When the FBI executed a search warrant on Honolulu offices in January, agents collected a massive trove of documents for a “Kealoha investigation,” according to two City Council members.

The warrant captured six months worth of emails from entire city departments including the Department of Corporation Counsel, the Managing Director’s office, the Department of Budget and Fiscal Services and Human Resources emails, according to Councilman Tommy Waters. Councilman Ron Menor said a grand jury is investigating.

“The search warrant was so broad,” Waters said.

The target of the investigation and the focus of the search warrant – which was shrouded in secrecy and prompted the city to hire a mainland law firm to fight disclosure of certain records – had not been previously disclosed and had sparked public speculation.

Katherine Kealoha and former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha leave District Court after the Jury had questions, later that afternoon, the jury had a verdict.
Katherine and Louis Kealoha leave the federal courthouse just hours before a jury convicted them of framing a family member for the theft of their mailbox. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

Honolulu had to hire the law firm Farella Braun + Martel because the search warrant captured information about people who have nothing to do with former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha or her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, according to Waters.

“What they’re doing is trying to protect confidential personal information for people who are not related to this investigation and did nothing wrong,” he said.

I want the feds to get all the information they need to do a thorough, full, fair and independent investigation. At the same time, if you’re not involved in this, do they have a right to that confidential personal information for all employees who have had contact with HR?”

Menor also said many of the documents are not relevant to the federal investigation and are “privileged.”

“They included emails that virtually covered all aspects of City government including routine communications about the status of improvement projects in the council districts and legal opinions from the Corporation Counsel about bills and resolutions pending in the Council,” Menor said in a statement issued Tuesday.

Federal and State constitutional law cases are well-established that law enforcement agencies are not entitled to go on ‘fishing expeditions.'”

Federal investigators have been pursuing a wide-ranging corruption probe into former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha and her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha. Both were found guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in June, and Katherine is currently behind bars. The couple was found to have used city police resources to frame Katherine’s uncle for stealing their mailbox.

On Tuesday, the couple pleaded not guilty to updated charges of bank fraud and identity theft. Additionally, Katherine faces another trial for allegedly helping to run a drug ring with her anesthesiologist brother.

Menor said he didn’t know if the warrant had to do with one or both Kealohas.

“COR did not specify,” Menor said.

On Tuesday, the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee discussed the search warrant in executive session, behind closed doors. The topic was not on the public meeting agenda. Members voted to add it to the agenda after the meeting started. The City Council chamber was mostly empty.

The corporation counsel’s office briefed City Council members on the “nature and scope” of the work being done by Farella Braun + Martel, Menor said.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright is conducting an in-camera review of the documents, all of which are emails, Menor said. The warrant is under seal, and the court proceedings are confidential and closed to the public.

“I am confident that as an independent arbiter, the federal district court judge will be fair and impartial in deciding what should or should not be disclosed to the federal justice department,” Menor said. 

Menor said the city hired Farella Braun + Martel for its knowledge of “federal criminal law,” which the corporation counsel lacks because it handles only civil matters. In the meeting, officials also discussed the law firm’s contract which is set to continue through 2022.

During the council briefing, Waters said he asked the Corporation Counsel whether the records were obtained with a search warrant or a subpoena.

He was told it was a search warrant but that there had been a subsequent subpoena, according to Waters. No further details were provided, he said.

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