Federal prosecutors Monday wrapped up their case in the public corruption and conspiracy trial of Louis and Katherine Kealoha, and by day’s end two of the five defendants, including former Police Chief Louis Kealoha, already had completed their defenses.
On the 13th day of the high-profile trial, the pace quickened, with the attorney for the former chief calling only one witness before resting his case and the lawyer for Honolulu police officer Ming-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, one of three current and former officers who are co-defendants, calling only two witnesses.
Both defendants exercised their right not to testify on their own behalf.
But even before the first defense witness was called, the defense attorneys asked U.S. District Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright to acquit their clients, saying the government failed to provide sufficient evidence to support the charges against the defendants.
The prosecution’s case is based largely on circumstantial evidence.
The defense lawyers said the government did not prove that their clients conspired to frame Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, for the alleged 2013 theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox. The defendants also are accused of lying to federal investigators about their actions.
At the time, Louis Kealoha was the police chief and Katherine Kealoha a high-
ranking deputy prosecutor.
Prosecutors say the framing was done to undermine Puana because of a civil lawsuit he and his mother, Florence Puana, had filed against Katherine Kealoha.
Seabright denied the defense motions, saying he has never seen a conspiracy case in which there was a written agreement about the conspiracy and that such cases are “almost
always” based on circumstantial evidence.
Monday’s proceedings wrapped up after Cynthia Kagiwada, Katherine Kealoha’s court-appointed attorney, questioned her first witness, Gerard Puana.
Kagiwada asked Puana about an email exchange purportedly between him and her client in September 2011 and a document that Kagiwada said showed Kealoha paid a traffic fine for him that same month.
Kagiwada was attempting to undermine Puana’s prior testimony that his relationship with Kealoha had soured by then and that they were not communicating.
But Puana, shown both documents Monday, said he didn’t recall them.
Rustam Barbee, Louis Kealoha’s attorney, had told the judge earlier in the day that Gerard Puana’s credibility goes to the heart of his client’s defense.
The only witness Barbee called also was to raise questions about Puana’s earlier testimony regarding his weeklong stay at the Sand Island Treatment Center in July 2011.
Yvonne Haxton, operations director of the treatment program, told Barbee that Puana was discharged from the facility after he had threatened to kill his roommate if the roommate stepped on Puana’s bunk again. No threats or acts of violence are allowed at the Sand Island facility, Haxton said.
Puana previously had testified he voluntarily left the facility after learning it was a two-year program, not the four to six weeks that Katherine Kealoha had told him.
On cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin McDonald, Haxton acknowledged that many patients at the facility make mistakes and the center has resources to help correct such mistakes.
Haxton also acknowledged getting a call from Deputy Sheriff Thomas
Cayetano in 2011 to ask whether there was space at the facility for Puana. Haxton told McDonald that she was unaware at the time that there was no court order for Puana, who was in jail, to be taken to the treatment center.
Cayetano had testified earlier that he made the call to the treatment facility at Katherine Kealoha’s request.
Before Nguyen rested his case, his attorney, Randall Hironaka, called two witnesses, Honolulu police officers Cpl. Brandon Fukuda and Sgt. Daniel Sellers.
Sellers originally was charged with lying to the FBI and obstruction of justice as part of the corruption probe but agreed to a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty to disclosure of confidential information, a misdemeanor. The more serious charges were dropped as part of the
deal, and Sellers agreed to cooperate with federal
As part of the secretive Criminal Intelligence Unit, whose members are handpicked by the chief, Sellers in 2013 was involved with the investigation of the Kealohas’ mailbox.
He said he called U.S. Postal Inspector Brian Shaughnessy on June 24, 2013, three days after the mailbox allegedly was stolen, on his own accord to check whether stealing a mailbox was a federal crime. No one tried to dissuade him from making the call
or criticized him after he contacted Shaughnessy, he testified.
Sellers also testified that he was assigned by Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn, one of the co-defendants, to go to the Circuit Court building in early 2015 to presumably provide security and make sure “nothing happened” at the civil trial in the case between the Puanas and Katherine Kealoha. He said he spent just a few hours there.
Fukuda testified that he partnered with Nguyen — not his regular partner — one day in June 2013, assigned by Hahn to “stand by” at the Hawaii Government Employees Association building downtown.
That was the same day and same building where Katherine Kealoha was giving a deposition for the civil lawsuit.
Fukuda said he wasn’t sure why he was sent there, but while there his mother, who worked at the HGEA building, brought food for him and his partner.
Fukuda’s testimony was consistent with one version that jurors heard last week in the playing of an audio recording of a 2015 interview Nguyen gave as part of an ethics investigation.
Earlier Monday veteran Honolulu attorney Earle Partington appeared at the trial for the first time, representing Katherine Kealoha as co-counsel with Kagiwada.
Seabright had expressed concern that Partington had missed “95% of the government’s case” but eventually agreed to let him participate.
Before the prosecution rested its case, it called three witnesses, including Laura Otsuka, a forensic accountant with the FBI’s
Honolulu field office.
She testified that the
reverse mortgage on Florence Puana’s home put $513,474.20 into a Bank of Hawaii account that Katherine Kealoha jointly controlled with her grandmother.
After Katherine Kealoha helped arrange the $360,439 purchase of a Salt Lake condo for Gerard Puana,
Otsuka testified, the balance in the Bankoh account was emptied out in six months for a variety of Kealoha-
They included more than $2,000 for Elton John tickets in November 2009, $23,976 in 2010 for a Waikiki breakfast celebrating Louis Kealoha’s promotion to chief, a $13,000 cashier’s check for a lease on a Maserati and two payments four days apart totaling more than $5,000 for a Mercedes-Benz.
“At that point in time they were maxed out,” Otsuka said.
Money from the Bankoh account also was used to cover expenses both big and small, from a trip to Disneyland to the Kealohas’ Board of Water Supply bill, she said.
“They paid their dentist, paid a nail salon …,” Otsuka testified.
After Seabright dismissed the jury for the day, Kagiwada told the judge she was not sure whether her client would take the stand.
Depending on whether any of the other defendants testify, the defense attorneys could wrap up their cases this week, setting the stage for closing arguments.