It seemed that Louis Kealoha had reached rock bottom after he was convicted by jurors of felony conspiracy and obstruction of justice in June and then agreed last week to plead guilty to another felony for bank fraud.
But that was before the public learned earlier this week about a letter-writing campaign urging U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright to be lenient when sentencing the former Honolulu police chief. The recurring theme: When he wasn’t using the department he led to frame an innocent man, Kealoha was actually a nice guy.
And besides, some writers said, former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha was the driving force behind the crimes. She even wrote her own note to reporters urging the judge to go easy on her husband.
Katherine and Louis Kealoha leave the federal courthouse in June just hours before a jury convicted them of framing a family member for the theft of their mailbox.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Katherine Kealoha does seem to be the most nefarious of the two. After all, it was her uncle who was framed, her grandmother and two children in her charge who were defrauded. She was also indicted along with her younger brother on drug charges.
But clearly it was the chief who had the power to make the Honolulu Police Department an accessory in framing Gerard Puana for stealing the Kealohas’ mailbox. Two HPD officers had already pleaded guilty in the case when two others were convicted along with the Kealohas after federal prosecutors laid out the conspiracy to jurors in June.
Police corruption should be topmost in Seabright’s mind when he passes sentence, not letter-writers’ praise for Louis Kealoha’s unrelated good deeds of the past.
Those letters seem heartfelt, although one retired deputy police chief acknowledged she was “asked to write.”
• In 2016, the Kealohas sued the city and its ethics commission because it was investigating them. Even though the suit was dismissed in 2018, taxpayers are on the hook for legal fees totaling $659,566 to defend against it.
• After he was named as a suspect in the federal investigation, Louis Kealoha didn’t agree to leave office until the police commission paid him $250,000 as a going-away present in January 2017. The deal called for him to refund the money if he was convicted of a felony, and now the City Council is demanding repayment.
• Last March, the police commission voted to pay an undisclosed portion of the former chief’s legal fees in the mailbox case — he also got federally funded defense attorneys in the case. In June, the City Council asked city attorneys to appeal the commission decision. Now taxpayers are footing the bill for both sides of that legal battle.
• Last June, Louis Kealoha’s civil attorney filed a challenge in state court to the police commission’s decision not to cover his client’s legal costs in the bank fraud case.
• Just last month, the City Council agreed to pay up to $225,000 to a mainland legal firm to protect possible privileged information in what it considered an overly broad January search warrant in which city documents and emails were seized by federal investigators in the Kealoha case.
Adding up the total cost to taxpayers of the Kealohas’ scandals would be “impossible,” said Alexander Silvert, a federal public defender who represented Katherine’s uncle, Gerard Puana, and originally blew the whistle on the frame job.
“Anybody will tell you it’s in the millions,” Silvert told Civil Beat last month. “They’ve obstructed and fought everything that has happened. That all costs lots of money.”
Louis Kealoha joined his wife not only in violating the public trust, but also in subsequently punishing the public by running up excessive legal bills.
Neither is a sympathetic figure, and neither deserves leniency from Judge Seabright.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, John Hill and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.