She was the star witness in the biggest corruption trial in the state.
Now, Florence Puana is speaking out on the years it took to get justice against her own granddaughter Katherine Kealoha.
Puana says she has forgiven her granddaughter, who remains behind bars. She will soon celebrate her 100th birthday and prefers to focus on the good things in life.
“Some poor mothers have nothing and I have more than I would ever expect,” said Puana.
She says all things considered, she still feels blessed. It’s been nearly two months since a jury found Katherine and her husband, former police chief Louis Kealoha guilty of corruption and obstruction of justice.
The Kealohas framed Florence’s son Gerard Puana for mailbox theft to discredit the Puanas because they had accused Katherine of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from them.
“I trusted her implicitly and what I did I don’t know but I guess I was the only one she could get some money from,” said Puana.
What she did have was the house on Wilhelmina Rise, where most of her nine children grew up. Katherine talked Florence into taking a reverse mortgage on it.
And as the trial revealed, Katherine never paid back the loan, spent the money on lavish items, forcing Florence to sell the house.
“I know you’ve talked about how hard it is to give up that house?” asked KHON2.
“Oh it was. It was because my husband worked very hard, he worked very hard to build the house for us, we had no money,” she said.
Money was the root of the problem in 2011 when the Puanas sued Katherine. But the jury ruled in Katherine’s favor ordering the Puanas to pay her more than $600,000.
That case is now under appeal. Florence says being able to testify at the criminal trial, and having the jury rule against the Kealohas was vindication.
“I felt it was too good to be true. I couldn’t believe I did such a wonderful job because here I was I could hardly see and I don’t hear very well so I couldn’t believe that what I did was good,” said Puana.
It helps with the pain inflicted on her son Gerard, who was forced to spend time in jail while he awaited trial for the mailbox theft.
“I didn’t know where he was and what he needed. And she kept telling me don’t worry about Gerard, I see him every day and I give him everything he needs,” said Puana.
“Of all the things she’s done you’ve forgiven her?” KHON2 asked.
“Yes, because I feel right now she’s suffering and I feel sorry for her, and I feel sorry for everyone who did not hear what I said,” she said.
She adds that she’s not angry anymore and tries not to think about what happened.
“You know, when I think of those things, I just say you have to forget about it cause it’s too much to bear, too much to bear,” said Puana.
She remains strong and attributes that to nearly a lifetime of working hard. She started working when she was eight years old at the pineapple fields on Maui.
As an adult, she promised her husband John that she would only go back to work after all the kids are in school. She worked as a housekeeper at Star of the Sea for 62 years, retiring at age 83.
“And I did everything, washing, ironing, cleaning, everything. Hard work but I loved it,” she said.
She’s looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday next week, and spending time with family and friends. Her advice for anyone who’s having problems in life?
“Always be truthful, always tell the best you know how and tell the truth cause if you tell the truth there’s no worry,” said Puana.
When asked if she could go back and do anything differently, Puana said no. But she says at one point she wanted to become a nun. She sang in the choir for several years and loves spending time in church.