Honolulu’s former top attorney Donna Leong pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of lying to federal agents who questioned her in 2017 about disgraced police chief Louis Kealoha’s severance payment.

The former corporation counsel was originally charged in January with conspiracy alongside former police commission chair Max Sword and former managing director Roy Amemiya. All defendants pleaded not guilty.

Last week, prosecutors issued a superseding indictment with new charges for Leong: five counts of “willfully and knowingly” making false statements in violation of federal law. In response, Leong issued another not guilty plea in a brief virtual arraignment Wednesday afternoon.

Honolulu Corporation Counsel Donna Leong speaks at a Honolulu Police Commission meeting on November 15, 2017
Former Honolulu attorney Donna Leong is fighting charges of conspiracy and making false statements. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2017

Prosecutors say the three city officials coordinated to sneak Kealoha’s $250,000 retirement deal past the Honolulu City Council and tried to keep the arrangement quiet at a time when Kealoha was under federal investigation for corruption.

On Nov. 13, 2017, federal agents who were investigating the payout questioned Leong about it.

According to the superseding indictment, Leong falsely stated that as far as she was aware, the acting police chief Cary Okimoto was not involved in any conversations about Kealoha’s payment prior to it being reached.

She allegedly claimed that she did not have any conversations with the acting chief about the payment until after the chief objected to it and that the first time the acting chief objected to the payout was after it was signed – assertions the feds say are not true.

The superseding indictment also references an individual listed only as “W.A.” — apparently Honolulu Police Assistant Chief William Axt. Prosecutors say Leong falsely claimed she never had conversations with him about the payout to Kealoha.

Leong is also accused of falsely stating that Deputy Corporation Counsel “D.P.” – presumably Duane Pang – would not have been able to talk to anyone outside of the Honolulu Police Commission while the Kealoha deal was being negotiated because “that was something Leong controlled very tightly,” according to the indictment.

Amemiya’s attorney filed a motion to dismiss his client’s indictment in January, arguing that there is “nothing criminal about discussing and agreeing to pay severance to a soon-to-be former employee.”

Lawyers for Leong and Sword have since joined in that motion, and a hearing is scheduled for Thursday at 9:45 a.m.

In the meantime, a trial is scheduled for June 13.

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