HONOLULU (KHON2) — Katherine and Louis Kealoha learned their fate on Monday, finally sentenced for their federal convictions last year. Katherine was sentenced to 13 years. Louis got seven years. Restitution of more than $450,000 is owed to various victims of their schemes.
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The sentencing comes after a long pandemic-induced delay. Katherine, a former county deputy prosecutor, and Louis, the former chief of the Honolulu Police Department, along with two HPD officers were convicted in June 2019 in a federal conspiracy and obstruction case for framing Katherine’s uncle in a staged mailbox heist. The Kealohas both pled guilty in a separate bank fraud case and Katherine plead guilty in a third indictment involving drugs. Sentencing came Monday for the Kealohas.
Katherine was up first, entering Judge Michael Seabright’s courtroom in a beige prison jumpsuit, as she was the only one of the four to be imprisoned awaiting sentencing. Once known for her defiant demeanor, she turned penitent, saying:
I do not say that the actions that I committed was because I was on prescription medication. I’m saying that it clouded my judgment for my actions. I ask for forgiveness from my family and from my uncle for all the destruction and devastation that I caused.Katherine Kealoha
In the gallery was her uncle, Gerard Puana, the victim in the mailbox setup. He stared straight ahead not in Katherine’s direction, but her Aunt Charlee interjected “thank you” after the apology.
Katherine’s grandmother Florence Puana, who lost her home and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a reverse mortgage scheme Katherine engineered, passed away in February at the age of 100, but not before dictating a lengthy message to Charlee which she read to the judge. Among the sentiments from Puana was this:
You betrayed me. Years of trying to fix what could never be undone left me with a heavy heart and much regret.Florence Puana
Prosecutor Michael Wheat and Gerard Puana wiped away tears as Florence’s words rang out posthumously. Katherine’s eyes appeared saddened above her blue mask, but no tears wetted it.
After court, KHON2 asked Gerard if he would accept Katherine’s apology.
“As of today? No. But you know, it’s a process. One day I will. But at this point it’s too much. I lost too much. Mom just passed away in February. She’s never gotten that apology,” Gerard replied.
Judge Michael Seabright handed down a sentence of 13 years for Katherine, which was one year short of the 14 years prosecutors were pushing for. The judge declined to add time for “vulnerable victim” consideration, stating it did not contribute significantly to the offenses, whereas factors such as “abuse of a position of trust” did. Katherine must pay more than $450,000 restitution, most going to the estate of Florence Puana and a share to Gerard Puana as well as Ransen and Ariana Taito, siblings from whom Katherine milked six-figures by raiding their trust following their father’s death.
Louis Kealoha will serve seven years and must report for imprisonment on April 21, 2021. The delay of incarceration is due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He is responsible for 25 percent of the restitution from the mailbox case and 100 percent, jointly with Katherine, in the bank fraud case.
“I agree Katherine was the mastermind, but you were by her side. Right by her side, using your position as chief to aid the criminal enterprise,” Judge Seabright told Louis. “It could not have succeeded without HPD behind it. That’s what makes the case so shocking at the end of the day and disturbed so many people. It could not have succeeded but for you and your position.”
Outside the federal courthouse after sentencing, Louis said:
I respect the judge’s decision and it’s time to move on.Louis Kealoha
Bobby Nguyen and Derek Hahn find out their fates at sentencing Tuesday. The ex-HPD officers were convicted along with the Kealohas in the mailbox case.
Seabright spent almost as much time admonishing the county as he did addressing the Kealohas.
“How was it this went on so long undetected? These are questions everyone should be asking. Anyone who cares about the community should be asking this. How is that possible?” he said.
The judge said the events have “truly shaken confidence in our government institutions” and that “corruption was allowed to flourish” and “nobody was willing to challenge or even question.”
Nobody, that is, until the feds stepped in.
“There are going to be other indictments coming down,” Gerard Puana told KHON2 after sentencing. “This state is corrupt. It’s been that way my whole life. They can’t use their power and authority in this manner. It’ll catch up to you.”
“I think the message it sends is justice can be pursued when people are wronged,” prosecutor Wheat said after the day of sentencing concluded. “There are a great number of people, FBI, Department of Justice that will pursue justice. That’s the primary purpose of a prosecutor to pursue justice. It wasn’t done in a state level, in this case. It wasn’t done in the secret police of the (HPD) Criminal Intelligence Unit. But there is, hopefully, a route to justice in some cases. Our efforts in this case have been in that pursuit.”
“The judge provided a much broader and sharper indictment of the institutions and the other individuals that enabled this to happen than anyone has provided,” Gerard’s attorney Eric Seitz said. “Except us in our lawsuit.”
Gerard’s federal civil rights lawsuit against the Kealohas, the county and HPD officers was paused until sentencing, a stay that will soon be lifted.
“Morally there is simply no excuse for city officials to say, ‘Ok, the Kealohas are going off to jail, it’s all done here, because it will happen again and it will happen here again,” Seitz said. “It ought to be incumbent upon the city and county to take a serious look and fix what its institutions have done here by providing enough financial support for Gerard and his family to remedy what has taken place.”
“When all of this occurred and it became public,” Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell told KHON2, “We appointed very strong police commissioners, strong and independent commissioners who rocked the boat, spoke their mind and brought about change. The biggest change they brought about is they selected Chief Susan Ballard, who I believe is completely transparent, is reforming the police department, has incredible integrity, steps forward whenever there’s a problem and addresses it and is taking the Honolulu Police Department in a new, better direction.”