Former Honolulu mayor and current gubernatorial candidate Kirk Caldwell broke his silence Friday after weeks of not commenting on the federal indictment of three of his former political appointees. He said he believes they are innocent.

Former city attorney Donna Leong, former managing director Roy Amemiya and former police commissioner Max Sword are accused of conspiring to evade the Honolulu City Council and pay $250,000 to outgoing police chief Louis Kealoha, who was under investigation for corruption. To make the payoff, prosecutors say the defendants misused city funds. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty.

“I have great confidence in the integrity of Ms. Leong, Mr. Amemiya and Mr. Sword,” Caldwell said in a statement sent by his campaign’s attorney Lex Smith. “I am confident they did not commit a crime and they will be acquitted when they get their day in court.”

“As I understand it, this somehow involves the process that was used for the Kealoha severance agreement. I am confident that Donna Leong used and would always use the process she believed was right and legal,” he added. “These are people of impeccable integrity and honor. I cannot fathom the hurt they and their families must feel. I can only say that I am confident of their innocence and ask that everyone consider the facts and not rush to judgement.”

Mayor Kirk Caldwell walks out before presser discussing where his administration is going to find the $44 million tor rail in their plan,
Ex-Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he believes his three former political appointees are not guilty of allegations that they conspired to make a $250,000 payout to the outgoing police chief Louis Kealoha, who faced a corruption investigation. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2018

Questions have swirled about what Caldwell knew about the transaction and what involvement, if any, he had in the process.

But Caldwell didn’t address any of those questions on Friday. Instead, he said his declaration on the defendants’ innocence was the only comment he’d be making about the case.

“Because the matter is in litigation, I will be making no further statements on the subject,” he said.

Caldwell and his attorney repeatedly have declined to respond to questions about whether he was aware that his appointees allegedly intended to evade the city council to issue the payment and whether he in any way directed them to do so.

He also has not answered questions about whether he has received a subject or target letter from the FBI nor whether he has been questioned by the feds in this case before a grand jury or otherwise.

“The silence, to me, is speaking louder than anything else,” said Ken Lawson, who teaches criminal procedure at the University of Hawaii law school. “Why would these people who have law licenses and reputations at stake go to these means to avoid taking this to council without somebody directing them?”

Lawson also speculated the statement may be trying to send an indirect message to the defendants not to involve him in the investigation, although there is no evidence that they would do so.

“I don’t know, but it could be seen as a message to the co-defendants because I can’t talk to them directly, like: ‘Hey, I’m going to support you. Please don’t turn on me and get me involved in any further type of investigation with respect to my conduct as former mayor,’” he said. “Why else comment on if you can’t comment on it?” 

As to whether Caldwell is concerned about how any of this will impact his run for governor, he again has said nothing. One of Caldwell’s opponents, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, is currently leading in campaign fundraising.

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