HONOLULU (CN) – The federal corruption trial of a former Honolulu police chief and his wife, a former city prosecutor, kicked off Wednesday after a week-long jury selection from over 400 potential jurors.
In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat told jurors that Louis and Katherine Kealoha staged a mailbox theft for their own security cameras in 2013 to frame Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, during a dispute over some $200,000. Puana had claimed in a civil lawsuit that the Kealohas emptied his bank account in order to fund their high-flying lifestyle, which included a $2 million Kahala home and lavish parties.
That suit ended in a mistrial when Louis Kealoha blurted out on the stand that Puana had previous criminal convictions. Puana’s lawyers claimed Kealoha threw the trial intentionally, leading to an FBI investigation, a federal grand jury probe in 2015 and now the federal corruption trial.
In addition to the Kealohas, authorities have charged retired police Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, Lt. Derek Hahn officer Bobby Nguyen, who prosecutors say did the Kealoha’s bidding.
Louis Kealoha’s attorney Rustam Barbee in opening statements called the prosecution a “conspiracy theory,” pointing out investigators still don’t know who stole the mailbox, if not Puana.
Katherine Kealoha’s attorney sought to downplay the events as small-town intrigue, rather than evidence of a conspiracy.
But federal prosecutors see a larger picture: The Kealohas face a second trial on charges of bank fraud, identity theft and the victimization of two children whose father left their inheritance with Louis Kealoha.
A third indictment charges Katherine Kealoha and her brother Randolph Puana with dealing prescription opioids oxycodone and fentanyl, and Katherine with using her position in the prosecutor’s office to quash investigations of associates.
Top Honolulu prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro took a leave of absence when it was revealed this year he is also the target of a federal corruption investigation, though his connection to the Kealoha case is unclear.
The trial continues Thursday and is expected to last several weeks, with testimony from two Hawaii police officers who have already pleaded guilty to lesser charges, Gerard Puana, and Katherine Kealoha’s 99-year old grandmother via recorded deposition.