When Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife, Katherine, filed a lawsuit against the city’s ethics commission last month, they included more than 1,000 pages of exhibits that they believed would help prove that former staffers there had “conducted a series of unfounded, vindictive, unsubstantiated and illegal investigations” of the power couple.
The ethics employees named in the suit included former executive director Chuck Totto, who resigned last month under political pressure, and Letha DeCaires, a retired Honolulu police officer whose contract expired last year. DeCaires spearheaded the commission’s inquiry into the Kealohas over alleged corruption, abuse of power and civil-rights offenses stemming from a case involving the theft of the couple’s mailbox.
A federal grand jury continues investigating the Kealohas over allegations in that same case. But until now, almost no documented information about that probe has become public. Much of the reporting has been fueled by second-hand descriptions of closed-door meetings, allegations from anonymous sources and mere snippets of facts from public-court proceedings.
Now, though, the reams of paperwork in the Kealohas’ suit against the commission include records that reveal new details about what provoked the federal probe.
One such record is the transcript of a May 28, 2015 interview in which DeCaires interviewed Deputy Police Chief Marie McCauley about her department’s investigation into the missing mailbox.
‘I Know What It Looks Like’
The Kealohas blamed Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the June 21, 2013 theft, which they had caught on video using surveillance cameras installed by the police department’s intelligence division. Puana was arrested eight days later by an elite group of plainclothes officers who more typically investigate serious crimes.
Puana’s attorney said he was framed so that the Kealohas could gain an upper hand in a family dispute over money.
Once the media picked up on the story in 2014, the chief began distancing himself from the investigation. He told the press that he had reported the June theft to McCauley to avoid any conflict of interest or any perception that he was using the department to settle personal scores.
“I know what it looks like,” Kealoha told Hawaii News Now at the time, “but there’s no preferential treatment.”
But McCauley told DeCaires that Kealoha didn’t report the theft to her. McCauley said she was on vacation in Europe with her son when the chief’s mailbox was stolen. She didn’t learn of the theft until after she returned.
She said she did know, however, that the department’s clandestine Criminal Intelligence Unit had been conducting surveillance at the chief’s house in response to numerous reports of vandalism.
‘They Pretty Much Just Answer To No. 1’
Before she left for Europe, she said, the chief had told her that someone had been yelling profanities at the house and had shot out the windows of his front door with a pellet gun. McCauley told DeCaires she was surprised that the chief hadn’t reported any of the incidents, especially considering the safety of his wife and daughter.
“I told him he needs to document this so we can find out who’s doing it and take action,” the deputy chief told DeCaires. “I thought it was an officer. That’s what I thought. That’s what I continued to think up until when I returned from vacation.”
McCauley said she believed a drunk cop or some other officer with an ax to grind likely was the culprit. She asked CIU to investigate, and left the issue alone until she returned from Europe.
In that interview, DeCaires took a keen interest in the CIU operations. The ethics commission investigator acknowledged that the unit is supposed to report directly to McCauley. But she said, “it’s actually quite commonly known in the department that CIU still belongs to No. 1, meaning Chief Louis Kealoha. They pretty much just answer to No. 1.”
‘I Feel Like I Have A Bug In My Office’
McCauley told DeCaires that CIU’s job is to “find out things.” The unit often works in the shadows conducting surveillance and gathering information on citizens suspected of wrongdoing. It’s so secretive that the department won’t even reveal how many officers are assigned to the division.
McCauley said the CIU avoids writing police reports so that its members don’t get called into court. The unit primarily works on gambling, prostitution and drug cases. On occasion, the deputy chief said, it responds to calls from politicians and judges who worry that their offices are bugged.
“I mean it’s not unusual to have requests from public figures to, you know, go find out who’s stalking the mayor, who’s stalking Tulsi Gabbard, or I feel like I have a bug in my office and things like that,” McCauley told DeCaires. “These requests come to us, you know, quite often.”
The interview veered in several other directions. DeCaires asked McCauley about two officers, Bobby and Maile Nguyen, who had lived at the Kealohas’ Kahala property. Maile Nguyen was described as Katherine Kealoha’s niece.
‘Did You Have Any Idea How Involved These Two Sergeants Were?’
DeCaires also probed the chief’s ties to high-ranking members of the state police union, who supported his rise to power in 2009 when he was promoted from captain of the juvenile services division. McCauley told her that Kealoha often surfed with Michael Cusumano and John Haina, both of whom are on the board of directors of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
Cusumano and Haina were supervisors for the elite crime reduction unit from Waikiki that arrested Puana in 2013 for the mailbox theft. As such, they’re likely key figures in the ongoing federal investigation. In 2014, they were named sergeants of the year by the Honolulu Police Department.
McCauley told DeCaires that she recommended Cusumano and Haina be honored for their efforts training nearly 800 officers in active-shooter scenarios.
“Did you have any idea how involved these two sergeants were in the [investigation of the] mailbox theft?” DeCaires asked.
“No,” McCauly said. “I didn’t know they were involved in the mailbox theft.”
The Kealohas have attempted to undermine DeCaires’ interviews of witnesses by saying, in their lawsuit, that she would ask misleading questions based on information she knew to be false. The couple has denied all wrongdoing.
You can read the transcript of DeCaires’ interview here:
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