Florence Puana, the grandmother and fraud victim of convicted former Honolulu deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, died today at age 100.
“She died this morning at about 5 a.m.,” Puana’s attorney, Gerald Kurashima, said. “The family wants to preserve their privacy but they appreciate all the support.”
Puana was a key witness against her granddaughter in the federal conspiracy and obstruction trial, which ended in the conviction of Kealoha and her husband, former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, in June.
Katherine Kealoha arranged a reverse mortgage on her grandmother’s Maunalani Heights home and used the money for personal expenses.
>> PHOTO GALLERY: Florence Puana celebrates 100th birthday
Puana had to sell the home to pay off the reverse mortgage and still have some money left over for her children.
Federal prosecutors arranged for the ailing Puana to testify in April before the trial and to play a recording of her testimony for the jury. Puana sat through more than 6 hours of questioning at age 99.
The jurors later heard only a portion of it because the rest was taken up by Kealoha’s court-appointed defense lawyer asking questions about topics the judge disallowed during the trial. The jurors did not hear Puana refer to her granddaughter as “that devil.”
The Kealohas were found guilty of scheming to frame Puana’s son, Gerard Puana, with stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox and of lying to investigators to cover up their actions. The judge ordered Katherine Kealoha taken into custody pending sentencing after the jury handed down its guilty verdicts in June.
The Kealohas each face 20-year prison terms at sentencing in March.
Florence and Gerard Puana sued Kealoha in state court in 2013 over proceeds from the reverse mortgage on the Maunalani Heights home and money her uncle said he gave to his niece for an investment group.
Federal prosecutors in the Kealohas’ criminal trial presented evidence that the defendants staged the theft of the mailbox in retaliation for the Puanas’ civil lawsuit and to discredit Gerard Puana. Katherine Kealoha also filed a petition for the appointment of a conservator, claiming that her grandmother was unable to manage her own affairs.
A state judge found Florence Puana competent to handle her own affairs, but she and son Gerard lost their lawsuit against Kealoha. Another state judge ordered them to pay Kealoha $658,787 in damages.
Florence Puana paid about $108,000. They are appealing the awarding of certain damages and attorney fees
In August, Puana celebrated her 100th birthday with about 100 family members and friends at a Mid Pacific Country Club ballroom in Kailua.