Scandal that’s ensnarled police, prosecutor’s office takes another turn

Published: Jan. 11, 2019 at 4:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - An officer’s guilty plea Friday in connection with a widening public corruption case against former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife also take the case in an entirely new direction — one that ties Katherine Kealoha to a prescription drug trafficking ring.

Officer Danny Sellers plans to change his plea to guilty. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Officer Danny Sellers plans to change his plea to guilty. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, have hired a criminal defense...
Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine Kealoha, have hired a criminal defense attorney amid a federal probe. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

In federal court on Friday, Honolulu police officer Danny Sellers pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor crime of providing confidential information to his longtime friend, former deputy city Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha.

In exchange, felony charges of lying to a federal agent and to the FBI were dropped.

Sellers has already provided details on a case that links Katherine Kealoha to an alleged drug trafficking ring — the investigation of which represents a new component of an already-massive public corruption scandal.

Sellers' connection to the case dates back to 2015, when he was investigating Tiffany Masunaga for alleged drug dealing and a man who many described as her bodyguard, then-officer Alan Ahn.

Sellers went to Katherine Kealoha, who at the time was head of the career criminal unit at city Prosecutor’s Office, in an effort to help him move the case forward.

Court records show that Kealoha subsequently signed the arrest warrants that led to a SWAT raid of a McCully home, where cocaine, salts, and more than 100 patches of the powerful prescription drug fentanyl were recovered.

Masunaga and Ahn were arrested, and Kealoha later ran the grand jury that got the couple indicted.

But in a surprising turn, Kealoha’s offer to Ahn only required him to plead guilty to the cocaine.

The deal ignored the prescription opioids that had been found.

Why would she do that?

Multiple sources confirm the more than 100 patches of fentanyl came from Dr. Rudy Puana, a pain management doctor from Hilo — and Katherine Kealoha’s younger brother.

It’s suspected that Kealoha covered up the prescription drugs to protect her brother.

“We initially thought it was just a little issue here that involved the Kealohas, and as the investigation unraveled, it got bigger,” said attorney William Harrison, who represents Masunaga.

Harrison wants his client’s case thrown out, saying Kealoha’s involvement was a clear conflict — and may even amount to prosecutorial misconduct.

“We have to make sure that the prosecutors have not tainted the case,” Harrison said.

In recent months, Hawaii News Now cameras have spotted many of Puana’s former employees and patients going into the federal courthouse to testify before the grand jury hearing evidence on this matter.

Among those who testified: Author Chris McKinney, who wrote a book about Puana called “The Red-Headed Hawaiian,” detailing his humble beginnings in Kahaluu to his successful medical career.

Even Puana himself was called to the grand jury room in October.

He winked at the camera as he left with his attorney, Jeffrey Hawk, who declined to comment on this report.

If Kealoha abused her power to protect her brother, it could end up being part of the case against her former boss, city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who many expect will be indicted for covering up for her alleged misdeeds.

Sellers' plea deal also means he’ll have to cooperate in the so-called mailbox trial, scheduled for March.

Kealoha and her husband, the former chief of police, along with HPD Lt. Derek Hahn, officer Bobby Nguyen, and former Maj. Gordon Shiraishi are all charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The group is accused of framing a Kealoha relative with a federal offense — the theft of a mailbox,

At the time of the case, the Kealohas were feuding with that relative in a dispute over money.

Another former police officer, Niall Silva, has already pleaded guilty in the case and has also agreed to testify in the upcoming trial.

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