2017 in review: Corruption and greed take down Honolulu's police chief

2017 in review: Corruption and greed take down Honolulu's police chief
(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)
(Image: Hawaii News Now/file)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As we near the end of 2017, Hawaii News Now is taking a look back at the biggest stories that emerged over the course of a turbulent year for Hawaii.

Allegations of corruption at the top of the Honolulu police department dominated headlines in 2017 – and the indictment of its police chief, his wife and several other officers was the year's most newsworthy event – even though much surrounding the case still needs to be played out.

The charges against Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, deputy city prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, were more serious than some experts had predicted.

The U.S. Justice Department claims the couple's abuse of power was to cover up a massive incident of financial fraud, and both pleaded not guilty to various crimes.

Hawaii News Now first broadcast the video that served as the foundation for the case, grainy images of a man appearing to steal the Kealoha's mailbox that were taken nearly three years ago.

At the time of the broadcast, an FBI investigation was just getting under way, based on the theory that the Kealohas and other members of the chief's hand-picked criminal intelligence unit had staged the theft in 2013.

The alleged motive was to frame Katherine Kealoha's uncle, Gerard Puana; he and his mother had accused Katherine of stealing thousands of dollars, though she claimed she was helping them.

In addition to charges involving abuse of police power, the Kealohas were indicted for bank fraud, forgery and identity theft – crimes presumably committed to pay for their million-dollar homes and expensive cars.

"A husband-and-wife team so desperate to fund their lifestyle and maintain their self-professed status as Honolulu's 'power couple' that they swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks, credit unions and some of the most vulnerable members of the community," said Alana Robinson, Acting U.S. Attorney.

By the end of 2017, the long investigation had impacted many others. The Kealohas accused city ethics director Chuck Totto of vindictive and racially-motivated investigations, which contributed to his forced resignation.

The Chief U.S. Marshal for Hawaii, Gervin Miyamoto, was forced into retirement for driving prosecutor Keither Kaneshiro directly into the federal building to avoid media coverage of the grand jury proceedings.

It was an issue during the 2016 mayoral election, which led Mayor Kirk Caldwell to appoint more aggressive police commissioners – commissioners that eventually made a highly controversial deal with Kealoha in January that paid him $250,000 to retire.

"Our department has been under a dark cloud for the past two years, with all this federal investigation," said commission chairman Max Sword. "We believe that the police department needs to move on."

The commission then spent ten months finding a new police chief – one who had been right down the hall the entire time.

Former Maj. Susan Ballard was a Kealoha critic who the former chief had iced out. She immediately replaced almost all of Kealhoa's allies in leadership positions, emptied the Criminal Intelligence Unit that had been filled with Kealoha appointees, and restructured the job of police union leader Tenari Maafala, who had often stoof up for the chief.

The big, unanswered question in the case? Where will it go next. A number of Honolulu's top prosecutors have been called to the grandy jury, including Keith Kaneshiro, whose support of Katherine Kealoha may have also made him a target of the investigation.

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