(AP) — A 99-year-old woman who U.S. prosecutors have described as a key witness in a Hawaii corruption investigation will provide early testimony that jurors will see if she’s unavailable for trial, a judge ruled Friday.
Prosecutors want to question Florence Puana in a deposition because they are concerned about her age and health.
Puana is the grandmother of Katherine Kealoha, who led a unit in the Honolulu prosecutor’s office that focused on career criminals. Kealoha and her now-retired police chief husband, Louis Kealoha, are accused of defrauding relatives, banks and children to maintain a lavish lifestyle.
Florence Puana and her son, Gerard, say Katherine Kealoha stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from them.
The testimony of Florence Puana “is central to establishing one of the motives behind the charged conspiracy,” prosecutors said in court documents.
Katherine Kealoha stole money from her grandmother and uncle, Gerard Puana and when they threatened to expose the fraud, Kealoha tried to have her grandmother declared incapacitated and framed her uncle for stealing the Kealohas’ home mailbox, prosecutors have said.
The Kealohas used police resources, abused their authority and conspired with officers to frame the uncle, according to prosecutors.
The trial focusing on the mailbox conspiracy allegations is scheduled for May and is expected to continue through at least the end of June. A deposition would preserve Puana’s testimony for the trial, even if it is postponed again, prosecutors said. The trial had been scheduled to start in March, but was delayed because Katherine Kealoha needed cancer treatment.
U.S. District Judge J. Michael Seabright said there are “exceptional circumstances” that require taking her deposition. “She’s 99,” he said. “Let’s face it, not a lot of people reach that milestone.”
Puana was hospitalized for 13 days and was expected to be released Friday, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Colin McDonald. Because she’s scheduled for another procedure in about two weeks, her deposition will be taken on April 15.
Puana is eager to tell her side of the story, said Eric Seitz, an attorney representing her and her son.
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