HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The relative who the Kealohas are accused of trying to frame with a federal crime ― the theft of their mailbox ― took the stand Wednesday in the federal government’s public corruption case against the former law enforcement power couple.
The first question for Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, was central to the case: “Did you steal the mailbox?"
His answer: 'Absolutely not."
In his testimony, Puana also said that he and his niece used to be very close, calling each other “Katsters” and “Gerrsters," and that he trusted her. In fact, he helped dig the hole and pour the concrete slab for the mailbox he was later accused of taking.
At one point on the stand, Puana got emotional as he recounted realizing that Kealoha had repeatedly lied to him. Among the things he touched on: An illegal search of his home.
In that search, several items were confiscated. Katherine Kealoha later returned them to him in a box.
Puana admitted early on about his 2011 arrest for unlawful entry. He said he walked into his neighbor’s home and yelled for that man to move his car because it blocked his elderly mother’s access to the stairs.
He also admitted that he once had a drug problem. In 2002, he said he promised his dying father two things: Take care of his mother and kick his addiction to crystal meth.
Puana said he fulfilled both. He said he went cold turkey, stopped using meth.
He did admit to using marijuana every so often.
HNN legal anaylst Ken Lawson said it’s a good strategy, “In order to take the steam off defense, the cross examination, you bring the bad stuff out... You confront it head on. That way, by the time someone gets cross examined, the jury’s gonna be like, well you told us about this."
While Puana spoke, Katherine watched and took notes.
She also intermittently shook her head “no” in response to things he said.
Attorneys in cross-examination tried to imply that Puana was taking advantage of his mother.
The highly-anticipated testimony comes on the 10th day of the so-called “mailbox trial” against the Kealohas and three Honolulu officers. The government alleges Katherine and Louis Kealoha ― a former deputy city prosecutor and Honolulu’s ex-police chief, respectively ― tried to frame Puana for the mailbox theft because of a family dispute over money the Kealohas are accused of stealing.
Puana takes the stand on the heels of a grueling day in court Tuesday, during which an hours-long video deposition from Katherine Kealoha’s 99-year-old grandmother was played for jurors.
In the video, Florence Puana talked about how she trusted her granddaughter ― and how devastated she was to learn “she wasn’t the person I thought I knew.”
Puana’s deposition left a few people in the courthouse gallery in tears and could prove particularly powerful as the government seeks to make their case in the so-called “mailbox trial” against former law enforcement power couple Katherine and Louis Kealoha.
“She said to trust her,” Puana said, in the videotaped deposition. “She wasn’t doing the things I asked her to.”
Puana couldn’t take the stand in the federal public corruption trial because of her ailing health.
Even so, HNN law expert Ken Lawson said he believes the video deposition had a “huge effect” on jurors given her emotion ― and conviction.
He described the 3 1/2-hour deposition as “powerful."
“If you’ve got a victim that’s on the stand that really can have a way with the jurors, that really can touch the jurors’ heart to the point where they know truly that this person is the victim,” he said, “that has a huge effect on the whole charge because what’s going to happen now is people are going to look back and see that the motive is strong to set this man up.”
In the deposition, Puana said her granddaughter convinced her to take out a reverse mortgage on her Wilhelmina Rise home to buy a condo for Gerard Puana, her son.
With the extra money, the Kealohas would consolidate debt.
Puana says Katherine Kealoha told her she would pay off the loan.
But the government says that didn’t happen, and Puana was uprooted from her home ― the home her husband built and where she raised her children.
“Rather than losing my home, I decided to sell it,” Puana said.
What followed was a legal dispute and, the government alleges, a scheme to turn Gerard Puana into a convicted felon by framing him with the theft of the mailbox.
Puana also testified that Katherine Kealoha convinced her to sign documents, giving her power of attorney and creating a joint bank account.
The government says the Kealohas raided that bank account, shelling out $23,000 for a lavish celebration when Louis Kealoha became chief of police and funding a trip to Disneyland.
Puana said she pleaded for the money to be returned.
“I said, I need the money because I told my husband that in time, after I’ll be gone, I was going to sell the house and split the money among the children,” she said, in the deposition.
When Puana subsequently asked for repayment in a letter, the government says Katherine Kealoha sent an angry letter back, promising the highest level of legal retribution.
Prosecutors say the engineered mailbox theft made good on that promise.
For the deposition, which was done in April, four monitors were set up in court so the jury and the gallery could watch.
In cross-examination, defense attorneys pointed out that Puana did sign the financial documents and seemed confused about the facts.
TRANSCRIPT OF DEPOSITION: