters in Virginia, said he was unable to recover video from before the theft.
If a drive is reformatted, it does not erase the data, but if it is recorded over, the data cannot be recovered, Woodard said.
Some of the still images he recovered showed a ceiling and an office with a bunch of wires in the foreground.
Another government witness, Gordon Gomes, a retired Honolulu Police Department major who worked in the elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, whose members are picked by the chief, said he was concerned when he learned that Derek Wayne Hahn, who was part of the unit, had a partnership with Katherine Kealoha.
“That would be a conflict of interest,” Gomes said.
Hahn, an HPD lieutenant, is a defendant in the conspiracy case, along with officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and retired Maj. Gordon Shiraishi. They were all former members of the intelligence unit.
Carolyn DeMello, Puana’s sister, returned to the stand Thursday and told jurors that she became upset when she learned that Katherine Kealoha had arranged a reverse mortgage for the home of DeMello’s mother, Florence Puana. Florence Puana is Kealoha’s grandmother.
Kealoha had assured DeMello that the reverse mortgage had been paid, but Puana ended up selling the home because it wasn’t paid and the interest on the mortgage was “crazy,” DeMello said.
Some of the proceeds from the reverse mortgage were used to buy a condo for Gerard Puana because their mother wanted to help him, DeMello said.