At the Honolulu Ethics Commission meeting Wednesday, the agency itself will be under scrutiny.
The commission is scheduled to hold a meeting to discuss its dealings with retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a former city prosecutor.
The Kealohas were found guilty last month of federal charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for trying to frame Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, for the June 21, 2013, theft of their mailbox.
Former Honolulu Ethics Commission executive director says he was blocked from fully investigating Louis and Katherine Kealoha.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
According to the agenda, the commission wants to lay out the chronology of events related to its investigation into the Kealohas.
There will also be discussion about hiring outside counsel to help prosecute and investigate ethics cases due to conflicts of interest.
Commission staff began making phone calls last week to members of the press and others involved in the Kealoha corruption scandal to alert them to the meeting.
Alexander Silvert said he was the recipient of such a call, something he characterized as “very odd.”
Silvert was Puana’s federal public defender in the federal criminal case in which his client was accused of stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox.
Silvert is credited with uncovering the frame job, which resulted in the case being dismissed and launching one of the largest public corruption scandals in Hawaii’s history.
“I was told they wanted to factually set the record straight,” Silvert said of his call from the Ethics Commission. He was also asked if he would attend the meeting.
What made the phone call all the more strange, he said, is that the commission had never reached out to him before, even after allegations surfaced in 2014 that the Kealohas had framed Puana.
At a recent Honolulu Police Commission meeting, Chief Susan Ballard said a number of Honolulu Police Department employees had reached out to the ethics agency about Kealoha, but that the investigations were “shut down.”
The commission’s former executive director, Chuck Totto, testified during their criminal trial that he and his investigator, Letha DeCaires, began receiving complaints about the Kealohas in June 2014.
He said at the time that he wasn’t necessarily worried about the mailbox theft. His concern, he said, was with the use of city resources at the Kealohas’ home.
Police department cameras were installed at the residence and dozens of officers — including those assigned to secretive intelligence unit — were being used to conduct surveillance on a family member.
Totto and DeCaires launched a series of investigations into the Kealohas.
Those efforts were stymied, however, once the couple retaliated with ethics complaints of their own, as well as a lawsuit that accused Totto and DeCaires of conducting “unfounded, vindictive, unsubstantiated and illegal investigations.”
The commission eventually blocked Totto from carrying out his investigations into the Kealohas. Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration also refused to renew DeCaires’ contract.
Totto was later pressured into quitting his job as executive director after a number of public squabbles with commissioners, and in particular three retired judges — Victoria Marks, Allene Suemore and Riki May Amano — all of whom were appointed by Caldwell.
The mayor and the ethics director had been at odds for years, beginning when Totto investigated Caldwell’s inaugural luau in 2013 that was paid for in large part by lobbyists and city contractors.
Totto told Civil Beat he plans to attend Wednesday’s meeting in an effort to make sure what the commission tells the public is an accurate depiction of what occurred, and when.
“The most important thing is that it be complete and accurate,” Totto said.
“Most people are assuming that they are going to rewrite history, but I’m trying to keep an open mind. Maybe they’re just going to say, ‘Look, we had our hands tied, too.’”
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Will you help us?
There are upsides to being a nonprofit as we carry out our public-service mission. We don’t have a paywall on our site, charge a subscription fee, or clutter our articles with ads. But this also means that reader support sustains every aspect of what we do. Without you, we don’t exist. It’s as simple as that. By donating, you’re supporting everyone on staff—and allowing unbiased, factual, honest journalism to thrive. If you value our work, will you make a tax-deductible donation today?