A jury found Rudolph Puana, a Big Island anesthesiologist and the brother of imprisoned former Honolulu Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, guilty Wednesday on federal charges of prescribing opioids to his friends to either sell or trade for cocaine.

Following the verdict, U.S. District Court Judge J. Michael Seabright ordered that Puana immediately be taken into custody, citing concerns that Puana could be a flight risk because of his wealth. The sentencing hearing was scheduled for Sept. 12.

The jury’s verdict came on the second day of deliberations and followed eight days of testimony from members of local and federal law enforcement, Puana’s friends and medical professionals.

Rudolph Puana
Rudoph Puana was convicted of distributing prescription opioids to his friends to sell or trade for cocaine. Hawaii News Now

Puana, who had not been detained during the trial, was convicted on 38 counts related to distributing oxycodone and fentanyl. Each charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Puana had pleaded not guilty. His attorney Clinton Broden said the defense had not made a decision on whether to appeal the decision.

“We are, of course, disappointed with the verdict,” Broden said in an email.

The Justice Department, which prosecuted the case, noted that illegal prescriptions were fueling the opioid epidemic that’s ravaging the country.

“The conviction of a pain doctor abusing his power and position to distribute highly addictive and dangerous oxycodone and fentanyl sends a strong message to any medical professional acting outside the regular course of practice and prescribing opioids without a legitimate medical need,” U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman said in a press release.

During the trial, prosecutors produced evidence showing how Puana distributed more than 7,810 oxycodone pills to his friends so that they could either trade them for cocaine or sell them. In one case, a couple used the money to pay for their children’s tuition at a private school.

All the while, Puana himself was addicted to drugs including hydrocodone pills he referred to as “skittles,” according to courtroom testimony.

Witnesses included Christopher McKinney, a local writer and childhood friend of Puana, who received full immunity for his testimony. McKinney detailed for the jury how he used the prescription pills Puana sold him to either trade for cocaine or sell for cash. McKinney said that he believed Puana was aware of what he was doing with the opioids.

To avoid raising red flags with his prescriptions, Puana fabricated medical records for his friends, including fake drug tests, to give the impression that he was treating the individuals. However, Puana’s friends told the jury that they had never gone to Pauna’s clinic for medical visits despite records created by Puana that indicated they had.

“Today’s guilty verdict is a testament that no doctor should use his license to unlawfully distribute controlled substances and falsify medical records to conceal his crimes,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill said in the press release.

Kealoha, who is serving a 13-year sentence in a federal prison in California, had been included on the prosecution’s witness list but was never called to testify. However, two Honolulu police officers recounted for the jury how Kealoha had inserted herself into an investigation involving her brother and even showed up personally at a drug raid.

Kealoha also originally was named as a defendant in the case against Puana for using her position of power to conceal her brother’s crimes. In October 2019, she pleaded guilty in the case involving her brother and in a separate federal conspiracy case involving her estranged husband, ex-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha.

The day before the trial began, Puana pleaded guilty to a separate gun charge — owning a firearm while being addicted to drugs — which he will also be sentenced for in September. That charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison along with a $250,000 fine.

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