UPDATE: 12:55 p.m.
By Rob Perez / Honolulu Star-Advertiser
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright today denied defense attorneys’ motions to acquit their clients in the public corruption trial of former Honolulu deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, her husband, retired Honolulu Police Department Chief Louis Kealoha, and three current and former HPD officers.
The motions came after federal prosecutors wrapped up their case late this morning. Defense attorneys argued that the evidence presented by prosecutors, even viewed in the most favorable light to the government, was insufficient to prove the charges.
“The government has not proven” a conspiracy, said Cynthia Kagiwada, attorney for Katherine Kealoha. If anything, prosecutors at best tried to show multiple conspiracies, she added.
But Michael Wheat, the lead prosecutor for the federal government, said a conspiracy is “a living, breathing thing” and that the conspirators don’t all have to be involved at the same time.
He said the conspiracy began when Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle and the man the defendants are accused of trying to frame for the theft of the Kealoha’s mailbox, was arrested in June 2011 for allegedly unlawfully entering a neighbor’s home.
In denying the defense motions, Seabright said he’s never known of a case in which there was a written agreement to commit the conspiracy.
The cases are “almost always through circumstantial evidence,” he said.
Defense attorneys will begin presenting their case this afternoon after a lunch break in the trial. Rustam Barbee, the lawyer for Louis Kealoha, is scheduled to present his client’s defense first.
By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher /Associated Press
In the midst of Hawaii’s largest corruption trial, a judge today allowed an additional attorney to represent former Honolulu deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha who accused of using her police chief husband’s job to frame her uncle.
Today marks the 13th day of trial against Katherine Kealoha, a former deputy prosecutor, retired Honolulu Police Department Chief Louis Kealoha, and three current and former HPD officers. Prosecutors say the Kealohas abused police resources to conspire to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for the theft of their home mailbox to silence him from revealing fraud that financed their lavish lifestyle.
After the Kealohas were indicted in 2017, a judge appointed taxpayer-funded lawyers for the Kealohas after reviewing financial records that show they can’t afford to hire a defense team.
Katherine Kealoha’s current attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, said today that her new co-counsel Earle Partington isn’t taxpayer-funded.
Partington said Kealoha contacted him a few days ago asking him for help, while the trial was on a weeklong break. He said he joined her defense team on Saturday. Kealoha “just felt some help would be needed,” he said, adding that he didn’t know her personally and isn’t sure why she contacted him.
Kealoha’s family is paying his legal fees, he said, declining to disclose the amount or say who specifically is paying him.
Joining mid-trial has been “extremely difficult” and “mind-numbing,” he said. His role will be more of an adviser, he said, and he will be handling legal issues such as helping with jury instructions and a possible appeal.
Partington said he’s been practicing law in Hawaii since 1975. For his most recent jury trial eight years ago, he represented an Oahu woman accused of animal cruelty for beating a peacock to death with a baseball bat. She was acquitted.
Partington stood as U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright introduced him to the jury this morning as the trial restarted after a one-week hiatus. Seabright instructed the jurors not to consider the addition of a new lawyer when deciding on their verdict.
The allegations against the Kealohas have been described as the biggest corruption case to rock Hawaii.
Prosecutors say they staged a 2013 mailbox theft to discredit Gerard Puana in a lawsuit he and his mother filed against Katherine Kealoha. Puana and Kealoha’s grandmother alleged she stole money from them in a reverse mortgage scheme. Puana testified that his niece came up with the idea to get a reverse mortgage on his mother’s home to help him buy a condo. Kealoha purchased the condo but never paid off the reverse mortgage as promised, he said. Prosecutors say the couple planned to use the money to consolidate their massive debt and then pay off the reverse mortgage.
Instead, they spent the money on personal items such as Maserati and Mercedes Benz car payments, about $2,000 for Elton John concert tickets and more than $23,000 to a Waikiki resort for a banquet when Louis Kealoha became police chief, Laurice Otsuka, an FBI forensic account testified today.
It took six months to drain more than $148,000 from Kealoha’s grandmother’s reverse mortgage funds, Otsuka said.
The Kealohas also face a second trial for identity theft and bank fraud. Katherine Kealoha is accused of bilking relatives, banks and children whose trusts she controlled. She also faces a third trial with her pain physician brother for charges of dealing opioids.