HONOLULU, Hawaii – Former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and former police chief Louis Kealoha were sentenced during separate hearings in federal court today to 13 years and seven years in prison, respectively, following a number of convictions, including conspiring to frame a relative with a crime to conceal their own fraud.
Chief U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright of the District of Hawaii also ordered the Kealohas to pay $454,984.78 and $237,698.56, respectively, in restitution to their victims, and ordered forfeiture of property representing proceeds of fraud, including the Kealohas’ former home in Honolulu, a Rolex watch, and $228,746.79. Katherine Kealoha is already in custody; Louis Kealoha was ordered to report to prison on April 12, 2021.
Judge Seabright rebuked the Kealohas for their “grotesque deprivation of civil rights,” which “staggered the community in many ways” and had “truly shaken confidence in our governing institutions.” He further remarked that “the Kealohas used their power to nurture, feed, and conceal their corrupt activity.”
The sentences imposed today mark the end of a series of criminal cases against the Kealohas. In June 2019, after six weeks of trial and one day of deliberation, a federal jury in Honolulu convicted the Honolulu power couple and Honolulu police officers Derek Hahn and Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen of conspiracy and attempted obstruction of justice pertaining to the false arrest and prosecution of Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana. The evidence at trial established that the Kealohas used their considerable power, including commandeering the Honolulu Police Department’s elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, to frame Gerard with stealing their mailbox. To accomplish this, the conspirators prepped the mailbox to be “stolen,” selectively edited grainy surveillance video to conceal their preparatory acts, falsely identified Gerard as the culprit captured by the video, falsified police reports, withheld and destroyed evidence, and repeatedly lied about their activity to investigators, the federal grand jury, and the District Court for the District of Hawaii.
The Kealohas’ motive for framing Gerard was to discredit and intimidate him after he accused Katherine Kealoha of fraud. Trial evidence established that Katherine stole over $200,000 from him and Katherine’s elderly grandmother, Florence Puana. Acting as her grandmother’s “attorney,” Katherine convinced Florence—who was 89 years old at the time—to place a reverse mortgage on Florence’s family home. Katherine promised Florence that she would pay off the reverse mortgage after using some of the proceeds to consolidate the Kealohas’ debt. Instead, unbeknownst to Florence, Katherine funneled the reverse mortgage proceeds into a bank account that Katherine controlled. And within seven months, the Kealohas drained the account dry—spending over $148,000 on various personal expenses, including mortgage payments, Elton John concert tickets, Mercedes and Maserati car payments, a trip to Disneyland, and a $23,976 brunch tab at the Sheraton Waikiki to celebrate Louis Kealoha’s induction as Honolulu Police Chief in 2009. In the meantime, Katherine made no payments on the reverse mortgage, allowed the balance to balloon out of control, and diverted mortgage statements away from Florence’s mailbox to keep Florence from finding out. Once Florence did find out—almost a year and a half later—she was forced to sell her family home.
After they learned of the missing money and ballooning mortgage, Florence and Gerard confronted Katherine Kealoha about her actions. Katherine responded indignantly, threatening in a letter to seek “the highest form of legal retribution against ANYONE and EVERYONE who has written or verbally uttered those LIES about me!” True to her word, after Florence and Gerard filed a civil lawsuit against her, Katherine attempted to have Florence declared legally incompetent, and Katherine and her co-conspirators had Gerard arrested for a crime he did not commit. At Gerard’s theft trial, Louis Kealoha testified falsely that Gerard was the person displayed taking the mailbox in the grainy surveillance video. “That’s what makes this case so shocking: this could not have succeeded but for you and your position,” Judge Seabright told Louis Kealoha.
“Today, after years of manipulating the levers of justice to shroud their own crimes, justice was delivered to two corrupt public officials,” said U.S. Attorney Robert Brewer. “This was a flagrant and stunning abuse of power that victimized an entire community by undermining public confidence in its leaders and the rule of law. If not for the initial dogged investigation by former First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert, who brought this matter to the attention of federal authorities, followed by incredible work by FBI agents and prosecutors Michael Wheat, Joseph Orabona, Janaki Chopra and Colin McDonald, the Kealohas would still be manipulating justice, not meeting it.”
“Our citizens entrust public servants with great powers and authorities. It is our responsibility to serve our community with integrity and authenticity – with truth and justice as our hallmark,” said Special Agent in Charge Eli S. Miranda. “The Kealohas betrayed this trust for their own selfish entitlements, using deception and breaking the same laws they swore to uphold. The FBI will enthusiastically continue to investigate any corrupt public official who willfully and maliciously abuse their office.”
Today’s sentences also accounted for separate crimes committed by the Kealohas. In October 2019, Katherine pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony after using her position of authority within the city prosecutor’s office to actively conceal the drug distribution activities of her brother, Rudolph B. Puana, an anesthesiologist in Hawaii. In her plea agreement, Katherine admitted she arranged to have herself assigned as the prosecutor overseeing the investigation of her brother’s co-conspirators and that she cultivated a close relationship with one co-conspirator—a defendant Katherine was then prosecuting—to reduce the likelihood that the individual would reveal Rudolph Puana’s role in the drug conspiracy. “I always got ur back, I love you and will protect you always!!!” read one private text message Katherine sent to the defendant she was prosecuting. “GO TEAM!!! Can’t wait for this s*** to be over,” read another, to which the defendant replied, “Ditto[.] Then we’re free[.]”
Finally, in October 2019, the Kealohas pleaded guilty to bank fraud. As part of their pleas, the Kealohas admitted that between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2014, they spent more than $591,000 derived from stolen funds or loan proceeds obtained through fraud. Their bank fraud scheme included falsely claiming assets that belonged to others (including money belonging to children over whom Katherine had been appointed guardian), falsely inflating their monthly income, and falsely denying derogatory information on their credit. To legitimize their denial of poor credit, the Kealohas submitted a forged police report in loan applications that purported to document Katherine’s false claims of identity theft. The act of forging the police officer’s signature on the report was itself identity theft, for which Katherine pleaded guilty. Katherine further admitted using an alias “Alison Lee Wong” to facilitate the bank fraud. This alias also played a role in Gerard Puana’s claims of fraud. As evidence at trial established, in 2009, Katherine used the “Wong” alias to notarize and create a fraudulent trust in Gerard’s name. And in 2008, under the customer name “Kathryn Aloha,” Katherine ordered a notary seal for “Alison Lee Wong” from the American Association of Notaries and had it mailed to the State of Hawaii’s Office of Environmental Quality Control, where Katherine served as Director. As Judge Seabright stated today, Katherine “perverted justice over and over and over and over again.”
The Kealohas’ co-conspirators, Derek Wayne Hahn and Bobby Nguyen, are scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, 2020 for their involvement in framing Gerard Puana. Katherine Kealoha’s brother, Rudolph B. Puana, is currently facing drug distribution and firearm charges, and is scheduled for trial in April 2021.