HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Big Island firefighter pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday afternoon to conspiracy to obstruct — a felony — after lying to a federal grand jury about an affair he had with the wife of Honolulu's ex-police chief.
That same grand jury later indicted former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine on public corruption charges.
Hawaii County Battalion Chief Jesse Ebersole, 49, told a federal judge Thursday that he did indeed have a relationship with Katherine Kealoha. He also said she was paying off his car loan.
"I lied to the grand jury," he said in court, adding that he has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. "We had an intimate relationship."
He faces a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge, and his sentencing has been set for April 29, 2019.
After the hearing, he was released on an unsecured $20,000 bond.
Ebersole was brought before the grand jury last year as federal prosecutors sought to substantiate allegations that Katherine Kealoha used money stolen from relatives to pay for secret rendezvous with him, including for flight tickets and hotel rooms.
In April 2017, court documents said, Ebersole told the grand jury under oath that Kealoha and he were "just friends."
Several months later, he again lied to the grand jury, saying that he did not have a romantic relationship with Kealoha and that he was "baffled" as to why airline tickets in his name would appear on Kealoha's credit card statement.
Federal Public Defender Alexander Silvert, who represented one of Kealoha's alleged victims, said Ebersole wouldn't have faced any charges if he had told the grand jury the truth.
"The feds were following the money on how the money was spent, the money that was allegedly stolen from Florence Puana and my client, Gerard Puana," who the Kealohas accused of a crime he did not commit.
"Had (Ebersole) come in and simply told the truth in front of the grand jury, it might have been embarrassing that they were having an affair, but there's no crime there. The fact that he lied is what put him in jeopardy."
Silvert thinks Louis Kealoha should also try to make a deal with the feds.
"If there's ever a moment in a case where you have the opportunity to come forward and work with the government and make the best deal possible this is that moment in the case," says Silvert, "If he misses that moment, I don't think he'll have another chance."
Ebersole is on paid leave from the Hawaii County Fire Department.
In court, Ebersole said shortly after the he and Katherine Kealoha were Pacific Century Fellows in 2009, Kealoha started sending him gifts and money.
And some of the transactions for plane tickets are in the fall of that year. It appears the relationship continued off and on for several years as other financial transactions connect the two.
Ebersole, who was recently promoted to battalion chief, had been helping authorities respond to ongoing eruptions on the Big Island. When asked if he will be able to continue working with the department after his guilty plea, Ebersole told the judge that's not known at this moment.
This story will be updated.