The criminal trial for Katherine Kealoha’s brother, Rudolph Puana, a Big Island anesthesiologist accused of running a prescription drug ring to help feed his cocaine habit, has once again been delayed due to COVID-19.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright authorized moving Puana’s trial date from Sept. 14 to Dec. 1 in light of ongoing concerns surrounding the pandemic and the spread of a more contagious variant that has caused a spike in coronavirus transmission rates, particularly among the unvaccinated.
This is the third time Puana’s trial has been pushed back because of the pandemic.
Seabright also briefly discussed the need to address pretrial publicity and how that might affect jury selection. He specifically referenced a Civil Beat story about a motion filed by federal prosecutors this week that included what he described as “explosive materials.”
Among the allegations contained in the motion are that Puana had admitted to being a “big-time cocaine user” and that he “took advantage of his position” as a pain doctor.
Prosecutors also detailed a new accusation that Puana’s sister posed with a line of cocaine on her husband, Louis Kealoha’s, desk while he was Honolulu’s police chief.
Puana’s attorney, Clinton Broden, did not specifically address the allegations contained in the U.S. Justice Department’s motion during Wednesday’s court proceedings.
In an emailed statement, however, he refuted the prosecution’s assertions.
“Like a dolphin caught in a tuna net, the case against Dr. Puana is based on the fact that his sister is Kathy Kealoha,” Broden said. “Dr. Puana is planning on presenting a vigorous defense at trial. The government’s main witnesses against Dr. Puana are three drug dealers who have all been spared from prosecution based upon their falsely implicating Dr. Puana.
“We are confident that a jury will realize that the government is giving these drug dealers something much more valuable than money in exchange for their testimony, the government is giving them a free pass for their criminal conduct.”
Puana and Katherine Kealoha were indicted in February 2019 on a series of drug charges. Puana in particular was accused of funneling dangerous prescription opioids, such as oxycodone and fentanyl, to his friends who would then exchange the drugs for cash or cocaine.
According to the federal charges, Kealoha used her position in law enforcement to help cover for her brother and hide his criminal conduct.
Kealoha pleaded guilty in the case in October 2019 after she was convicted in a separate case in which she, her husband and two police officers were found guilty of framing a family member to end a dispute over money.
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