- Special Projects
A former Honolulu police officer who was part of a special criminal intelligence unit that investigated the June 2013 theft of Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s mailbox is facing felony conspiracy charges in U.S. District Court.
On Thursday, the court unsealed documents that allege that Niall Silva, who retired from the Honolulu Police Department on Dec. 30, 2013, worked with at least five co-conspirators — most of them police officers — to frame Gerard Puana for the crime.
The alleged co-conspirators are not identified in the document, and Puana is identified only as “G.K.P.”
Puana is the uncle of the chief’s wife, Katherine Kealoha, a city prosecutor. After he was charged with stealing their mailbox his federal public defender, Alexander Silvert, said that his client had been set up so that the Kealohas could gain the upper hand in a bitter family dispute over money.
Silvert told jurors during Puana’s criminal trial in December 2014 that he could prove that his client had been framed, and he had evidence that officers had falsified reports and targeted Puana from the outset of their investigation.
The case ended in a mistrial, however, when Louis Kealoha improperly testified about Puana’s criminal past while he was on the witness stand. The U.S. Attorney’s Office refused to pursue the case further and instead forwarded it to the FBI to investigate Silvert’s allegations.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, of San Diego, was appointed as a special prosecutor and has been conducting a grand jury investigation into the Kealohas and others in the department.
The conspiracy charge against Silva is the first indication that Wheat’s investigation might be coming to an end. But it also raises questions about just how many people might be indicted.
According to the document, Silva and others falsified reports, lied to federal investigators and worked in concert in an attempt to put Puana behind bars. Silva is also accused of providing false information while testifying in Puana’s criminal trial.
Apparently, no charges have been filed against any of the other alleged co-conspirators in the case.
The document states that one of the co-conspirators — the only one who was not specifically identified as a police officer — called 911 to report the mailbox theft in the first place. Records show that Katherine Kealoha made that call.
Silva’s attorney, William Harrison, did not return a phone call Thursday seeking comment. Silva is scheduled to appear in federal court Friday morning for hearing in which he is expected to accept a plea deal.
Honolulu attorney Myles Breiner, who represents the Kealohas, said Wheat’s charges against Silva are a scare tactic meant to get more witnesses to roll over on his clients and others who might be targets of the ongoing grand jury investigation.
Breiner said he found it curious that the conspiracy charge came just one day after Puana filed a lawsuit in federal court saying he was the victim of abusive police tactics and malicious prosecution. The defendants in that case include the Kealohas, Silva and HPD officers Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, Daniel Sellers, Walter Calistro and Dru Akagi.
“Michael Wheat has come out here with the intent of getting an indictment,” Breiner said. “He wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t absolutely certain that there was some sort of terrible corruption going on out here. He’s been looking and looking and looking … But I think it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have the witnesses he needs and this is one way to shake the tree to get more.”
You can read the document here: