Two Honolulu Police Department co-conspirators in the Kealoha conspiracy trial were sentenced Tuesday to 4-1/2 years years and 3-1/2 years, respectively, in federal prison, adding a coda to one of the island’s most notorious cases of law enforcement corruption.
The 54-month sentence for former Honolulu Police Department officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen was one year longer than the sentence of 42 months that Chief U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright imposed earlier in the day on former HPD Lt. Derek Wayne Hahn.
Both served in HPD’s once-elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, which reported directly to then-Chief Louis Kealoha while the Kealohas stole the proceeds from a reverse mortgage that Katherine Kealoha had engineered on her grandmother’s home and then framed her uncle, Gerard Puana, using CIU officers and resources. At one point CIU officers intimidated and harassed Puana with 24-hour surveillance that required the use of HPD officers outside of CIU.
A federal jury convicted the Kealohas, Hahn and Nguyen of conspiracy and obstruction of justice following a joint trial in June 2019. The jury acquitted a fifth defendant, retired HPD Maj. Gordon Shiraishi.
In coming up with Tuesday’s sentences for Hahn and Nguyen, Seabright clearly tried to weigh the culpability of Hahn — a lieutenant who served as acting captain of CIU — compared with Nguyen, who was the unit’s only “footman,” a rank that usually involves patrolling a beat in a blue-and-white patrol car.
But Nguyen held a special, outsize role in CIU because he was then married to Katherine Kealoha’s niece and lived in the Kealohas’ pool house.
Deputy U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat referred to CIU as HPD’s “secret police” unit, where officers like Nguyen often managed their own time and assignments, Wheat told Seabright.
Nguyen was not selected for CIU because of “skill or talent,” Wheat said. “He’s there because he has a special relationship. He’s family.”
Seabright then added, “It is a little misleading to say Mr. Nguyen was just a footman. … He was clearly a very trusted member who was given a lot of discretion.”
But Nguyen’s attorney, Russell Hironaka, said Nguyen’s role in both CIU and the Kealoha family was “a double-edged sword.”
Nguyen was not in a position either at home or at work “to defy orders,” Hironaka said.
During Hahn’s sentencing earlier in the day, Seabright repeatedly said Hahn was the only defendant in the case who did not perjure himself during various proceedings to cover up for the Kealohas’ crimes.
Later, during Nguyen’s sentencing, Seabright repeatedly said Nguyen repeatedly lied, including to U.S. postal investigators investigating the staged theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox to frame Puana — and lying to the FBI, Honolulu Ethics Commission and twice before the grand jury.
Seabright called “the ease to which he lied” nothing “short of arrogance. Just pure arrogance on his part.”
If the Kealohas ran the operation, Seabright said, then Hahn “was an arm, a soldier in implementing Louis’ request.”
During Nguyen’s sentencing his attorney, Hironaka, said, “Bobby (was) more like the hand or the finger.”
Hironaka had requested a prison sentence closer to 2-1/2 years for Nguyen.
On Monday, Seabright sentenced Katherine Kealoha to 13 years in prison and later in the day sentenced Louis Kealoha to seven years.
Katherine Kealoha has been held at the Federal Detention Center near Daniel K. Inouye International Airport since shortly after her conviction. Louis Kealoha, Hahn and Nguyen remain free on bail, but all must report to the Federal Bureau of Prisons by 2 p.m. April 12.
On Tuesday, Seabright openly tried to come up with a sentence for Hahn that was commensurate with his role in the conspiracy to frame Puana as Puana began to unravel the reverse mortgage scheme.
“You are less culpable than Louis was, and the sentence needs to reflect that,” Seabright told Hahn. Hahn’s prison sentence is exactly half of the seven-year sentence Seabright gave to Hahn’s ex-boss.
But, like other HPD officers — especially a supervising lieutenant — Hahn did nothing to stop the attempt to frame Puana.
Seabright then formed a “T” with his hands and said about Hahn, “It’s also clear he didn’t say, ‘Time out, Chief, we can’t do this. It’s not who we are. It doesn’t represent our values.’ That apparently never happened.”
Hahn is the married father of two children, ages 12 and 10.
His attorney, Victor Bakke, told Seabright that Hahn would like to serve his sentence at Oregon’s FCI Sheridan. The Bureau of Prisons describes Sheridan as “a medium security federal correctional institution with an adjacent minimum security satellite camp and a detention center.”
Hahn appeared in court wearing a navy blue suit, tie, face mask and face shield. He wore several pins on his suit lapel, including an American flag, Hawaiian flag and what appeared to be an HPD emblem.
With Hahn’s 23 years of HPD service, Bakke said that “basically, he was a solider. He followed orders for 23 years. He should have known better than to have gotten involved in this. … This wasn’t his idea.”
Hahn made no statement to Seabright, but he did turn in his chair to face Puana’s sister, Charlotte “Charlee” Puana Malott. Her mother was Florence Puana, the victim of Katherine Kealoha’s reverse mortgage scheme.
Malott chastised Hahn for betraying the oath he swore to uphold the law and serve and protect the community “with honesty and integrity.”
Malott regretted that her mother — who died in February at age 100 — “did not live long enough to see this day, cannot look you in the eyes and ask you why (Hahn had) caused so much misery to innocent people who did not do a single thing to or against you.”
When Malott’s grandson, Kainoa — now age 18 — told Florence Puana that he no longer trusted HPD, Puana told her great-grandson that it was only a few officers like Kealoha, Hahn and Nguyen who were corrupt.
After everything that had happened to the Puana family, Puana told her great-grandson that they were only a “small representation of the Honolulu Police Department and the fine men and women who protect us,” Malott told Hahn.
Later Tuesday, Seabright tried to calculate a sentence for Nguyen that was in relation to the sentence for Hahn, who far outranked Nguyen at HPD and had more authority.
Nguyen appeared before Seabright wearing wire-rimmed glasses, a fish-themed aloha shirt, khaki pants and black-and-gray running shoes.
While Hahn had more authority, Wheat said Nguyen falsely and repeatedly identified Puana as the mailbox thief in a bogus home surveillance video, along with other lies to further the conspiracy.
“He’s the Joe Friday that made things happen,” Wheat told Seabright. “He’s family. He would do things that no one in CIU would do.”
Before imposing Nguyen’s sentence, Seabright repeatedly returned to Nguyen’s willingness to frame Puana:
“Bobby’s in the middle of it,” Seabright said at one point. “Bobby stuck by the Kealohas and he stuck by the lie. He embraced the Kealohas, he embraced the lie.”
“He absolutely should have said, ‘Louis, no. Kathy, no,’” Seabright said at another point. “He always had a supporting role in this conspiracy. It’s clear to me that he’s all-in, all-in. … He engaged in multiple acts … to do great harm to Gerard Puana.”
Like Hahn, Nguyen also declined to make a statement. But unlike Hahn, Nguyen would not turn and face Malott as she read a statement directed at him. Instead, Nguyen stared straight ahead.
Malott said that her mother and the Puana family “wholeheartedly” accepted Nguyen when he married into the family.
“That meant nothing to you,” she said.
Instead, Malott said, Nguyen betrayed the family that welcomed him, tried to frame her brother and “aided and abetted in the Kealohas’ evil plot for revenge.”