HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city prosecutor’s first deputy has received a subject letter from the U.S. Department of Justice, in a sign that a federal investigation into Honolulu’s ex-police chief is now zeroing in on players at the city Prosecutor’s Office.
A subject letter means that the U.S. Attorney believes first deputy Prosecutor Chasid Sapolu engaged in suspicious and unethical conduct, but wants to do more investigating.
“It scares the bejeezus out of people,” said Ken Lawson, of the University of Hawaii Richardson Law School.
Lawson said a subject letter is one level below a target letter, but it’s not something that should be taken lightly,
“It’s like any day now they could be knocking on my door. It puts the fear in people.”
The development is significant as it represents the first official notification that an ongoing public corruption scandal — with ex-Police Chief Louis Kealoha at its center — has extended beyond the Honolulu Police Department.
Two years ago, Kealoha and four current and former Honolulu police officers — Gordon Shiraishi, Derek Hahn, Danny Sellers, and Bobby Nguyen — all got target letters from the DOJ.
Kealoha immediately put himself on administrative leave, while the officers were put on desk duty.
All were indicted months later.
Kealoha’s wife, Katherine, was also indicted and has upcoming trials for more than a dozen criminal charges. She was a deputy city prosecutor before resigning in September.
Now, it’s clear the scandal involves her former office and colleagues.
Special Prosecutor Michael Wheat, of the San Diego U.S. Attorney’s Office, began to widen the scope of the investigation to include Honolulu city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro in 2016, when he refused to cooperate with the federal case involving the Kealohas.
Kaneshiro was reportedly forced to turn over information involving Katherine Kealoha’s fixing of a speeding ticket for her electrician and various other requests.
After that, more of Kaneshiro’s employees were brought in for questioning. The fixed speeding ticket eventually led to a questionable grand jury in state Circuit Court.
The FBI has interviewed witnesses connected to the proceedings to see if it was a ploy to get Katherine Kealoha out of trouble for fixing traffic violations for friends.
Sapolu’s subject letter could be the result of this series of events.
Another possible reason the feds are looking at Kaneshiro and his employees, is over the controversial safe house for domestic violence victims that the prosecutor’s office obtained through a questionable land deal.
Attorney Michael Green, who represents siblings who say Katherine Kealoha stole more than $100,000 from a trust account she was managing for them, said the broadening investigation surrounding the prosecutor’s office is troubling.
“Prosecute crime, that’s what they’re supposed to do,” he said.
Lawson, meanwhile, said Sapolu should be put on leave given that he’s a high level law enforcement official.
“Take him out of this environment right now, so that the process not only is clean, but it gives the appearance that it’s above reproach," he said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Hawaii News Now asked the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office if anyone else got a subject or target letter from federal authorities, and if Sapolu would be putting on administrative leave.
A spokesman has not responded to the request for comment.