‘Who’s next?’: Legal experts weigh in on widening public corruption investigation

Former Mayor Peter Carlisle said simply, “They should all be concerned.”

Legal experts predict widening investigation as feds bear down on Honolulu city leaders

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Legal experts say all city leaders should be concerned if they had dealings with the growing number of people suspected of various crimes related to a widening public corruption investigation.

They say even Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell should be worried.

Already snagged in the corruption case: Former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a former high-ranking deputy prosecutor.

Several current and former officers have also been indicted or already pleaded guilty.

City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has been identified as a focus of the investigation. And most recently, Donna Leong — the city’s top legal counsel — has been sent a target letter from the Department of Justice.

GF Default - Affording Kealoha severance could mean cuts to public safety programs
GF Default - Affording Kealoha severance could mean cuts to public safety programs

The scope of the probe has many wondering who else is in the FBI’s sights.

“What’s next? Who’s next?” asked Loretta Sheehan, the current Honolulu Police Commission Chair and former federal prosecutor.

[SPECIAL SECTION: The Case Against the Kealohas]

It’s a valid question as the charges and accusations range from identity theft, fraud, conspiracy to obstruct, lying to the grand jury.

And now federal authorities appear to be scrutinizing the $250,000 payoff of Louis Kealoha in 2017, when he was forced out as police chief.

The money came from HPD’s budget in three, separate transactions.

Critics of the deal, which was negotiated by Leong, fear the sum was broken up to avoid oversight, public scrutiny, and City Council approval.

“It seems there’s something very wrong at city hall,” said former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle, who called the Leong development troubling and likely not the end of the investigation.

“It casts a very, very bad light on anybody who is involved in it, including the mayor.”

At a news conference Monday, Caldwell said no one else in the cabinet had received a DOJ letter.

But Ken Lawson of the University of Hawaii Law School says the bleeding won’t stop anytime soon.

“If I was the mayor, I’d be concerned,” he said. "And I’m just telling you in my experience, in practicing almost 20 years and doing a ton of federal cases involving conspiracies, as you know in the federal system, in the federal pond, little fish eat big fish.”

Lawson is referring to the practice of charging and targeting lower officials in an effort to build cases against their bosses.

In a statement via email, Caldwell said he looked forward to the matter being resolved. His spokesman said the mayor has not retained a criminal defense attorney.

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