Jesse Ebersole, a Hawaii County firefighter who federal prosecutors say lied about his affair with city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy Thursday as part of an ongoing U.S. Justice Department investigation into corruption within local law enforcement.
According to court documents, Kealoha had spent thousands of dollars on Ebersole — some of it stolen from her grandmother — to help maintain their inter-island relationship.
Kealoha was indicted in October along with her husband, former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, and several of his officers on a series of charges related to allegations they framed her uncle, Gerard Puana, for the theft of the their mailbox.
The Kealohas also face a series of financial crimes, including bank fraud and identity theft.
Federal officials became aware of Ebersole and Kealoha’s relationship while investigating alleged financial crimes related to a reverse mortgage scheme involving Kealoha’s grandmother and a second mortgage Kealoha obtained on her own home using allegedly forged documents.
According to court records, Kealoha spent more than $20,000 on Ebersole, including paying for flights and hotels so that they could continue their rendezvous, from 2009 to 2015.
His plea agreement states that in 2009 Ebersole received a $1,387.12 cashier’s check from Kealoha when she was using the alias “Alison Lee Wong.” Kealoha has used the alias before, including as a notary on mortgage documents and in legislative testimony to support her nomination to the Hawaii Office of Environmental Quality Control.
The plea agreement said the memo line on the check said “EPA Review,” and that it was issued to Ebersole as “‘a bonus’ for a no-show job at an ‘environmental company’ Kealoha claimed to control.
In court, Ebersole admitted to District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright that he met Kealoha in 2009 through the prestigious Pacific Century Fellows program that was founded by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Ebersole also admitted that he had an “intimate relationship” with Kealoha and that he lied to a federal grand jury about it on several occasions.
“I called her after receiving the subpoena and she told me I had nothing to worry about because I did nothing wrong,” Ebersole said. “I told her I had concerns about being asked questions about our previous relationship. She told me to tell the court we were just friends.”
Ebersole said that unbeknownst to him Kealoha had started making payments on a car loan for him. When he asked her how to explain it to investigators, he said she told him to say that the money came from a worker’s compensation settlement that she had worked on on his behalf.
“I lied to the grand jury,” he said.
Kealoha’s attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, told Civil Beat that she did not want to comment on the case.
Ebersole’s attorney, Donald Wilkerson, told Civil Beat after the hearing that his client decided to plead guilty to distance himself from Kealoha and the criminal charges she’s facing.
“We wanted to make sure that everybody understands that Jesse had nothing to do with anything Katherine Kealoha was doing in any of her illegal activities,” Wilkerson said, as Ebersole stood next to him.
“Although he had that affair with her, he had nothing to do with what she was doing,” Wilkerson said. “He was completely separate from that. He knew nothing about it. We just came in to take responsibility for what he did do.”
Ebersole is the third person to plead guilty so far to federal charges in the Justice Department’s investigation into the Kealohas as part of the mailbox case.
The first was Niall Silva, a retired Honolulu police officer, who said he falsified documents and lied to investigators about his involvement in the frame up.
Ranson Taito, a car salesman who was represented by Katherine Kealoha when he was a child, pleaded guilty to conspiracy after admitting to lying to the grand jury on her behalf.
Kealoha is accused of bilking Taito and his sister out of money they were supposed to receive after their father died. At the time, Kealoha had been appointed by the court as the siblings’ guardian because they were children.
Gerard Puana’s federal defense attorney, Alexander Silvert, said Ebersole’s guilty plea shows a pattern by Kealoha of tampering with grand jury witnesses. That could result in her having her bail revoked and being taken into custody until trial.
“Based on the evidence that’s come out there easily could be a motion to revoke bail,” Silvert said. “The fact that there hasn’t been is what speaks to you that maybe there’s something else going on. … Whether they’re making a tactical decision not do to that we don’t know.
“She seems to be doing more harm to herself by being out and making mistakes that only add charges against her,” he said. “Maybe they want that to happen.”
Silvert said that Kealoha’s husband, Louis, also has a choice to make now that his wife’s affair has become a public spectacle.
“If there’s ever a moment in a case where you have an opportunity to come forward and work with the government and make the best deal possible this is that moment,” Silvert said.
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to email@example.com 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.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall. That means readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism.
The truth is that less than 1% of our monthly readers are financial supporters. To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.
Will you consider becoming a new donor today?