Federal prosecutors Tuesday told jurors that the conspiracy case against the Kealohas and their three fellow defendants was a story of “corruption, abuse of power, greed and manipulation.”
“This case is about the setup and the cover-up,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Orabona, who gave the prosecution’s closing argument in a packed courtroom, with an overflow crowd watching from an adjacent room through a video feed.
Orabona told the jurors that everyone involved in a conspiracy is liable for each other’s actions.
Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Pinkerton Rule,” he said, “if you’re in for an inch, you’re in for the mile. You’re in for the whole thing.”
After Orabona walked the jurors through the prosecution’s case against the five defendants — former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha; her husband, retired Police Chief Louis Kealoha; officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen; Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn; and retired Maj. Gordon Shiraishi — attorneys for three of the defendants gave their closing arguments.
>> Related story ‘‘Pinkerton Rule’ could hold key to Kealoha conspiracy case’
Lawyers for the two remaining defendants, Nguyen and Shiraishi, are scheduled to give their closings this morning; then the government gets the last word with rebuttal remarks.
After that the fate of the five defendants will rest with the 12-person jury, which is expected to begin deliberations today.
The defense attorneys for the Kealohas and Hahn said the government fell well short of meeting its burden of proof, didn’t show that the defendants agreed to conspire to frame Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, for the alleged theft of the couple’s Kahala mailbox in 2013 and concocted a theory that Rustam Barbee, Louis Kealoha’s attorney, said was “based on suspicion, speculation and imagination.”
“There’s no evidence of this imaginary frame job,” Barbee said, calling the conspiracy theory far-fetched, bizarre, complicated and nonsensical and questioning an intensive federal investigation dating to 2015 that has produced no other suspect than Gerard Puana.
Katherine Kealoha’s dispute with her estranged uncle and grandmother Florence Puana took center stage during the federal trial, which covered 16 days of testimony from 71 witnesses, including three who took the stand for both sides.
On Tuesday, Orabona walked jurors through the prosecution’s case against all five defendants and said that Nguyen, Hahn and Shiraishi are all complicit with the Kealohas.
So the criminal actions of Nguyen, Hahn and Shiraishi also implicate the Kealohas, Orabona said.
For instance, Orabona said, Nguyen provided false testimony to a federal grand jury about the theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox.
“In for a penny, in for a pound,” Orabona told the jury. “All of the other defendants are also guilty of committing the same crime. …
“There is a treasure trove of false testimony, statements and reports by the defendants in this case,” Orabona said.
The defense attorneys argued that if their clients are acquitted of the main charges against them, then the Pinkerton Rule also means that the other defendants also must be found not guilty.
During his morning closing, Orabona showed jurors a graphic that referred to the Honolulu Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit as “The Secret Police.”
“In this case the secret police … includes Katherine Kealoha,” Orabona said. “She’s part of this band of secret police.”
Earlier in the day U.S. District Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright read jurors lengthy instructions that included references to the 1946 Pinkerton Rule, which held a brother liable for his brother’s action in an Internal Revenue Code case.
Seabright told jurors that anyone who joins a conspiracy is as guilty as the “originators” and does not need to be aware of all of the details in order to be guilty.
To find any of the five defendants guilty, Seabright told the jurors they have to unanimously vote that the prosecution proved its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In his closing argument, Orabona said the defendants don’t have to have a written agreement to be guilty of conspiracy.
“Actions speak louder than words for a conspiracy,” he told the jurors.
The government says the defendants conspired against Puana to undermine him in a family dispute over money. Puana and his mother had figured out that Katherine Kealoha used a reverse mortgage scheme to pay for a Mercedes-Benz, a Maserati, a trip to Disneyland and other expenses, including utility bills and a $23,976 breakfast at the Sheraton Waikiki to celebrate Louis Kealoha’s selection as chief.
Kealoha closed a joint bank account with her grandmother to handle the reverse mortgage finances, only to discover that Puana already had gotten the bank’s statements of where the money had gone, Orabona said.
“The truth is that Katherine Kealoha had spent $135,000 of Florence Puana’s money in six months,” Orabona said. “She didn’t pay off the mortgage in six months as promised. Instead her greed controlled her actions.”
If the reverse mortgage scheme became public, Orabona said, “Katherine Kealoha and Louis Kealoha, they lose everything. That’s a powerful motive. … The solution is to silence them (Gerard and Florence Puana).”
So June 19 through 30, 2013, begins “the 12 days of scheming,” Orabona said. “The conspiracy takes off. … Katherine, one, knows that Florence has the (bank) statements. She needs a plan to discredit Florence and Gerard. They set up to frame Gerard Puana,” along with a failed attempt to have Gerard Puana charged with elder abuse of his mother, Florence Puana, according to Orabona.
Cynthia Kagiwada, Katherine Kealoha’s attorney, told jurors that the government’s case had “lots of reasonable doubt,” that Gerard Puana was not credible and lashed out at her client when he got angry and that what prosecutors called “lies” could be explained through “alternative explanations,” creating reasonable doubt.
Kagiwada said Puana hopes Katherine Kealoha is convicted so he may not have to pay her a large award pending from a civil lawsuit that Puana and his mother lost against Kealoha.
Regarding the mailbox case, Kagiwada questioned the prosecution’s contention that the mailbox was “prepped” in advance so it could be easily removed from its pedestal in June 2013.
The government produced “absolutely no evidence” to that effect, and its own witness testified that the mailbox was assembled improperly, according to Kagiwada.
She also faulted the prosecution’s contention that the defendants exchanged many cellphone calls and text messages “to get their story straight” about the alleged conspiracy.
The government analysis showed only contacts, not content — what the defendants actually discussed — creating more reasonable doubt, the defense attorneys argued.
Kagiwada also said the prosecution’s focus on Alison Lee Wong, a notary public the government says does not exist and was created by Katherine Kealoha as part of the conspiracy, was misplaced because she “has no bearing on this case whatsoever.”
The prosecution provided no evidence that the trust document linked to Wong was used for anything other than its intended purpose: to purchase a condo for Gerard Puana using his mother’s reverse mortgage proceeds, Kagiwada argued.
Birney Bervar, attorney for Hahn, said there was no evidence that his client was involved in the family dispute involving the Puanas and that he didn’t even know them.
“He had absolutely no motive to frame Gerard Puana,” Bervar said.
What’s more, Bervar added, there is no evidence that his client benefited financially from the alleged conspiracy.
“Derek is just doing his job at HPD,” Bervar said.
He also said the only direct evidence against his client came from testimony of Niall Silva, a former CIU officer who pleaded guilty in the conspiracy case to filing falsified reports and lying repeatedly to the FBI and a federal grand jury.
“Lying Niall is lying again,” Bervar said.
KEY EVENTS IN THE KEALOHAS’ CASE
Nov. 18, 2009
The Honolulu Police Commission unanimously selects Capt. Louis Kealoha as chief from a group of six finalists to replace Boisse Correa.
June 22, 2013
Deputy city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, the chief’s wife, reports to police the mailbox has been stolen from the family’s Kahala home.
June 29, 2013
Kealoha reports her uncle, Gerard Puana, was recorded on surveillance video stealing the mailbox. The Honolulu Police Department turns over the case to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
June 30, 2013
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service determines the person in the video appears to be Puana.
July 1, 2013
Federal prosecutors charge Puana with destroying a mailbox, a crime punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine.
Feb. 5, 2014
The Police Commission votes to extend Chief Kealoha’s contract for a second five-year term, ending Nov. 27, 2019.
Dec. 4, 2014
On the first day of Puana’s trial in U.S. District Court,* Kealoha identifies the person in the video as Puana but causes a mistrial by telling the jury about Puana’s 2011 conviction for unlawfully entering a neighbor’s home. Alexander Silvert, Puana’s defense attorney, accuses Kealoha of purposely causing the mistrial to avert a not-guilty verdict that would have undercut Katherine Kealoha’s standing in a civil case against Puana.
Dec. 16, 2014
At the government’s request, the court dismisses Puana’s criminal case.
Dec. 17, 2014
Silvert says he has turned over information about the mailbox theft case to the FBI for investigation. This eventually triggers a federal grand jury query about alleged police misconduct, which leads to an investigation centering on the Kealohas and others.
Feb. 12, 2015
Jury sides with Katherine Kealoha in her civil case against her uncle and grandmother Florence Puana, and awards her $658,787 in damages.
June 17, 2016
The Kealohas sue the Honolulu Ethics Commission, alleging that former Executive Director Chuck Totto and his staff conducted “vindictive, unsubstantiated and illegal investigations” against them.
Dec. 16, 2016
Retired Honolulu Police Department officer Niall Silva pleads guilty to conspiring with other officers and Katherine Kealoha to frame Puana for the theft of the mailbox.
Dec. 20, 2016
Chief Kealoha places himself on voluntary paid leave after the FBI sends him a “target letter” informing him that he is the focus of a criminal investigation. Deputy Chief Cary Okimoto is appointed acting chief.
Jan. 6, 2017
Police Commission Chairman Max Sword announces Kealoha has agreed to retire, ending a 33-year career. No details are released.
Jan. 18, 2017
Sword announces Kealoha will be paid $250,000 in severance, out of HPD funds, in exchange for retiring Feb. 28. The agreement states the money is to be returned if Kealoha is convicted of a felony.
Jan. 27, 2017
Despite objections from acting Chief Okimoto, Kealoha receives his severance payment from HPD funds, according to Sword.
Feb. 28, 2017
Kealoha officially retires from HPD.
Oct. 19, 2017
Grand jury indicts Katherine Kealoha, Louis Kealoha, Derek Wayne Hahn, Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, Gordon Shiraishi and Daniel Sellers on conspiracy and obstruction charges.
Aug. 20, 2018
Katherine Kealoha resigns from her prosecutor job.
Jan. 11, 2019
Sellers pleads guilty to disclosing confidential law enforcement information to Katherine Kealoha.
April 29, 2019
Sellers is sentenced to one year of probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to perform 80 hours of community service.
May 23, 2019
Jurors hear opening statements in the federal conspiracy trial of the Kealohas, Hahn, Nguyen and Shiraishi.
June 17, 2019
Government lawyers rest their case.
June 19, 2019
Shiraishi, the last of the defendants, rests his case.