Disgraced Honolulu deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha is working from prison to overturn her corruption conviction and says she wants the prosecutor who put her away to be removed from the case. 

In a handwritten filing submitted in U.S. District Court on Tuesday, Kealoha argues that Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat “destroyed” her marriage when he alleged in court records that she once posed for a photo with cocaine on the desk of her husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha – a photo she says doesn’t exist. 

Katherine Kealoha is now daring Wheat to produce the image or step away from her case, according to her filing. 

Katherine Kealoha and former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha leave District Court after the Jury had questions, later that afternoon, the jury had a verdict.
Katherine and Louis Kealoha are both in federal prison after Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat and a San Diego-based team prosecuted them for corruption, bank fraud and drug charges. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

“That statement was a lie, it was slander,” Kealoha wrote. 

“Mr. Wheat should be required to produce such a picture, or be recused from the case for prosecutorial misconduct, intentional interference with co-defendants’ plea agreement, intentional interference with our marital status and in violation of my constitutional rights,” she added.

The filing is part of a larger effort by Kealoha to reverse her 2019 conviction of framing her uncle, Gerard Puana, for a crime he didn’t commit: stealing her mailbox. 

In a motion filed last month, Kealoha accused her former attorney, Earle Partington, of failing to file a notice of appeal in the case within a 10-day time limit of her 2020 sentencing. Katherine was sentenced to 13 years behind bars. She is currently serving her sentence at the Honolulu Federal Detention Center.  

Partington signed a declaration, attached to Kealoha’s filing this week, stating that he had been working with his client on an appeal when they lost contact because of a Covid lockdown at the prison. Kealoha alleges she only learned in March of this year that the appeal wasn’t filed. 

Kealoha ultimately wants a federal judge to allow her to appeal the mailbox case on the basis that her court-appointed attorney, Cynthia Kagiwada, was ineffective and that if not for unspecified errors by Kagiwada, Kealoha may have been acquitted, Partington said in an interview. 

But Partington, who is no longer Kealoha’s attorney, said he doesn’t think she stands a chance. Kealoha had a one-year window after her sentencing to raise concerns about her counsel, Partington said, and she didn’t.

“She has no remedy now,” he said. “I wish her luck, but I think this is going to be denied.” 

Wheat did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday, and his office hasn’t filed a response with the court. The filing in which prosecutors referenced the alleged photo last year doesn’t make clear whether they have a copy of the photo or just heard of its existence. 

A message left with Kagiwada was not returned. 

Kealoha said federal prosecutors first raised the issue of the cocaine photo in 2019. According to her, prosecutors brought it up with Louis Kealoha and his attorney after the couple was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the mailbox case but before plea agreements were signed in separate cases for bank fraud and drug charges. 

In her filing, Kealoha claims Wheat used the alleged photo as leverage and “induced” the plea agreements.

In Katherine Kealoha's telling, it wasn't her criminal activity or extramarital affair that destroyed her marriage. It was federal prosecutor Michael Wheat.
Katherine Kealoha says allegations made by federal prosecutor Michael Wheat destroyed her marriage. US District Court/2022

Kealoha said the cocaine allegation was also used to “incite the media” and took issue with Civil Beat’s coverage of the news at the time. Although Kealoha said she doesn’t have access to Civil Beat in prison, she wrote that she heard about the newsroom’s coverage because prison staff members are “addicted to Civil Beat.”

Ali Silvert, the former federal public defender who helped expose the Kealohas, said Kealoha’s arguments are legally nonsensical. 

“She is really flailing,” Silvert said. “I don’t begrudge her for that because if you’re sitting in prison for 13 years, you might as well do something.” 

According to Kealoha, the allegation of the cocaine photo burned her relationship with her husband in a way that her multiple felonies, drug use and extramarital affair with a Big Island firefighter had not.

Louis Kealoha filed for divorce from his wife in October 2019, stating that the marriage was “irretrievably broken,” although court records indicate the divorce was never finalized. 

Katherine Kealoha said in a court filing that her estranged husband Louis Kealoha never forgave her for allegedly taking a photo with cocaine on his Honolulu Police Department desk. Katherine says the photo doesn't really exist.
Katherine Kealoha says her estranged husband Louis Kealoha never forgave her for allegedly taking a photo with cocaine on his HPD desk. She says the photo doesn’t really exist. US District Court/ 2022

“This lie was a major contributing factor in Louis turning his back on me and refusing to fight alongside me anymore,” she said. 

“Louis was able to forgive me for poor judgments, my opioid addiction and even having my previous affair embarrassingly blasted all over the media. The one thing that Louis would never forgive me for was disgracing his Beloved office.”

In her filing, Kealoha said her husband was a “great chief” whose loyalty to his department exceeded that to himself and his own family.

“In every decision he made, he thought of the Honolulu Police Department first,” she said. 

Silvert especially took issue with that point, saying that Louis Kealoha used his position to violate Gerard Puana’s civil rights, obstruct justice and order police officers to falsify evidence.

“I don’t begrudge her for doing what she’s doing. That is the right of any defendant,” he said. “But her basis for her legal claims is completely frivolous and incongruous with her former status as an attorney.” 

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