Federal prosecutors want two long-time defense attorneys for former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his prosecutor wife, Katherine, to be booted from a case involving 20 felony counts of conspiracy, bank fraud and obstruction.
The Kealohas were indicted by the U.S. Justice Department last month on allegations they bilked children, family and financial institutions out of millions of dollars to support a lavish lifestyle and used their positions in law enforcement to cover it up and frame an innocent man.
The government now says that the Kealohas’ attorneys, Myles Breiner and Kevin Sumida, should no longer represent the couple because they each have “a serious potential conflict of interest” that can’t be overcome by Louis Kealoha’s recent hiring of an additional attorney.
At issue is whether Breiner and Sumida can still defend Katherine Kealoha despite their “continuing obligations of loyalty and confidentiality toward both clients.”
In essence: How can they properly defend Katherine Kealoha without throwing her husband, Louis, under the bus or vice versa?
But there are more serious concerns spelled out in the motion.
The federal government argued Sumida could become a witness in the criminal trial based on information he uncovered related to Katherine Kealoha’s alleged criminal activity.
One of these scenarios involved documents he received from the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office indicating that Alison Lee Wong, who signed off on some financial documents used in an alleged financial scheme, might not be a real person.
In the federal prosecutors’ motion, Sumida is also tied to allegations that Katherine Kealoha coached a federal grand jury witness to lie to investigators inside Sumida’s law offices.
According to the motion, which did not identify the witness, Kealoha had keys to Sumida’s office and was able to meet with the witness there on a Saturday when it was closed for business.
Kealoha allegedly showed the witness a forged guardianship document with the witness’ signature on it, the motion states. She then purportedly said she would pay for the witness’ attorney if the witness was called to testify before the federal grand jury.
While the motion states the witness did not see Sumida, the witness did meet another individual who was in the office that day, the motion states.
An exhibit attached to the motion includes a document signed by Ransen Taito, who was represented by Kealoha in a guardianship matter in 2004.
Taito and his sister, who were minors then, had received $167,000 through medical malpractice settlement when their father died. Kealoha is accused of using much of that money for herself.
“It’s mind-boggling how many different forms of conflicts there are here,” said Kenneth Lawson, a co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project and a criminal law instructor at the University of Hawaii Manoa. “It’s a quagmire.”
“And it just blew me away to know that she would go as far as releasing the name of a (confidential informant) when I know that people can get murdered for that.”
Breiner has a long history of fighting with prosecutors and suing the Honolulu Police Department. The problem is, Lawson said, Breiner didn’t quit that work when he took on the Kealohas as clients.
“It’s troubling because you have a duty of loyalty to your client,” Lawson said. “But how can you be loyal to all these clients if their interests are so divergent?”
The motion lays out in detail how Breiner was alleged to have been playing both sides in at least two criminal cases in state court that were prosecuted by Katherine Kealoha.
In 2014, Breiner represented Tracy Yoshimura when he and others were indicted on hundreds of counts of gambling promotion, money laundering and racketeering. Kealoha was the lead prosecutor in that case.
Breiner accused Kealoha and her co-counsel of prosecutorial misconduct, and ultimately was successful in getting a dismissal. He then filed a lawsuit against Kealoha on behalf of Yoshimura, alleging that she had violated his civil rights.
Among the allegations in the lawsuit were that Kealoha and her co-counsel knowingly allowed false grand jury testimony to stand without being corrected. He accused Kealoha of “malicious prosecution” and even told the media that he believed she was “incompetent.”
The prosecuting attorney’s office filed new charges against Yoshimura in February 2016.
While Kealoha was not the lead prosecutor at that time, the motion states that she and Breiner, who she hired in May, began talking about substantive issues regarding the case.
In a sworn statement to Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, Yoshimura said Breiner told him that he believed the prosecutor’s office “sat on the indictment” for three months without executing an arrest warrant as a gesture of goodwill from Kealoha, who Breiner said was trying to help Yoshimura.
“I don’t think she wanted to help me,” Yoshimura told Wheat. “I think she was trying to convince Myles or butter up Myles to, like I said, agree to represent her.”
Yoshimura also told Wheat that he didn’t trust Breiner, but that he thought that his relationship with Kealoha would benefit his own case.
Yoshimura added that he wanted to “go after Katherine Kealoha as hard as I can, with as much as I can.” His ultimate goal, he told Wheat, was to get her and her husband, Louis, who was still police chief at the time, to “flip and start spilling the beans on Keith Kaneshiro,” the Honolulu prosecutor and Kealoha’s boss.
Yoshimura said Breiner made it clear to him that he would leverage his relationship with Katherine Kealoha to help Yoshimura take out Kaneshiro.
For instance, Yoshimura said that when Kealoha learned Kaneshiro had been subpoenaed to testify before the federal grand jury, she quickly notified Breiner, who in turn told Yoshimura.
The federal prosecutors’ motion contains no mention of wrongdoing on the part of Kaneshiro.
“It’s mind-boggling how many different forms of conflicts there are here.” — Kenneth Lawson, Hawaii Innocence Project
“And I immediately called the media to let them know that Keith was going to be going to the Grand Jury,” Yoshimura said, “because what I was trying to do is get into his head of him looking at that and saying there’s rats in his office.”
Yoshimura also recounted a time in which he said Kealoha gave Breiner the name of a confidential informant who was cooperating with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office in the case against him.
He said it “blew me away to know that she would go as far as releasing the name of a (confidential informant) when I know that people can get murdered for that.”
Breiner also represented Tiffany Masunaga in a high-profile drug case that involved the arrest of a Honolulu police officer, the motion states. Kealoha was the lead prosecutor in that case despite the fact that Breiner was representing her at the time.
According to the motion, the two had “substantive discussions” about the case. They also met with Circuit Court Judge Rom Trader on at least one occasion to have an “off the record” talk regarding the status of the case.
Masunaga has sinced hired a new attorney, William Harrison, who has asked for an outside agency to prosecute the case due to the conflicts of interest.
The government’s motion also addressed allegations lodged by Breiner in the media that Wheat had leaked confidential information in violation of federal rules.
According to court documents, Breiner filed a sealed motion in 2016 to dismiss the grand jury and have Wheat disqualified from the case. Sumida filed a memorandum on behalf of the Kealohas supporting Breiner’s motion, which was ultimately denied.
The government argued that this maneuver alone is enough to hurt Breiner and Sumida’s credibility should the case go to trial, especially in light of Yoshimura’s testimony.
“As demonstrated by Yoshimura’s unrefuted sworn statement, K. KEALOHA and Defense Counsel were actually the source of the ‘leaks; the United States is prepared to prove that K. KEALOHA was behind other leaks as well,” the motion states.
“Defense Counsel would therefore be in a compromised position if they attacked the case by alleging grand jury ‘leaks.’”
Sumida did not respond to a Civil Beat request for comment. Breiner said in a text message that he plans to file a response to the motion next week.
“This motion reflects the length to which the government will go to remove any obstacles in pursuit of a conviction, including the Kealohas’ right to choice of counsel,” Breiner said.