A soon-to-be released book by a former TV reporter asks readers to view a notorious corruption scandal through a new lens. 

As former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha drove up to the Oregon federal prison where he would spend the next several years, he reflected on how he got there. And the camera was rolling.

In the months and minutes leading up to his detention, Kealoha sat for hours of interviews with local journalist Mary Zanakis. Those conversations form the basis of Zanakis’s upcoming book, “Louis Looks Back: The Rise and Fall of Honolulu’s Top Cop.”

Tentatively scheduled for release in July, it tells the story of one of Hawaii’s biggest corruption scandals through the eyes of one of its perpetrators. Kealoha isn’t claiming innocence, Zanakis said in an interview. But the story will spotlight the perspective of a man who says he felt duped by his own wife, disgraced prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, who many believe was the mastermind of their crimes.

“His story is 180 degrees from what we’ve all heard,” Zanakis said. “I want to present this to the reader and let them decide who did what to whom.”

Louis Kealoha arrives at US District Court after plea deal.
Louis Kealoha is currently serving time in federal prison in Oregon. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat 2019)

“Louis Looks Back” will provide readers with Kealoha’s view on key moments of the case, a look inside his broken marriage to Katherine, and historical details about a family feud that Kealoha claims laid the groundwork for what transpired, according to Zanakis.

The book captures Louis Kealoha’s first one-on-one interviews with a reporter since his criminal conviction. Zanakis is a former reporter and anchor on television, including KITV and KHON, and radio at KSSK. She had a brief stint in politics, running unsuccessfully as a Democrat for lieutenant governor in 2014.

The author also happens to be related to the Kealohas. Zanakis and Katherine Kealoha’s mother are first cousins. That kind of relationship would raise ethical concerns in any journalistic endeavor, and Zanakis admits it’s likely the reason Kealoha spoke to her at all. But Zanakis believes she remained “neutral” throughout the reporting process. 

“People have said to me: How can you write a book about your family? And I said, I’m writing this book as a professional journalist of nearly 30 years, and the job of a journalist is to seek out all sides,” she said. “This is the side you haven’t heard.” 

Indeed, the book is from the perspective of Louis Kealoha and only Louis Kealoha. Zanakis did not interview anyone else. Her only other sources are public court records and media reports, she said. Zanakis did not contact Katherine Kealoha for comment.

“This is his story,” she said. “Everything that would come out of her mouth, I think, would probably be a lie.”

But the same could be said of Louis, said Gerard Puana, who the Kealohas tried to frame for a crime he didn’t commit.

“He changes his mind like we change our socks,” he said. “How can you believe anything any of them say?”

‘Defined By Katherine’s Actions’ 

The facts of the Kealoha scandal have been widely reported, and Zanakis said she asked Louis about all of it. The journalist said she had only spoken to her interview subject maybe twice before she reached out to him for the book in 2020. 

Zanakis met with Kealoha at his Kahala home over the course of several days in January and May of 2021 and had the last interview in the car on the way to prison. The interviews were videotaped and may be released later on Zanakis’s Facebook page “Kailua Calabash.

“We covered everything,” she said. 

Local journalist Mary Zanakis said no questions to Louis Kealoha were off-limits for her book, which will be released by Watermark Publishing.

To recap: In 2019, a jury found Louis and Katherine Kealoha guilty of orchestrating a fraudulent crime – the theft of their mailbox – and pinning it on Puana, Katherine’s uncle. The frame job received assistance from Louis’s subordinates at the Honolulu Police Department, two of whom were also convicted. 

The conspiracy was arranged to discredit Puana in a civil case he’d brought against Katherine in an effort to hold her accountable for swindling his mother, Florence Puana, in a reverse mortgage scheme. 

Separately, Katherine used her position as a prosecutor to steer law enforcement away from her brother, Rudy Puana, an anesthesiologist who was running a drug ring on Hawaii island. She pleaded guilty to concealing her knowledge of her brother’s criminal activity. Rudy Puana is now in prison. 

The Kealohas also pleaded guilty to financial crimes, including stealing from children for whom Katherine was a legal guardian, lying on bank loan applications, and, to overcome poor credit scores, forging a police report to make it look like someone had stolen Katherine’s identity. 

The money funded the couple’s “extravagant lifestyle,” according to court records. That included a Maserati, a Mercedes, a trip to Disneyland, Elton John tickets, visits to restaurants and hotels, and a $24,000 party at the Sheraton in Waikiki to celebrate Louis’s promotion to chief.

Before his sentencing, Louis Kealoha disputed none of this. In fact, he admitted under oath all of the accusations against him were “true and accurate” – the mailbox conspiracy included. 

Former Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha swore under oath in federal court that he committed all the crimes of which he was accused. (The transcript above is from his bank fraud case.) He’s now trying to walk that back.

“In this situation, I failed to live up to the standards I set for myself,” he said at his November 2020 sentencing. “I am sorry for the hurt, pain and disappointment I caused and I take full responsibility for my actions.”

But since then, Kealoha has been singing a different tune. In a deposition for a civil lawsuit in May 2021, he denied involvement in the mailbox conspiracy and said he was “improperly convicted.” 

“Somebody stole our mailbox. We opened an investigation and that was it,” Kealoha said, according to a transcript shown to Hawaii News Now. 

A decade after the mailbox was stolen, Kealoha claims he still doesn’t know who took it, Zanakis said.

In conversations with Zanakis, Kealoha also minimized his involvement in the bank fraud case. According to Zanakis, Louis believes his mistake was letting Katherine handle the finances while he signed documents he didn’t really understand. And he denies having lived a lavish lifestyle with the stolen money, she said. 

In Zanakis’s telling, Louis Kealoha sounds like someone guided by a naive faith in his wife rather than someone motivated by self-interest or greed.

“He trusted her,” she said. “He felt blessed. She wanted more.” 

Asked about the discrepancy between what Kealoha told a federal judge and what he’s said since, Zanakis said that Kealoha knew his “cooperation” would be taken into account by during sentencing.

“He says he felt that if he did not sign the agreement he would receive extra years tacked on to his sentence,” she said.

Former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha and Katherine Kealoha walk towards the District Court entrance.
Louis and Katherine Kealoha were convicted of several felonies in the biggest corruption case in state history. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat 2019)

Kealoha now regrets he didn’t testify against his wife, according to Zanakis. Instead, the couple stood trial together, walking into the federal courthouse every day hand in hand in matching outfits.

“He believes he’s been defined by Katherine’s actions,” Zanakis said. “He says he wishes hadn’t been that stupid … He feels bad for the other people who were sucked into this.” 

A few months after their convictions, Louis Kealoha filed for divorce, although it was never finalized. He is scheduled to get out of prison in July 2026 with good behavior. 

While the book hasn’t yet gone to the printer, the premise is already making some people queasy. 

Ali Silvert, the former public defender who helped cracked the Kealoha conspiracy open, said Kealoha received a lighter sentence because he took responsibility for his crimes. Now it appears Kealoha is trying to rewrite history in what Silvert said looks like  “a self-serving, one-sided autobiography.”

“This only serves to re-victimize Gerard Puana and Florence Puana in an effort to place blame on others,” said Silvert, who wrote his own book on the case called “The Mailbox Conspiracy.” 

So exactly how much responsibility does Louis Kealoha take for his actions? 

“You’re going to have to read the book for that because that is not a black-and-white answer,” Zanakis said. 

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