A Honolulu police sergeant charged in a federal public corruption scheme admitted that he wrongly shared confidential information with then-deputy city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha as part of a case police were trying to make to help her in a dispute with her uncle.
But Sgt. Daniel Sellers told U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright on Friday that he never spoke up about the fact that he and other officers in his unit implicated the wrong man.
Sellers, 40, pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor count as part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors in exchange for all other charges against him being dropped. He’s also agreed to cooperate with a continuing FBI investigation into alleged corruption in the police department and the Honolulu city prosecutor’s office.
Sellers said he knew what he did was wrong. The information shared with Kealoha was not in connection with her prosecutor role, but given to her as a private citizen in a personal matter, he said.
“I came to court to own up to what I’ve done wrong, taking responsibility for what I’ve done and to continue to tell the truth and do the right thing,” Sellers said in court.
Sellers was part of the HPD’s secretive Criminal Intelligence Unit. He is one of five officers from that unit who were allegedly involved in a scheme to implicate Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana, in a federal criminal case — the theft of the Kealohas’ mailbox — in order to influence the outcome of a civil case between Kealoha and her uncle that involved a significant amount of money.
As charged by federal prosecutors, Katherine Kealoha, her husband — former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha — and the five officers framed Puana for the mailbox theft, including faking a video that purported to show Puana stealing the mailbox and driving off in a white Lexus.
Sellers admitted Friday that he used a restricted federal database to look up what vehicles were owned by and registered to Puana. It turned out the white Lexus in the video was not one of them.
He turned that information over to Katherine Kealoha along with other details about Puana’s registered vehicles and personal identification.
Seabright instructed Sellers not to reveal in the hearing who in fact was driving the car.
Sellers was indicted in October 2017 along with the Kealohas and three other police officers. The fifth officer, Niall Silva, had already pleaded guilty by then and was cooperating with the investigation.
Sellers has been on limited duty with HPD since the indictment.
He faces a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Sentencing for the 21-year HPD veteran has been scheduled for April 29.
Sellers’ change of plea is the latest turn in the slow-motion unfolding of the alleged framing of Gerard Puana. Puana was eventually prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for destruction of a mailbox, which is a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
But Puana’s attorney, Alexander Silvert, realized his client had been framed and eventually went to the FBI for help. The charges against Puana were dropped.
“I came to court to own up to what I’ve done wrong.” — Police Sgt. Daniel Sellers
Since then, federal investigators have pieced together a complicated and wide-ranging case against the Kealohas and the cops that stretches from charges of bank fraud and forgery to identity theft and felony conspiracy.
The Kealohas and three other officers — Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen, Derek Hahn, Gordon Shiraishi — are scheduled for trial on the charges relating to the mailbox theft in March.
The Kealohas face a separate trial on bank fraud stemming from Katherine Kealoha’s handling of a guardianship of two minor children whose money was allegedly misappropriated. That trial is scheduled for June.
More recently, the federal investigation has turned to the Honolulu prosecutor’s office and Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro himself. Kaneshiro has received a target letter from federal investigators notifying him he is under scrutiny. His top deputy, Chasid Sapolu, has gone on voluntary leave after receiving a letter from investigators seeking more information on his role in any crimes.
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues
Not a subscription
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.