Two Honolulu police officers have been charged with felonies in connection with the ongoing federal corruption investigation into the Honolulu Police Department, its former chief and his deputy prosecutor wife.
Officer Ming-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen and former Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, who retired earlier this year, were taken into custody by the FBI on Sunday and appeared in court Monday for an initial appearance.
The men, both of them dressed in short-sleeved, white jumpsuits, were accused of falsifying reports and lying to investigators about the theft of former Chief Louis Kealoha’s mailbox.
Federal investigators say Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, framed her uncle, Gerard Puana, for the mailbox theft in order to get the upper hand in a legal dispute involving a significant sum of money.
Nguyen was charged with felony conspiracy for allegedly falsifying police reports and lying to federal investigators about the mailbox theft and suspected cover-up of the frame job.
Shiraishi was charged with obstruction of an official proceeding — also a felony — for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury.
The new charging documents did little to shed new light on what exactly federal investigators have uncovered during their years-long inquiry into alleged corruption and abuse of power in Hawaii law enforcement.
Many of the details had already been spelled out in a plea deal with former HPD officer Niall Silva, who had worked with Nguyen and Shiraishi in the department’s clandestine Criminal Intelligence Unit around the time the mailbox disappeared.
Silva admitted to falsifying police reports and lying on the witness stand during Puana’s criminal trial about the circumstances surrounding HPD’s investigation into the mailbox theft.
The latest charging documents also list several other co-conspirators in the case, none of whom are named. But based on the facts contained in the documents and other court records two of the co-conspirators are Louis and Katherine Kealoha.
It’s the first time the former police chief, who retired earlier this year with a $250,000 severance package after being named as a target of the federal investigation, has officially been implicated as a co-conspirator in court records.
Neither Nguyen or Shiraishi entered a plea during their initial appearance in federal court. They were subsequently released on bond, but not before officials with the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked for stricter conditions on their release from the Federal Detention Center.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, who is spearheading the grand jury investigation, did not attend Monday’s proceeding. But two members of his prosecutorial team, Colin McDonald and Janaki Gandhi, argued before Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi that Nguyen and Shiraishi should have stricter bond requirements given the gravity of the alleged offenses.
McDonald told Puglisi that Shiraishi lied on several occasions to federal investigators in an attempt to cover for his boss and colleagues. McDonald said Shiraishi and others “faithfully pursued their own personal and professional gain” at the expense of Puana and the community.
“Mr. Shiraishi has obstructed justice and I would note that he did it in several encounters,” McDonald said. “This is someone who can’t be trusted.”
Gandhi had similar words about Nguyen, who has been an HPD officer for 11 years. Nguyen was married to Katherine Kealoha’s niece and had lived on the Kealoha property. Gandhi said his deception was even more pronounced and prolonged than Shiraishi’s, saying that he used his position of authority in “unsavory ways.”
“This defendant’s role is a mess in comparison with Mr. Shiraishi,” Gandhi said. “He has shown time and again that he will be obstructive.”
Gandhi also noted that Nguyen had demonstrated “aggressive behavior” related to domestic violence, which she said is “incredibly disturbing to the United States.”
Both Lars Isaacson, who represents Shiraishi, and Randall Hironaka, who is Nguyen’s attorney, disagreed with McDonald and Gandhi’s characterizations of their clients, and argued that stricter bond requirements were not warranted.
“I disagree with the government’s recitation of what’s happening in this case,” Hironaka said. “I believe there’s some grandstanding going on on their part.”
Several attorneys representing other suspects in the grand jury investigation attended Monday’s proceeding, including Myles Breiner, who represents the Kealohas, and William Harrison, who’s client, Silva, has already agreed to cooperate with the FBI.
Honolulu attorney Richard Sing, who represents HPD officer Daniel Sellers, another suspected co-conspirator, was also present.
Breiner addressed members of the press on the courthouse steps after Monday’s hearing, saying that he was unimpressed by the new allegations brought forth by Wheat and his team of prosecutors. He reiterated Hironaka’s concerns that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was grandstanding in the courtroom.
Breiner also said arresting Nguyen and Shiraishi was a failed attempt at intimidation that only caused embarrassment for the officers and their families.
“There was no need to have them arrested on Sunday except maybe to give them a taste of what it’s like to be in prison and hopefully intimidate them,” Breiner said. “It was pretty obvious to all of us in the courtroom that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is struggling to keep this case alive and to keep a grand jury empaneled.”
McDonald and Gandhi did not want to comment after Monday’s proceedings.
Officials with HPD issued a statement from Acting Police Chief Cary Okimoto on Monday indicating that Nguyen’s police powers have been removed and he will be placed on leave without pay pending an investigation.
Okimoto said HPD will continue to cooperate with the FBI as the case moves forward.
A preliminary hearing for Nguyen and Shiraishi is scheduled for Nov. 1.
Read the charging documents below:
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues