The Kealoha Mailbox Conspiracy: 10 Years Later, Where Are We Now? - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Real reform has been stymied by politicians who continue to believe that Hawaii corruption is just a few bad apples.

Ten years ago on Wednesday, June 21, around 11:20 p.m. a white car pulls up to a quaint Kahala home and parks next to a residential mailbox. Its license plate and insignia are blurred by the glare of streetlights.

A man exits the vehicle, pulls the heavy metal mailbox off its pedestal, places it into his car, and drives away. The entire event is captured on surveillance cameras.

The mailbox and its contents are never recovered.

Two of the most prominent law enforcement officials at the time were the owners of the home and the mailbox. Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, City and County deputy prosecutor, Katherine Kealoha.

Eight days later, Katherine Kealoha identifies her uncle, Gerard Puana, as the “thief.” Gerard is arrested as he pulls into his church’s parking lot. He is ultimately charged in federal court with a felony, destruction of a mailbox.

The rest is, as they say, history. This seemingly insignificant theft sparked the largest public corruption investigation and prosecution in Hawaii history and 10 years later, we are still reeling from its effect.

The investigation and successful prosecution of the Kealohas had a butterfly effect within federal law enforcement circles. It not only opened the door to investigating and prosecuting other public corruption cases, a door that had been closed for many years, it is now not only acceptable but expected for federal law enforcement in Hawaii to go after public corruption.

(John Pritchett/Civil Beat/2023)

Since the end of 2020, when the Kealohas were sentenced to jail, we have witnessed a number of corruption cases brought by federal prosecutors involving a variety of Hawaii government officials, including the former chairperson of the Honolulu Police Commission, the former city managing director, the former city Corporation Counsel, the former Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney, and notably, two state legislators. And the list continues to grow with no end in sight, with news of one lawmaker’s ongoing cooperation.

All this is good for Hawaii, good for democracy, and ultimately good for justice.

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However, after effectively killing its own investigations of the Kealohas, the Honolulu Ethics Commission, to my knowledge, has done nothing to reform their procedures to prevent a reoccurrence of what happened to Gerard Puana.

While the Police Commission has made some progress to live up to its responsibilities and be more transparent, none of these efforts have been institutionalized. And even though several reform-minded commissioners have been appointed to the Police Commission, they have always been outnumbered by the stay-the-course majority. The next set of commissioners cannot and should not simply go back to deciding everything in executive session, in secret, as they have in the past. But they will if we let them.

Sadly, neither of these oversight city commissions have examined what went wrong much less taken necessary corrective action.

Things can change for the better. It requires perseverance. It requires persistence. It requires continued public pressure on our politicians.

In addition, the state attorney general and the county prosecutor’s office have been noticeably silent. Almost all the public corruption cases brought to date have emanated from federal prosecutors.

In 2022, in an attempt to address the growing public corruption scandals, the House created a Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct, commonly referred to as “The Foley Commission.” Public hearings were held, and specific recommendations made to institute reforms to increase transparency, regulate and ensure ethical conduct, and to punish those who did not.

Unfortunately, despite overwhelming public support for these measures, the more substantive and meaningful bills, like campaign finance reform and term limits, were killed off by the Legislature while less impactful reform recommendations were enacted.

But at least our state government tried. That’s something we can build upon during next year’s legislative session and in the years to come.

Yet, 10 years after the theft of the mailbox, the prosecution of the Kealohas, and the Foley Commission’s report recognizing that corruption in Hawaii is systemic, our politicians continue to hold onto the belief that these corruption cases simply reflect nothing more than the actions of a “few bad apples.” Thus, real and long-lasting reform has been successfully stonewalled.

This is not good for Hawaii. This is not good for democracy. This is not good for justice.

But things can change for the better. It requires perseverance. It requires persistence. It requires continued public pressure on our politicians. It requires the press to be vigilant in its reporting on how our politicians vote and behave. And most importantly, it requires the public to take notice, participate, and demonstrate they care about the direction our government is headed.

Armed with hope and determination, we can use the infamous “mailbox case” as a springboard for positive reform. That will be good for Hawaii, good for democracy, and good for justice.

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About the Author

Latest Comments (0)

Thank you Allie for being the voice of those who live humbly and honestly and trust those who are in a place supposed to protect them. Your bravery to expose the truth is very much appreciated. ❤️ I still believe we have leaders who have ethics and good morals that will make that vision a reality. Lets make sure everyone votes with these ideas in the forefront of their evaluation of candidates!

Alemap · 2 months ago

In regards to the Fed's having to do the heavy lifting in these cases, it is because of the "old boy" network, in essence everyone knowing someone in local law enforcement and government. But this is not unique to Hawaii, it is prevalent throughout the world. It's difficult to bust someone on the local level when you have friends throughout the system. Its actually amazing to me that the Feds can be so stealth with their investigations, since they too have local folks working for them, yet presumably no one spills the beans to the other side. More power to them as this is the only way we and other states will be able to weed out government corruption.

wailani1961 · 3 months ago

I highly recommend reading Mr. Silvert’s book. You will see the great difference that one person can make. This follow-up piece is so important because it’s up to all of us to continue that work. We all have the choice to take the time to make a difference. Sqwauk808 indicated that maybe nothing could be done about corruption hitting good people and recommended that those in the system get out. I think we need to use the momentum of Mr. Silvert’s work to instead effect more real change.

Jenn · 3 months ago

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