Honolulu residents eager to have their worries allayed about recent news reports regarding Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro might well have looked with some hope to the department this week.

After days of not a peep from Kaneshiro as to whether he and others in his office are under investigation for possible federal corruption charges, the department on Tuesday finally had something to say.

But to describe the four-paragraph statement (reproduced below in full) as a disappointment is to make an understatement. It is an inartful dodge, a raised middle finger to the public and an utter failure to adhere to the law enforcement standards the office stands for.

On letterhead featuring the prosecuting attorney’s name and that of his first deputy, Chasid Sapolu, the department declined to say whether either official or others are subjects or targets of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro leaves District Court.
Time to remove the sunglasses: Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro leaving District Court, November 2017. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2017

“We do not comment on investigations any grand jury may or may not be conducting,” the statement reads in part. “Judgement (sic) should always be based on facts and not conjecture and be reserved until the legal process concludes.”

The statement uses as cover the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to rationalize why Keith and Co. can’t — that is, won’t — talk. In fact, there is no rule that forbids Honolulu’s elected prosecutor from telling the public whether he is the target of a federal probe.

Cutting through the BS, a retired criminal law professor explained Kaneshiro’s statement favoring secrecy over transparency this way: “It sounds better than saying, ‘I don’t want to talk.’”

This is arrogance that smells of loyalty to corruption rather than fealty to justice.

Late Thursday afternoon, Sapolu announced that he would take a leave from his deputy prosecutor job while the federal investigation continues. Sapolu received what’s known as a subject letter from investigators — notification that they think a crime has occurred and he may know something about it.

Kaneshiro, however, has received a target letter which tells him he is the target of an investigation — federal prosecutors think he has committed a crime. And yet Kaneshiro’s not even acknowledging anything is amiss in his agency, let alone offering to step aside.

Mind you, Kaneshiro heads the very office that represents the people and the state in criminal proceedings before the District Court, Family Court and Circuit Court in Honolulu. The prosecutor presents cases to the Oahu grand jury and handles appeals heard by the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals and the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Kaneshiro’s avoidance of responsibility comes, as Civil Beat’s Nick Grube revealed this week, as the investigation into Louis and Katherine Kealoha has enveloped Katherine’s younger brother.

It involves prescription pain pills seized in a drug raid that was approved by Katherine Kealoha — who used to work in Kaneshiro’s office — and one of the Honolulu Police Department officers indicted along with the Kealohas in the federal corruption case that is now entering its fifth year.

Maybe Keith Kaneshiro and his deputy attorneys have nothing to do with the Kealohas, their stolen mailbox and the HPD’s alleged bungled effort to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for it. Or the alleged bank fraud and alleged ripoff of thousands of dollars from children Katherine Kealoha was legally responsible for.

And maybe questions over the city’s purchase of land for a safe house for victims of domestic violence from a Kaneshiro political supporter or actions Katherine Kealoha took in her role as a deputy prosecutor have nothing to do with any of this, either.

We’d sure like to know.

Until we do, Kaneshiro would do well to live up to what’s promised on his office’s official seal: “E Malama A E Hoopale I Kaulike” — “To Preserve and Defend Justice.”

From the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, Dec. 11:

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