HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The federal judge in the Kealoha corruption case ruled Wednesday that FBI tracking of a Honolulu police lieutenant’s phone is admissible in the so-called “mailbox case.”
The government accused Lt. Derek Hahn, a supervisor in the Honolulu Police Department’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, of being part of the conspiracy to fake the theft of former Police Chief Louis Kealoha’s mailbox.
Kealoha and his wife Katherine, a former high-ranking deputy prosecutor, then allegedly tried to pin the theft on a relative ― who was suing the chief’s wife for stealing from him and his mother.
The Kealohas and three officers are charged in the conspiracy, while two other officers have already pleaded guilty.
Grainy surveillance video from the Kealoha home showed a man walked up to the mailbox at around 11:30 p.m. on June 21, 2013. The man takes just seconds to remove the secure mailbox from its post and toss it into a car.
So far, federal prosecutors have not identified who they believe took the mailbox.
But court documents have revealed that an FBI expert, Special Agent Edwin Nam, was tasked with tracking the movement of Hahn’s cell phone on June 21 and June 22, 2013.
In a court hearing Wednesday, Nam explained how he did that, saying that he combined information from Hahn’s phone, records from Hahn’s mobile carrier, and maps of the carrier’s tower network.
When a cell phone makes a call, it’s usually received by the nearest tower. Towers have three directional arrays of receivers, and records can tell investigators from which direction the phone signal came.
Although not an exact science, Nam said the results indicate that Hahn was in the vicinity of Wilhelmina Rise about 6:12 p.m. on the evening of the mailbox theft.
That’s important because the man that the Kealohas tried to pin the theft on ― Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, Gerard Puana ― lives in that area.
By 11:20 p.m., Hahn appeared to be back at his Hawaii Kai home, where he made calls and sent texts.
But the next morning, Hahn’s calls were received by two towers that serve the Kahala neighborhood ― around what was then the Kealohas’ home.
Those calls, between 8:12 and 9:26 a.m., were made before Kealoha supposedly called another alleged conspirator ― police Maj. Gordon Shiraishi ― to report his mailbox was gone.
Shiraishi told investigators he called Hahn to tell him to send another CIU officer, Niall Silva, to retrieve evidence, including surveillance video.
Silva has pleaded guilty to lying ― by backing up that story.
He later admitted he never left the station and the video was brought to him by CIU Officer Bobby Nguyen, who was living in the Kealohas’ pool house with his then-wife, Katherine Kealoha’s niece.
If prosecutors can prove that Hahn was at the Kealoha house the morning after the mailbox was taken, it would be strong evidence that others, including the Kealohas and the other officers, lied about what happened that day.
But ironically, the cell phone data ― if taken at face value ― also seems to put Hahn at home when the mailbox was lifted, a potentially strong alibi in case prosecutors claim he was the person in the video taking the mailbox.
Hahn’s attorney, Birney Bervar, at first challenged the cell phone analysis as being too inexact to support any conclusions about Hahn’s movements. But at Wednesday’s hearing Bervar conceded that Hahn’s phones likely did activate the towers as the FBI said.
Judge Michael Seabright ruled that the evidence can be used at trial.
It’s unclear whether the FBI went to similar lengths to track other defendants, although it is likely. If the data is in evidence, none of the others have openly challenged its use.