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Niall Silva, who was the first Honolulu police officer to plead guilty to conspiracy in the alleged framing of Gerard Puana, took the witness stand Tuesday in the ongoing trial of Louis and Katherine Kealoha.
Silva testified that he falsified police reports, lied during Puana’s criminal trial in December 2014 and deceived both the FBI and a federal grand jury about his role in the alleged frame job.
He also discussed his reaction to seeing Puana for the first time on Dec. 4, 2014, when he testified against him at his criminal trial for stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox.
Silva was one of the Honolulu police officers who reviewed surveillance video of the alleged June 21, 2013, theft the day after it occurred.
He said he was told the man in the video was Puana, but he never actually saw him until the day he testified at his criminal trial in U.S. District Court more than a year later.
“I was very upset because when I saw Gerard Puana who was the supposed suspect … I was like that is not him,” Silva said. “My heart sank.”
“Why did your heart sink?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat asked.
“Because I perpetuated a lie and it was against somebody who was not guilty,” Silva said.
The Kealohas are accused of framing Puana for the theft of their mailbox as a way to settle a family score over money and hide their own financial crimes.
Puana is Katherine Kealoha’s uncle and had filed a lawsuit against her alleging she had bilked him and his mother, Florence Puana, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
At the time, Kealoha was a top prosecutor at the city and her husband the chief of the Honolulu Police Department.
When Puana was put on trial for alleged mailbox theft Silva was the first witness called by prosecutors. But while on the stand in 2014 he admitted to falsifying police reports while he was being cross examined by Puana’s public defender, Alexander Silvert.
The case was eventually dismissed with prejudice after Louis Kealoha caused a mistrial by inappropriately revealing details about Puana’s criminal past.
The FBI launched its own investigation into the Kealohas shortly thereafter.
Silva pleaded guilty in December 2016 to one count of conspiracy, a charge that carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
In his plea agreement, Silva admitted to lying about his involvement in the investigation of the Kealohas’ missing mailbox, from filing false police reports to lying to investigators.
Silva initially said he was the officer who arrived at the Kealohas home the morning of June 22, 2013, to retrieve the hard drive containing the surveillance video of the theft.
Watch the surveillance video below:
That was a lie he stuck to until he was caught by the FBI several years later, in part because records obtained by federal investigators showed he was actually at the bank at the time he said he was at the Kealoha residence.
He admitted Tuesday that he didn’t get involved with the case until 2:30 p.m. on June 22 when he received a phone call from his supervisor, Derek Hahn, telling him to go to HPD headquarters downtown to help process some surveillance video from the chief’s house.
When he arrived he said Hahn was there with Nguyen and they discussed how it would be better for Silva to say he was the one who retrieved the video.
Silva said the three discussed how it wouldn’t “look good” if Nguyen was involved at all with the investigation because he was married to Katherine Kealoha’s niece, and had once lived on the property.
Silva said the first time he heard Gerard Puana’s name was when Nguyen blurted out, “That’s Uncle Gerry!” while he was processing the video.
The three then went out to conduct surveillance of Puana’s home.
Silva also admitted that he had performed a background check on Puana and found that he did not own a white sedan, which was the vehicle used by the alleged mailbox thief.
The officers instead found a white Acura that belonged to one of Puana’s neighbors.
The defense tried to take advantage of Silva’s dishonesty during their cross-examination.
The questions were particularly pointed from Hahn’s and Nguyen’s attorneys, Randy Hironaka and Birney Bervar, each of whom took turns grilling Silva, pointing out in detail the many times he didn’t tell the truth.
Hironaka pressed Silva on his December 2016 plea agreement and whether that provided him any incentive to testify against his former colleagues.
“I wanted to come clean and not have to lie any more,” Silva said.
Hironaka then asked him why he would make an agreement if he didn’t expect to get anything in return for his testimony.
“You need to answer my question about why you entered into this plea agreement,” Hironaka said.
“To make things right,” Silva said.
“So you think it’s this plea agreement that makes things right?” Hironaka asked.
“I don’t believe it’s the plea agreement that makes things right,” Silva responded. “It’s me coming and telling the truth that makes things right.”
In addition to Silva, jurors heard testimony from Puana’s neighbor, who owned the white Acura that HPD investigators believed was used in the mailbox theft.
Carrie Arakaki, the car owner, pointed out the many reasons why that vehicle in the surveillance video wasn’t hers, including the fact that her Acura has a spoiler on the back and the sedan outside Kealohas’ home did not.
To further prove the point, prosecutors called a former Lexus mechanic to testify about how the vehicle used to carry out the theft was in fact the very brand of car he used to work on — a Lexus.
The Kealohas’ mailbox, or at least a replica of it, also made an appearance Tuesday.
A product engineer from the mailbox manufacturer, Derrick Dry, showed jurors how difficult it would be to steal just the top of the mailbox without using tools to loosen it.
He also showed that if someone pressed on the top of the box, which is what the suspected thief did, it would break from the bottom and not the top as was seen in the surveillance video.
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday.
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