Convicted former city Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha is in federal custody after being called “a walking crime spree” in court Friday.
Kealoha and her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, were found guilty Thursday of felony conspiracy and obstruction, along with two current police officers in one of the state’s biggest corruption trials.
Federal prosecutors had asked that Katherine Kealoha’s bond be revoked and that she be taken into custody immediately after the jury returned guilty verdicts.
Instead, a bond hearing was set for Friday morning and she and the former chief left the courtroom together — as they had done throughout 16 days of testimony and three days of closing arguments.
But the former law enforcement official appeared at Friday’s hearing without her husband by her side and left court through a side door escorted — but not handcuffed — by federal law enforcement.
“I don’t think Ms. Kealoha will flee, not for long anyway,” U.S. District Court Chief Judge J. Michael Seabright said. “I’m not concerned about flight risk … but I am concerned about obstructive behavior.”
Seabright ordered Kealoha into custody until her sentencing, which is scheduled for October.
“I have no doubt about Ms. Kealoha’s attempt to obstruct justice,” Seabright said. “She made a determined and consistent effort to have an innocent man incarcerated.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat called Kealoha “a walking crime spree” as he argued for sending her to jail.
Both Kealohas, HPD officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and HPD Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn were found guilty on each of four felony counts of conspiracy and three felony counts of obstruction. They face a maximum of 20 years in prison for obstruction convictions and up to five years on the conspiracy convictions. They could also each be fined $250,000.
Jurors deliberated for just a day before returning verdicts against the officers and the once-powerful couple, who used their positions as law enforcement officers to stage the theft of a mailbox at their Kahala home in a scheme to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle and cover up stealing thousands of dollars from her grandmother — using the money to maintain a lavish lifestyle. Testimony showed the Kealohas went to great lengths to settle scores in a family vendetta that ensnarled the HPD officers and tainted both the Honolulu Police Department and the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office.
In a court filing, Wheat and his prosecution team wrote that “Kealoha used her extensive power as a lawyer and deputy prosecutor to frame her uncle with a crime he did not commit. True to her word, she attacked Gerard Puana with the ‘highest form’ of legal retribution imaginable: false arrest and false imprisonment. She did so through an endless web of lies and deceit. As the evidence at trial proved, Kealoha lies as easily as she draws breath. Those lies range from the simple to the highly complex. And those lies prove Kealoha will do anything and everything to avoid the consequences for her unlawful behavior. Frame her uncle. Falsely claim her grandmother was incompetent. Attack the Ethics Commission.”
Victor Bakke, a criminal defense attorney and a former deputy prosecutor, said Kealoha’s incarceration “gives the government a lot of leverage.”
Now that she is behind bars, Bakke said Kealoha likely will be more willing to strike a deal with prosecutors.
He believes federal prosecutors now will seek information from her as part of their investigation of city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, Kealoha’s former boss, who is on paid leave after receiving a “target letter” from the U.S. Department of Justice related to Kealoha’s case.
“The only way she can maybe help herself is try to cut a deal with the government,” Bakke said.
Kealoha faces two upcoming trials, and Bakke said the judge revoked her bail in all three cases, believing she presented an obstruction danger in the upcoming cases, as well.
With her bail revoked in all three cases, that means Kealoha will remain behind bars until all three are resolved, Bakke said.
That will complicate her lawyer’s efforts to mount a defense.
“It’s very difficult to defend against cases when your client is in custody,” he said.
“Jail changes people,” Bakke said. And statistics show that people who are in custody enter plea deals more often and much more quickly than if they were free on bail, he said.
He was not surprised that the government sought only Kealoha’s immediate incarceration.
“Katherine is obviously the ringleader in all this,” Bakke said.
Outside court Friday, one of Kealoha’s attorneys, Earle Partington, was asked whether she had been expecting to be taken into custody.
“I think so,” Partington replied.
Asked about her mood following Thursday’s conviction, Partington said, “She seemed all right. Obviously, not happy.”
Partington also said that having a client in jail makes it harder to mount a defense because “it’s difficult to meet with a client when they’re in custody.”
Of the four defendants who were convicted Thursday, federal prosecutors asked that only Katherine Kealoha, 48, be taken into custody.
Only one of the five defendants — retired HPD Maj. Gordon Shiraishi — was acquitted of all charges, including conspiracy, attempting to obstruct an official proceeding and making a false statement. Shiraishi was also seen outside federal court Friday morning.
Kealoha’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 7, followed by Louis Kealoha on Oct. 15, Hahn on Oct. 21 and Nguyen on Oct. 28.
Following their convictions, Hahn and Nguyen were placed on paid administrative leave Friday, Honolulu Police Department spokeswoman Michelle Yu said.
Both had been on restricted duty since their indictments last year. Hahn had been assigned to the Communications Division; Nguyen was in the Legislative Liaison Office. Hahn has been an officer since January 1997; Nguyen first joined HPD in September 2006.
The Kealohas face a second trial on Oct. 21 on charges of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and obstruction of justice in connection with the alleged theft of a $167,000 inheritance of two children for whom Katherine Kealoha served as financial guardian.
Kealoha also faces charges related to allegations that she and her brother, Rudolph Puana, trafficked in opioids and that Kealoha used her position as a deputy prosecutor to hide it.