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Honolulu’s former police chief, Louis Kealoha gets seven years in federal prison, and his estranged wife, Katherine Kealoha, receives 13 years

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha was seen leaving the Federal Court building after his sentencing Monday. He was ordered to pay $238,198.56 in restitution.
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CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

Ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha was seen leaving the Federal Court building after his sentencing Monday. He was ordered to pay $238,198.56 in restitution.

CARLEY SHIMIZU VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS 
                                A courtroom drawing shows attorney Rustam Barbee standing next to his client, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, on Monday in Federal Court.
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CARLEY SHIMIZU VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

A courtroom drawing shows attorney Rustam Barbee standing next to his client, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, on Monday in Federal Court.

CARLEY SHIMIZU VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS 
                                Above, attorney Gary Singh, left, with his client, Katherine Kealoha are shown in this courtroom sketch.
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CARLEY SHIMIZU VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS

Above, attorney Gary Singh, left, with his client, Katherine Kealoha are shown in this courtroom sketch.

STAR-ADVERTISER
                                <strong>“It seemed complicated yet I trusted you, Katherine. … You betrayed me.”</strong>
                                <strong>Charlotte “Charlee” Puana Malott</strong>
                                <em>Daughter of Florence Puana, reading her mother’s words</em>
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STAR-ADVERTISER

“It seemed complicated yet I trusted you, Katherine. … You betrayed me.”

Charlotte “Charlee” Puana Malott

Daughter of Florence Puana, reading her mother’s words

STAR-ADVERTISER / 2019
                                Katherine Kealoha, above, will have to pay $455,684.78.
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STAR-ADVERTISER / 2019

Katherine Kealoha, above, will have to pay $455,684.78.

CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                Ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha was seen leaving the Federal Court building after his sentencing Monday. He was ordered to pay $238,198.56 in restitution.
CARLEY SHIMIZU VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS 
                                A courtroom drawing shows attorney Rustam Barbee standing next to his client, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, on Monday in Federal Court.
CARLEY SHIMIZU VIA ASSOCIATED PRESS 
                                Above, attorney Gary Singh, left, with his client, Katherine Kealoha are shown in this courtroom sketch.
STAR-ADVERTISER
                                <strong>“It seemed complicated yet I trusted you, Katherine. … You betrayed me.”</strong>
                                <strong>Charlotte “Charlee” Puana Malott</strong>
                                <em>Daughter of Florence Puana, reading her mother’s words</em>
STAR-ADVERTISER / 2019
                                Katherine Kealoha, above, will have to pay $455,684.78.

Related Photo Gallery

Louis and Katherine Kealoha sentenced to prison on corruption charges

Honolulu’s former law enforcement power couple learned their punishments in federal court Monday: seven years in federal prison for disgraced Police Chief Louis Kealoha and 13 years for his estranged wife, former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.

“The breadth of this criminal conduct is astounding,” Chief U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright said in sentencing Louis Kea­loha. “This truly is a case where the truth seems to be stranger than fiction.”

The Kealohas and two Honolulu Police Department officers were convicted in June 2019 following an elaborate but botched effort for the Kealohas to steal the proceeds from a reverse mortgage on the home belonging to her grandmother Florence M. Puana and then framing her uncle, Gerard Puana, now age 60, when mother and son began figuring out the scheme.

>> PHOTOS: Louis and Katherine Kealoha sentenced to prison on corruption charges

>> PHOTOS: Looking back at Kealohas’ journey from power couple to convicted felons

“Both you and Katherine took extreme measures to silence Gerard and Florence to minimize them and make sure they could not do harm … to your reputation,” Sea­bright scolded Louis Kea­loha just before sentencing him.

Seabright said it was “almost unbelievable that the chief of police would do it. … I agree that Katherine was the mastermind behind this, but you were right there by her side … and using your position as chief.”

The charges and convictions of the Kealohas and HPD Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn and officer “Bobby” Minh-Hung Nguyen have “shaken the confidence in our government institutions, most notably HPD,” Seabright said.

Seabright said the community has been asking, “How could this happen here? How could it go on for so long undetected?”

Speaking directly to Louis Kealoha, Seabright said, “You abused your power at HPD … and hid the corruption.”

Hahn and Nguyen are scheduled to face their own separate sentences before Judge Seabright today in federal court.

Katherine Kealoha was 49 when she pleaded guilty in October 2019 to other federal crimes aimed at fueling the lavish lifestyle of the couple. Louis Kealoha is now 60.

The Kealohas have a daughter and are getting divorced.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Louis Kealoha has until 2 p.m. April 12 to report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which will determine where he will be imprisoned. Until then he remains free on bail.

Katherine Kealoha has been incarcerated at the Federal Detention Center near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport since shortly after the group was convicted in a 16-day jury trial presided over by Seabright.

Kealoha appeared before Seabright on Monday for her own separate sentencing wearing an off-white, short-sleeve prison jumpsuit over a tan T-shirt, with black athletic shoes with white soles on her feet and a white mask on her face. Unlike at least one other appearance before Sea­bright, Kealoha was not shackled.

Before the session began, she blew a kiss to a longtime friend seated in the front row who declined to identify herself to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Seabright later also ordered Kea­loha to pay $455,684.78 in restitution and serve nine years of supervised release once she is freed.

For the first time, Kealoha apologized Monday to her uncle, Puana, whom she accused of being a drug addict to disgrace him, framed for the 2013 theft of the Kea­lohas’ mailbox — which he did not commit — and tried to have thrown in prison. At one point Puana said he was humiliated and traumatized when he was arrested and handcuffed in the parking lot of his church while his girlfriend and church members watched.

Puana did not look at his niece as she turned toward him and said she was “truly, truly” sorry, prayed for him every day and begged for forgiveness “for all the destruction and devastation I’ve caused.”

She hoped “that one day” Puana could forgive her.

That day will likely not be coming soon.

Puana was unable to read his own victim impact statement. Instead, he put his left hand up to cover his face as attorney Eric Seitz read his statement for him.

“It wasn’t bad enough that you stole from my mother — your own grandmother — but you also harassed, mocked and humiliated her,” Puana wrote. “You will be released someday, Katherine, to start your life over. But you can never erase the pain, grief and tremendous damage you caused us. It still remains.”

Just before he imposed Kea­loha’s sentence, Judge Seabright methodically reviewed the evidence that led to the convictions and repeatedly said that Kealoha had accused Puana, an innocent man, and tried to put him in prison to discredit him.

Seabright also said the Kealohas tried to malign Chuck Totto, former Honolulu Ethics Commission executive director, who was retaliated against when he began investigating complaints of the Kea­lohas’ improper use of video surveillance equipment at their home.

Deputy U.S. Attorney Joseph J.M. Orabona told Seabright that other victims included the “honest men and women of the Honolulu Police Department” who have been tarred by the Kealohas’ crimes and betrayal of their duties and public trust.

“They have been victimized as well,” Orabona said.

Outside of court, Puana told the Star-Advertiser that he did not accept his niece’s long-overdue apology, thanked Seabright for repeatedly clearing his name in open court, and said the prison sentences and restitution orders for his niece and former “best friend” — Louis Kealoha — were appropriate.

But he does not expect to see any of the money that the Kea­lohas have now been ordered to pay.

Katherine Kealoha was taken back into custody immediately after she was sentenced.

Louis Kealoha later appeared before Seabright wearing a dark suit over a blue aloha shirt; two-tone, lace-up boots; and a dark pa­laka mask. His 86-year-old mother, Beatrice L. Kealoha, arrived for the hearing in a wheelchair and sat in the front row.

Seabright also ordered Louis Kea­loha to pay $238,198.56 in restitution and be under three years of supervised release once he’s out of prison.

Kealoha left U.S. District Court wearing sunglasses, surrounded by a knot of friends and family.

In both sentencing hearings, Seabright repeatedly referred to Katherine Kealoha as the mastermind behind the schemes that were designed to bankroll a lavish lifestyle they could not afford on their own.

Along the way, Kea­loha stole money from two children to whom she was responsible for managing their finances as their attorney; told one of them to say the funds had been repaid; and directed the child to lie to a grand jury, while repeatedly threatening that Kea­loha would send the child’s mother to prison, Seabright said.

Kealoha’s grandmother whom she scammed, Florence Puana, died in February at the age of 100.

In a statement in Puana’s words, her daughter — Charlotte “Charlee” Puana Malott — told Kealoha on Monday that Puana’s misplaced trust in her granddaughter cost Puana her home of 58 years, which she had to sell in 2013 to get out of the reverse mortgage. The sale made Puana feel as if she had let down her late husband and their children.

“It seemed complicated yet I trusted you, Katherine,” Malott read. “You betrayed me.”

Puana later felt “humiliated, frustrated and depressed” when Kealoha initiated conservatorship proceedings that questioned Puana’s mental capacity, Malott read.

Later, Seabright told Louis Kea­loha, “You were not the mastermind, but you did master the frame job that followed. It could not have succeeded … without HPD. … That’s what makes it so shocking.”

The Honolulu police chief “worked overtime to frame an innocent man,” Seabright said.

The barrage was constant.

Seabright suggested that Kea­loha likely wanted to help the community where he was born and raised when he joined the Honolulu Police Department at the age of 22 in 1983.

But on Monday, Kealoha appeared in federal court as a convicted felon and a disgraced police chief headed for federal prison.

“That’s where you ended up,” Seabright told Kealoha. “That’s where you ended up.”

Based on their incomes, Kea­loha should have realized they could not possibly afford a lifestyle that included payments on a Maserati, a Mercedes and a 2009 brunch at the Sheraton Waikiki to celebrate his promotion to police chief that alone cost $23,976, among other extravagances.

The plan to frame Gerard Puana would work only by using HPD’s Criminal Intelligence Unit officers — including Hahn and Nguyen — who reported directly to then-Chief Kealoha, Seabright said.

It’s disturbing that no one in the Honolulu Police Department questioned the illegal orders to frame Puana, keep him under 24-hour surveillance and eventually arrest him at his church.

What’s worse, Seabright said, Kealoha had the power to stop Katherine Kealoha’s plans — especially to frame her innocent uncle.

Seabright told Louis Kealoha that he could have told his now-estranged wife, “‘You’ve taken this too far. You need to end this, setting up Gerard.’ No. … You didn’t do that.”

Seabright also blasted Kealoha for lying under oath as police chief in a federal trial near Seabright’s courtroom, causing a mistrial in the 2014 trial of Puana for the mailbox theft.

Seabright had two theories for why then-Chief Kealoha lied under oath that Puana was the man caught on surveillance video stealing the mailbox, and then triggered a mistrial by improperly saying that Kealoha could identify Puana in the video because Puana had been arrested and convicted for unlawful entry of a neighbor’s home.

The mailbox case was unraveling, “and this was a way to pull the plug,” Seabright theorized.

Or, Seabright suggested that Keal­oha may have grown a conscience.

“Maybe you started to feel this wasn’t right,” Seabright told Kea­loha. “You couldn’t do it anymore.”

Whatever the reason, Seabright said, “What I do know is you lied and you caused a mistrial.”

Before he was sentenced, Kea­loha, also for the first time, apologized to Puana, who was not in the courtroom.

Kealoha said, “Gerard used to be my friend, and I betrayed him, falsely.”

Gerard Puana's statement to Louis and Katherine Kealoha by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd

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