On Oct. 8, 2015, Tiffany Masunaga, an accused drug dealer, cut a deal with Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro that she hoped would keep her out of prison.
Instead, her attorney says, she’s been held hostage by the agreement.
“I’ve been trying to get this case away from the prosecutor’s office because of all the conflicts of interest that are involved,” said William Harrison, the defense attorney who now represents Masunaga.
“She has information that law enforcement would probably want to hear, but because of this agreement she can’t speak about it unless the prosecutor agrees to let her.”
So far that has yet to happen, Harrison said. Kaneshiro has refused to comment.
Masunaga was arrested in 2015 as part of an undercover drug sting conducted by the Honolulu Police Department. Alan Ahn, an HPD officer at the time, was also apprehended.
The duo was charged with a series of crimes related to possession of cocaine, marijuana and other prescription drugs, including the opioid fentanyl.
Ahn pleaded no contest to the charges in February 2017 and was sentenced to 60 days in jail three months later. Masunaga, meanwhile, has been in a state of prosecutorial purgatory.
Kaneshiro’s office has not moved forward on her case, either by dismissing the charges or putting her on trial.
Last year, Harrison filed a motion to remove Kaneshiro’s office from the case and have a special prosecutor appointed due to unspecified conflicts of interest.
The reason for the secrecy, Harrison said, was to protect his client. He said Masunaga is in possession of sensitive information that, if it were made public or shared with prosecutors, could endanger her life.
Katherine Kealoha, who’s married to former HPD chief Louis Kealoha, was the lead prosecutor in the case. She’s since been indicted on federal charges of conspiracy and fraud.
“The fact that this thing had been sealed really shows that the prosecutors wanted to protect somebody other than my client.” — William Harrison, defense attorney
At the time Masunaga entered into the cooperation agreement, Kealoha was still on the case. So too was Myles Breiner, who was serving as a defense attorney to both Masunaga and Kealoha at the same time.
Up until last week, Masunaga’s cooperation agreement with the prosecutors had been kept secret.
The document only became public after a Civil Beat reporter challenged the legality of sealing the court record. The record had been sealed by Circuit Court Judge Rom Trader, a former city prosecutor, at the behest of Kaneshiro’s office and without objection from Breiner, then Masunaga’s attorney.
Trader’s reasoning for sealing the documents hinged on Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Chasid Sapolu’s contention that secrecy was necessary to maintain the integrity of an ongoing investigation, although he didn’t divulge what that investigation might be.
The Hawaii Supreme Court sided with the Civil Beat reporter and ordered the release of the documents.
In addition to Masunaga’s cooperation agreement, the newly released records include signed conflict of interest waivers from Kealoha and Masunaga that effectively allowed Breiner to represent them both.
Details about a Sept. 9, 2016, hearing, in which Masunaga pleaded no contest to the charges, were also made public.
Harrison said he saw no reason for any of the documents or proceedings to be sealed from public view. Even the cooperation agreement, he said, is pretty typical.
According to the agreement, Kaneshiro offered Masunaga leniency during sentencing in her drug case if she agreed to cooperate with his office’s ongoing investigation.
The document also stated that Masunaga would be asked to provide “relevant, truthful and substantiated information” about police corruption, court officer corruption and other unspecified criminal activity.
She would be offered full immunity from any other charges that might arise as a result of her turning over such information.
Harrison said his client was only called once to testify before a special investigative grand jury that was being conducted by Kaneshiro’s office.
But Harrison said the prosecutors never asked her about the drug case involving her and Ahn. They didn’t even want to know the most obvious question — where did they get the drugs?
Instead prosecutors pressed Masunaga for any information she might have about HPD officers writing fake speeding tickets — sometimes referred to as “ghost tickets” — as part of a scheme to collect more overtime pay.
Kaneshiro and his office had come under scrutiny after it was revealed that federal investigators were looking into a speeding ticket Katherine Kealoha had dismissed on behalf of an acquaintance in 2014.
Kaneshiro said publicly that he ordered the dismissal as part of an investigation into ghost tickets. Since then defense attorneys have raised questions about whether Kaneshiro, an elected prosecutor, made up the story to provide cover for Kealoha.
Although Harrison said he couldn’t comment specifically about what his client knows, he said it’s clear to him that the cooperation agreement and the decision to seal it is a purposeful way of hiding information that, he says, harms the prosecuting attorney’s office.
“The fact that this thing had been sealed really shows that the prosecutors wanted to protect somebody other than my client,” Harrison said.
He added that the federal government is well aware of his case, and that he has been in contact with officials at the Justice Department.
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.