HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The man who was framed by Louis and Katherine Kealoha for stealing a mailbox says the guilty verdicts that were rendered upon the couple last month have restored his faith in a law enforcement system that once prosecuted him for a crime he didn’t commit.
Speaking exclusively with Hawaii News Now, Gerard Puana ― an uncle of Katherine Kealoha, a former top deputy prosecutor in Honolulu ― says he was overcome with emotion after learning that his niece would be held accountable for her actions.
“I dropped to my knees and I started just thanking God,” Puana said.
After receiving the call about the verdicts from Alexander Silvert, the public defender who represented him after the Kealohas set him up, Puana says he curled up on the floor and cried for hours.
The nightmarish experience, he says, would’ve been enough to put anyone through the ringer.
It’s been six years since the staged mailbox theft, but the feud over finances between Gerard and the Kealohas started a decade ago, when Katherine Kealoha stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Florence Puana, Gerard’s mother.
When the Puanas started working to expose the Kealohas, the retaliation started.
The Kealohas accused Gerard Puana of vandalism, burglary, elder abuse and drug crimes ― but it was the mailbox theft that garnered attention from federal authorities, and it was the mailbox case that got Silvert assigned as Puana’s public defender.
Silvert is credited with finding the evidence against the Kealohas that launched the FBI’s public corruption investigation into the couple.
The ensuing decade has been draining for him and his family, but Puana says he’s grateful that the jury in the corruption case believed his mother’s testimony.
“It was my mother’s testimony," Puana says, of what he believes was the deciding factor in the trial. "It was her truth.”
Now 99 years old, Florence Puana is in hospice care, blind and bedridden. She had heart surgery earlier this year, and wasn’t physically fit to take the stand, but she did testify in the case via video recording.
Her grueling, hours-long deposition included cross examination from the Kealohas’ defense team.
After learning about the verdicts, Gerard says he and his mother embraced and cried.
Florence Puana has since told people she can now die in peace ― something Gerard says he has a hard time accepting. He says he and his mother were buddies, and that she was the one who kept him going amidst the family feud and false accusations.
“What gave me the strength to endure was my mother," Gerard Puana said. "(Katherine) ripped off my mother of her home, the home that my dad built for my mom.”
Florence Puana sold her Wilhelmina Rise home after Katherine failed to pay off a reverse mortgage she had taken out on it.
Details about the reverse mortgage was just one part of the case federal prosecutors laid out against the Kealohas in a trial that lasted 18 days.
It took the jury less than 9 hours of deliberating to find the Kealohas guilty of conspiracy and obstruction. Two Honolulu police officers, Bobby Nguyen and Derek Hahn, were also found guilty in the case.
Despite the convictions, Puana says he’s spent too much time looking over this own shoulder out of fear of retaliation that he still doesn’t feel safe.
“These were powerful people,” he says of the Kealohas.
He admits that the family feud was difficult, but in the end, it brought the remaining members of his family closer together.
"The ohana just came together,” he said