Honolulu Police Officer Minh-Hung “Bobby” Nguyen told a federal grand jury years ago he had no doubt the man caught on surveillance video stealing the mailbox of Louis and Katherine Kealoha in 2013 was Gerard Puana, her uncle.

Nguyen said he could tell because of the way he walked.

“I thought it was Uncle Gerry right off the bat,” Nguyen said.

That excerpt of grand jury testimony was read Monday during the ongoing criminal trial of the Kealohas, who along with Nguyen and two other Honolulu police officers, Gordon Shiraishi and Derek Hahn, are charged with framing Puana for the alleged mailbox theft on June 21, 2013.

Left, Minh Hung ‘Bobby’ Nguyen arrives at District Court 1st day Kealoha Trial.
Minh Hung “Bobby” Nguyen arrives at District Court for the Kealoha trial. On Monday, jurors heard some of the testimony Nguyen had presented to a federal grand jury. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Federal prosecutors say the Kealohas wanted to set up Puana to discredit him in a pending lawsuit in which he and his mother accused Katherine Kealoha of bilking them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nguyen’s testimony was delivered to jurors as a way to set the foundation of his involvement in the alleged framing of Puana.

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Nguyen is accused of having misled federal investigators about his involvement in the case, from delivering the hard drive with footage of the mailbox theft to falsely identifying Puana as the perpetrator.

He also admitted before the grand jury that he was at Puana’s house with Katherine Kealoha in June 2011 after Puana was arrested for unlawful entry into a neighbor’s home. 

Prosecutors have said Nguyen, Kealoha and others illegally searched Puana’s home without a search warrant while Puana was in custody. 

Jurors also heard parts of Shiraishi’s grand jury testimony, in which prosecutors say he lied about where he was and what he was doing the morning after the mailbox theft.

Among the witnesses called Monday were Carolee Kubo, the city of Honolulu’s human resources director, Shari Wong of the Hawaii Attorney General’s Office, and Kal Tabbara, the founder of the American Association of Notaries.

All three were called to establish that Alison Lee Wong — an alias, prosecutors say, that Katherine Kealoha used to help her carry out financial crimes — was not a real person.

Tabbara testified about how Kealoha used the name “Kathryn Aloha” to order a notary seal and metal embosser for a Hawaii-based notary named Alison Lee Wong.

There’s no record of such a person existing as a notary in the state.

Some of the most noteworthy moments Monday came when Judge J. Michael Seabright scolded the prosecution.

Seabright became upset during Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Orabona’s questioning of FBI agent Caryn Ackerman about her prior career as a criminal defense lawyer.

FBI agent Caryn Ackerman’s testimony aroused the ire of the judge. Dannah Mari Hidalgo

Ackerman — who was one of the lead FBI investigators on the mailbox theft case — said that as an attorney she used to represent clients who couldn’t afford to hire their own legal counsel.

When Orabona asked what stuck with her from that experience, Ackerman said it was meeting prosecutors who were more interested in winning than seeking justice.

Seabright immediately shut down Ackerman’s testimony and was visibly upset. He called Orabona, his team and the defense lawyers to the bench, where he could be heard raising his voice over the sound of white noise used to keep such conversations private.

During a break in the trial in which the jurors left the courtroom, Seabright told Orabona he better talk to Ackerman, presumably to make sure she didn’t offer additional unsolicited testimony.

“That was a dangerous question to start with,” Seabright said. “It was unnecessary and potentially opens the door to that sort of answer.”

“Yes, your honor,” Orabona said.

Seabright again snapped at the prosecution during a discussion over grand jury testimony. He was upset that the prosecutors hadn’t yet addressed certain questions about what testimony should be allowed into evidence.

“If you want to avoid my ire I suggest you be a little more organized on these things,” Seabright said.

The trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday with prosecutors playing a video deposition of Florence Puana, who is Gerard Puana’s mother. The 99-year-old Florence Puana will not testify in person because she is in poor health.

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