Recent allegations of wrongdoing inside the clandestine Criminal Intelligence Unit of the Honolulu Police Department have a familiar ring to them.
Serious problems in the CIU have occurred and recurred since it was formed nearly 50 years ago and can generally be traced to a few characteristics of the system.
One is extreme secrecy – a malady that flourishes throughout HPD but is acute in the CIU.
Another is absolute, unquestioning loyalty to the boss – the Chief of Police who approves all personnel assignments to CIU.
A third is what I call the Whitey Bulger syndrome – after the notorious Boston mobster whose value as a snitch to the FBI enabled him to commit murders and mayhem with impunity for decades.
So far the Bulger syndrome hasn’t surfaced in the case against ex-HPD chief Louis Kealoha, his prosecutor wife Katherine and their various CIU cohorts. But I won’t be surprised if it does.
The case is just beginning. The Kealohas have pleaded not guilty as have all but one of the CIU-connected defendants.
The secrecy and loyalty issues that have afflicted law enforcement intelligence units here and elsewhere also seem to apply in the federal case against the Kealohas.
Details of past scandals within the CIU were ably recounted by Nick Grube in Civil Beat, but I might make a few additions and observations.
When highly decorated CIU detective Kenneth Kamakana warned his superiors of wrongdoing in the unit in the late 1990s, he was summarily jettisoned because of a perceived lack of loyalty to then-Chief Lee Donohue.
“We’re gonna need people that are faithful to myself and the Chief,” Kamakana’s boss told him, according to court records filed in the whistleblower lawsuit against the department.
Thousands of pages of sealed records about secret activities in the CIU were filed in the Kamakana case. They were unsealed only after a bitter, lengthy legal fight with HPD and the city. Some of the paperwork centered on the loyalty issue.
When Donohue became Chief of Police, he was quickly confronted with a difficult CIU personnel issue.
The captain and lieutenant in charge of the unit wanted to transfer a problem officer out of the CIU, according to sworn testimony and court records.
In an eight-page memo, the officials, Capt. Harry Auld and Lt. Grant Loo, told Donohue that the officer, who had financial problems, was spending far too much time moonlighting at a second job. The officer regularly disobeyed instructions and wanted “rules bent in his favor,” Auld and Loo said.
But the problem officer was the son of a friend of Donohue and “called in a favor,” Loo testified. Donohue solved his dilemma by transferring Auld and Loo out of CIU, court records demonstrate.
Both officials testified under oath that CIU personnel decisions were entirely up to the chief, but they also noted that the two executive officers in charge of the unit had never been removed at the same time.
Such moves had always been staggered in time to ensure continuity in investigations and operations, they testified.
Both officers said that they felt their efforts to have the moonlighting officer moved out played a part in the chief’s decision to transfer them instead.
A related personnel matter concerned the detective who was supposed to be monitoring and mentoring the problem officer.
The older officer was nearing retirement and just going through the motions of doing his job, Auld said.
“Paperwork was just an inconvenience,” Auld said. “I don’t know if he ever got the hang of the computer.”
The veteran officer could consume “phenomenal” amounts of food but would fall “fast asleep in his cubicle” after a meal, Auld said.
“I mean, out to the world. It was a joke. So we put his cubicle at the farthest extreme, certainly not at the front door. But we figured, you know, this is his twilight years. Let him go out graciously,” Auld testified.
That veteran officer had been assigned to CIU at the start of the unit in the early 1970s and was once charged with two other CIU operatives of burglarizing the hotel room of suspected mobsters.
Those charges were eventually dismissed but the three officers were hastily removed from CIU and assigned other duties. The prodigious eater was brought back in the late 1980s before easing his way into retirement.
Nick Grube also referenced my stories about an ex-CIU officer, Isaac Sanga, who was accused of involvement in a complex murder-for-hire case of a Texas real estate developer shot to death on Maui in 1978.
Sanga met the developer, Paul Warford, and his wife, Sue Lynn, when the CIU used the couple’s Portlock area home to conduct surveillance of a mobster who lived nearby.
The murder plot allegedly began after the Warfords’ marriage collapsed and Sanga and Sue Lynn began living together, according to documents filed in civil and criminal court.
The murder-for-hire plan turned out to have more twists and turns than a Texas tornado and Sanga was accused but never convicted of involvement in it.
The only individual convicted of the killing was the triggerman, Anthony Kekona Jr., who is serving life in prison.
Sanga quit the police department the day my first story about the Warford killing was published. He moved to Texas with Sue Lynn for a while, but returned to Honolulu where he was shot to death May 14, 1979 on the Honolulu waterfront.
His 60-year-old killer, Hideo Miyahira, said Sanga tried to collect a $4,000 gambling debt by threatening to harm Miyahira’s wife and son.
Miyahira’s defense lawyer said the former CIU cop was a “strongarm” who used fear to intimidate his victims.
“Even cops were afraid of Isaac Sanga,” the lawyer said.
I first found the Whitey Bulger syndrome in effect here in the case of a career criminal, Donald W.K. Chang, who snitched to law enforcement, including the CIU, about his criminal associates.
A small man with a gift for exploiting human weakness, Chang specialized in organizing jewelry heists. When law enforcement interest in him grew uncomfortably close, Chang managed to deflect investigators with information about his co-conspirators.
It was one of those associates who turned the tables on Chang, sharing details with homicide investigators about Chang’s crimes.
Police detectives purposely excluded CIU from their subsequent investigation because of Chang’s close ties to the unit.
He was convicted of murder and other crimes and implicated many others in successful prosecutions.
Secrecy and the Bulger syndrome also figured large in the Kamakana lawsuit paperwork once it was opened to the public.
The highly decorated detective was working in CIU when his fellow officers there began clandestinely meddling in a federal criminal investigation targeting organized crime activities in the Chinatown area of Honolulu that was code-named Ikapono.
The CIU had been purposely excluded from Ikapono by the feds and other police investigators because of close ties between some CIU officers and targets of the probe. CIU was warned to stay clear of the federal case, which featured an HPD officer pretending to solicit bribes from mobsters.
But CIU cops secretly interviewed and tape-recorded one of the Ikapono witnesses after they were explicitly told not to do so by federal authorities.
When federal prosecutors found out about the taping, they were given a doctored copy of the evidence by CIU personnel.
That subterfuge parallels one alleged by federal authorities in documents recently filed in the Kealoha case. According to the criminal indictment, CIU officers doctored or destroyed videotape evidence before submitting it to federal investigators.