Honolulu’s former police chief abused his power as head of the force to frame his wife’s uncle for petty theft in order to discredit that man’s attempts to expose their fraud, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. The police chief and his wife, who is herself a former deputy prosecutor, are at the center of what has been called the state’s largest-ever public corruption case, according to the Associated Press.
The allegations, spelled out during the corruption trial of Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha, deal with a messy family conflict in which Katherine stands accused of stealing from both her uncle and her grandmother in order to pay for concert tickets, luxury cars, an expensive home, and lavish gifts for her boyfriend.
According to her uncle Gerard Puana, Katherine pocketed roughly $150,000 in leftover funds after taking out a reverse mortgage on her grandmother’s house. Puana sued his niece, contending that she had stolen from her family members to fund her and her husband’s lifestyle.
It was at this point that Kealoha’s husband allegedly stepped in. According to prosecutors, who say that Katherine had also schemed to defraud banks and children’s trusts she controlled along with her relatives, Louis Kealoha enlisted a small number of officers to help him frame Puana for the theft of his and his wife’s mailbox in 2013. The case went to court as a federal crime, ending on a mistrial when Louis Kealoha falsely said on the stand that Puana had been convicted of a robbery. (It’s still not entirely clear who took the mailbox.)
The then–police chief had allegedly put 30 Honolulu police officers on 24-hour surveillance of Puana before he had even been identified as the suspect in the case. U.S. prosecutor Joseph Orabona said Tuesday that police from a secret unit erased a hard drive with video footage from the case and recorded, as a replacement, six days of a ceiling at police headquarters. Prosecutors said the measures amounted to a clear case of obstruction and abuse of power.
In 2017, the couple were indicted on corruption and fraud charges. The current trial, set to wrap up soon, deals with the mailbox plot and names three other current and former police officers as co-defendants. A second trial will focus on bank fraud and identity theft, and a third, which excludes Louis, accuses Katherine and her physician brother of dealing opioids.
Katherine Kealoha’s lawyer argued that the prosecution’s case was built on speculation and that it had no solid evidence. Her husband’s lawyer has argued that Louis was not involved in his wife’s dispute with her uncle. Both have said the charges amounted to an unsubstantiated “conspiracy theory.”