HONOLULU (KHON2) — Go directly to jail.
That was the order from a federal judge today, putting Katherine Kealoha behind bars before her sentencing on yesterday’s guilty verdict for conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Kealoha walked into federal court Friday morning on her own, but she was taken out in federal custody. After a detention hearing the judge remanded the former deputy prosecutor whom jurors found guilty of leading wide-ranging crimes spanning nearly a decade.
Prosecutors wanted her in custody through to her October sentencing, moving to remand as soon as the verdict came down Thursday.
Prosecutors said in a brief filed Thursday upon conviction: “Kealoha lies as easily as she draws breath…Kealoha will do anything and everything to avoid the consequences for her unlawful behavior… The facts at trial alone establish the risk of flight and the danger Kealoha poses.”
Judge Michael Seabright said he didn’t consider Katherine a flight risk, and he said she wouldn’t get away for too long even if she wanted to. But he keyed in on her repeated attempts to obstruct, influence and sway witnesses, victims and others in a range of separate incidents.
Seabright judge sternly cut off defense attorney Cynthia Kagiwada’s attempted denial of Katherine’s obstruction, saying 12 people — the jurors – just said it happened.
But Kagiwada persisted, asking the judge instead to impose other restrictions or conditions on her bail, saying, “She has demonstrated that she’s not a public safety risk.”
The judge wasn’t convinced, saying, “I am concerned about the obstructive conduct that has been demonstrated…It goes on and on.”
The judge added: “Attempting to obstruct justice appears to be Katherine Kealoha’s bread and butter.”
And with that he remanded Katherine not just on the conspiracy case as the prosecutors had requested, but on his own he also revoked her release on two indictments coming up for trial. One involves bank fraud, the other covers drug charges.
Always Investigating asked Special Federal Prosecutor Michael Wheat, what is the implication of the judge’s decision today for these upcoming two cases that she and others are involved in?
“Those cases are pending,” Wheat said. “You’ll see what happens in them.”
Wheat said of the current case: “Today is the end of one chapter and there’s more work to be done. The victims in the case are going to have some degree of satisfaction.”
“I only have 3 words: appeal, appeal, appeal,” said defense attorney Earl Partington as he exited federal court. Partington is the private attorney brought at the tail end of trial to help Katherine’s taxpayer funded appointed counsel Kagiwada.
Partington said appeals can’t be filed until after October sentencing.
Always Investigating asked Partington: How will being incarcerated during the run-up to these other 2 trials impact those pending cases?
“It makes it harder for the lawyers,” Partington said. “It’s difficult to meet with the client while in custody.”
We asked Partington if Katherine is considering a change in plea in either of the other 2 cases.
“I have no idea,” he said, adding that he hasn’t discussed it with her and that it will be up to her to bring it up.
The bank fraud charges for Katherine and Louis Kealoha also allege Katherine committed aggravated identity theft and obstruction for raiding in $167,000 inheritance funds of two kids Katherine was appointed guardian of. That’s slated for an October trial.
There’s a separate indictment alleging she and her brother, Dr. Rudolph Puana, trafficked painkiller drugs while Kealoha abused her deputy prosecutor position to conceal it. Trial for that could start in 2020.
Outside attorneys say today could be Katherine’s first day in a long federal prison stay.
“She can get consecutive time as each case comes before the court,” explained Michael Green, attorney for one of two trust siblings. “And if she gets convicted, there are enhancements for prison for obstruction of justice, for sophisticated scheme.”
Just in the recent case alone, the conspiracy count carries up to 5 years behind bars, but each of the three obstruction counts could net 20 years a piece
Always Investigating asked, could she end up spending the rest of her life in federal prison?
“I hate to even think that,” Green said, “but if she goes to trial on all these cases, forget it.”
The feds did not seek — and the judge did not independently move — to remand any of the other three convicted co-conspirators Bobby Nguyen, Derek Hahn or Louis Kealoha. Katherine’s husband did not come to court for his wife’s detention hearing.
Next up, each of the four defendants found guilty face sentencing hearings. Katherine’s is first, on Oct. 7. The rest follow throughout the month.
Meanwhile the city tells us that in light of the conviction of Louis Kealoha, they are actively trying to get back his $250,000 severance payout.
Returning that money within 60 days of a conviction or exhausting all appeals was part of the settlement.