The ex-police chief will likely pay the price for his crimes for years.

Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha says he is throwing himself “at the mercy” of a judge who will decide whether he’s on the hook to pay $500,000 in a civil lawsuit.

The handwritten letter to U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi says that Kealoha is at a loss for what to do. 

“I am asking for your help and appreciate any assistance you can provide,” he wrote. 

Katherine Kealoha and Former HPD Chief Louis Kealoha leave District Court lunch recess. June 6, 2019
The Kealohas orchestrated the biggest corruption scandal in Hawaii history. They’re both serving time in federal prison. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

Kealoha was convicted in 2019 alongside his wife, former prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, of orchestrating a conspiracy to frame Katherine’s uncle with a crime he did not commit. Years prior, that uncle, Gerard Puana, had sued the couple and the City and County of Honolulu, for the wrongful prosecution. 

The civil case resulted in a $2.85 million settlement with the city. Kealoha was sued separately and has failed to defend himself. Kealoha said his lack of engagement with the case wasn’t an “act of rebellion.” 

“I defaulted because I was overwhelmed and did not know how to respond to what was being asked of me,” he wrote.

Now Puana’s attorney, Eric Seitz, wants the court to issue a default judgment in his client’s favor and demand Kealoha pay $250,000 for general damages and $250,000 for punitive damages. 

“Just enough to make it painful,” Seitz said. “We’ll never collect it, probably, but we’re going to ask for it.” 

Left, Gerard Puana walks with Eric Seitz on arrival at District Court.
Gerard Puana, left, and his attorney, Eric Seitz, filed the lawsuit against the city and the Kealohas in 2016. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019)

Even if ordered to pay, Kealoha said he has little money to give. The majority of his monthly pension already goes toward restitution payments to Gerard Puana and the estate of his late mother, Florence Puana, according to the letter.

“This court ordered obligation places a hardship on me because I am falling behind on paying my bills and trying to avoid bankruptcy,” he wrote. 

Seitz said that’s not a problem. General damages can be wiped out in bankruptcies, but punitive damages remain, he said. 

“We’ll get a default judgment against him, which we’ll hold over his head for the rest of his life,” Seitz said. 

In his letter, Kealoha said he doesn’t know what to do because he isn’t an attorney and can’t afford to hire one. He contacted defense lawyer Megan Kau for assistance, he wrote, but she turned him away because of a conflict of interest. Kau represented former Honolulu police officer Bobby Nguyen, who was also sent to prison for his involvement in the frame job, in the same lawsuit.

In response to Kealoha’s letter, Kobayashi reprimanded the former chief for sending her an ex parte communication, which is directed only at the judge without the inclusion of other parties. 

Kobayashi declined to appoint legal counsel for Kealoha. The judge cited a legal provision that states “a person has no right to counsel in civil actions” outside of exceptional circumstances, which she felt were not met in this case. 

Meanwhile, Kealoha said he’s doing well at the federal correctional institution in Sheridan, Oregon. 

“I am doing my best in person to rehabilitate myself by helping other inmates here at Sheridan,” he said. 

He tutors other prisoners who are working toward their GED certificates and volunteers in the prison’s Christian ministry as an elder, according to the letter.

“My role involves delivering the sermon on a regular basis during Sunday service and talking to inmates who are having a difficult time adjusting to prison life,” he said.

Kealoha said he’s also taken time to reflect on how he got there, although he stopped short of taking direct responsibility for his actions.

“I realize I should have done more to stop the situation from escalating to the point that it did,” he said. “My lack of judgement has cost me almost everything I have worked for all my life.” 

The disgraced chief’s perspective on his involvement in Hawaii’s biggest corruption scandal will be further explored in an upcoming book, “Louis Looks Back: The Rise and Fall of Honolulu’s Top Cop.” The book was written by local journalist Mary Zanakis, who has said Kealoha won’t receive a dime of the proceeds. 

At sentencing, Kealoha admitted that all the facts presented at trial were true, but he has since tried to talk that back in interviews with Zanakis and in a deposition with Seitz for the lawsuit.

Seitz said he has little sympathy for him.

“Some little part of me makes me want to feel sorry for him,” Seitz said. “But the damage he did was so substantial, that it’s hard to feel sorry for him.”

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