Retired officer pleads guilty to lying under oath in Kealoha theft case

Police Chief Louis Kealoha and wife, Katherine (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Police Chief Louis Kealoha and wife, Katherine (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A retired police officer pleaded guilty Friday to lying under oath as part of a conspiracy to frame a relative for stealing a mailbox from the home of Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine, a high-ranking deputy city prosecutor.

Niall Silva, 52, was a detective in the Criminal Intelligence Unit of HPD in June 2013 when Katherine Kealoha called HPD to report her mailbox had been stolen from her Kahala home.

She later identified the suspect as her uncle, Gerard Puana, with whom she was involved in a family financial dispute over hundreds of thousands of dollars. She said she could tell it was Puana based on poor-quality surveillance video from the house security system.

Silva told investigators and a federal jury that he personally visited the house, checked that the surveillance system was working, brought the hard-drive back to his office at HPD Headquarters and isolated the theft.

On Friday, he admitted that rather than collect any evidence, it was actually brought to him by another officer at HPD. But Silva agreed to lie in his reports and to federal investigators about how the surveillance video was collected.

U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, who was brought in to prosecute the case from San Diego, told Magistrate Judge  Kevin Chang, that Silva faces up to five years in prison for conspiracy to defraud the United States, but that his cooperation will potentially lead to a much lower sentence.

Wheat also described in detail the "manner and means" and "overt acts" of the conspiracy in a charging document, which he said he was confident could be "proved beyond a reasonable doubt."

That document, combined with other court and police records, indicates that Kealoha intended to frame her uncle by fraudulently claiming the mailbox was stolen. It indicates that other conspirators, including Officer Bobby Nguyen, who was married to Kealoha's niece, were involved in the conspiracy.

Nguyen is identified as "co-conspirator no. 2" in the charging document.

The document indicates it was Nguyen who instructed Silva what to do, and that Nguyen was in close contact with Kealoha during the process. The document indicates Nguyen also lied to federal investigators. Neither  Kealoha nor Nguyen have been charged with any crime in this case.

Four of the five co-conspirators are current or former Honolulu police officers.

Puana was arrested and charged with the theft, but the case was dropped after Chief Louis Kealoha improperly told the jury that Puana had been previously convicted of burglary – a statement that was both inaccurate and the forced the trial to end immediately in a mistrial.

Documents in the Silva case do not suggest Kealoha was involved in the alleged frame-up.

Silva's sentencing was scheduled for April 3, 2017.  His attorney, William Harrison, said Silva made a "regrettable decision" and he was pleading guilty in order to "take full responsibility for what he did, and it is a very courageous decision on his part."

An attorney representing the Kealohas refused to comment Friday.

City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro stood by Katherine Kealoha on Friday, saying in a statement that "the allegations have nothing to do with Kathy Kealoha and I don't proceed on allegations. There is no evidence presented that Kathy Kealoha committed a crime."

Meanwhile, in a statement from HPD on Friday that was not attributed to the chief read: "We are very disappointed to learn of the allegations. We hold our officers to a higher standard and expect them to be truthful at all times. If and when it is confirmed that other officers were involved, the appropriate actions will be taken."

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