Former Hawaii police chief, wife indicted in corruption probe
What started as a curious case about a stolen mailbox has led to arrests of current and former officers accused of falsifying documents and altering evidence
HONOLULU — A former Honolulu police chief who retired amid a federal investigation into department-wide corruption and his prosecutor wife were indicted and then arrested by U.S. authorities Friday.
Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, surrendered outside their home, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, a special prosecutor from San Diego, told The Associated Press. Katherine Kealoha, a deputy city prosecutor, is on leave without pay pending the outcome of the case.
A federal grand jury has been looking into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption within the police force since 2015. What started as a curious case about a stolen mailbox has led to arrests of current and former officers accused of falsifying documents and altering evidence.
The couple accused her uncle of the theft in 2013 in their upscale Honolulu neighborhood. Prosecutors had claimed he stole the mailbox in an effort to access account records sent to the house.
The records were connected to a financial lawsuit that the uncle, Gerard Puana and his then-95-year-old mother, Florence Puana, filed against Katherine Kealoha.
Gerard Puana went to trial for the theft in 2014, but the case abruptly ended in a mistrial when Louis Kealoha gave improper testimony about Puana's criminal history. The charges were dismissed.
Puana's federal defender accused the Kealohas of framing his client to discredit him in the family financial dispute. The attorney, Alexander Silvert, believes the chief intentionally gave improper testimony to stop the trial from uncovering illegal actions.
While defending Puana, Silvert said he and his investigators uncovered illegal activity, including that police falsified reports and used a special unit to monitor his client illegally. Silvert took the allegations to the FBI.
Other officers were implicated in the investigation.
Retired Officer Niall Silva, who had testified at Puana's trial, pleaded guilty last year to falsifying documents and altering evidence in the mailbox case. He is facing sentencing, and his cooperation appeared instrumental in building cases against Officer Minh Hung "Bobby" Nguyen, Lt. Derek Hahn and retired Maj. Gordon Shiraishi.
Nguyen and Hahn allegedly conspired with others to alter evidence and provide false information to federal officials, according to court documents. Shiraishi, who retired in March, lied to a grand jury about the mailbox case, the documents said.
Shiraishi was captain and commanding officer of the Criminal Intelligence Unit, a specialized unit chosen by department executive staff that reported to the chief, according to criminal complaints against Shiraishi and Nguyen. The unit gathered intelligence and data on organized crime, terrorism and other serious threats facing Honolulu. It also investigated the case of the stolen mailbox.
Members of the unit are hand-picked by the chief, according to the complaint against Hahn, which notes that he was appointed as the unit's lieutenant in 2013, when Kealoha was still the chief.
When Kealoha received his so-called target letter from the FBI, department Acting Chief Cary Okimoto said four others on the force also received such letters.
Earlier this year, the FBI raided the Honolulu prosecuting attorney's office and a city computer office as part of the investigation. Search warrants were served Wednesday at a condo and a house where the Kealohas reside, said Myles Breiner, the couple's attorney.
"When I first got the case and was told it involved the wife of the chief of police, who's a major, high-ranking prosecutor, and the chief of police ... I assumed this would be a rather straightforward guilty plea," Silvert said last year of the mailbox case. "I never for a minute imagined it would become this."
It's now more than a case about a mailbox and the chief's family dispute, Silvert said recently: "This is an abuse of power by people in the highest authority. That's what this case is about."