Is the Prosecutor’s Office doomed to repeat the past? That’s what the Council is worried about

Published: Oct. 23, 2019 at 8:43 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a tense exchange Tuesday, Honolulu Councilman Ron Menor questioned Honolulu’s acting city prosecutor on why his office hasn’t taken steps to independently confirm how deputy Katherine Kealoha abused her office for years for her personal benefit.

Menor told acting city Prosecutor Dwight Nadamoto Tuesday that he couldn’t effectively protect the integrity of the office without knowing what had gone wrong in the past.

Acting Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto gets grilled by councilman Ron Menor...
Acting Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Dwight Nadamoto gets grilled by councilman Ron Menor regarding Kealoha corruption scandal(none)

The back-and-forth came on the same day that Kealoha and her husband, former Police Chief Louis Kealoha, pleaded guilty to financial and other crimes under a deal hammered out with prosecutors.

The two had previously been convicted in a massive public corruption trial.

Nadamoto is the acting prosecutor because his former boss Keith Kaneshiro went on paid leave early this year, weeks after being informed he was also a target in the public corruption investigation. Kaneshiro set up Nadamoto to take over the office by promoting him his top deputy not long before taking leave.

The federal investigation into the Prosecutor’s Office has revealed multiple instances in which Katherine Kealoha used her position as a top supervisor to help friends, cover up crimes and manipulate cases to her benefit. Her misconduct also involved multiple other prosecutors and investigators.

But Nadamoto made it clear Tuesday that he has not made an effort to learn about the abuse.

In a statement that shocked council members, Nadamoto said he hadn’t conducted an internal investigation or studied the findings of federal prosecutors.

“The federal government has done an outstanding investigation they left no stone unturned in investigating Mr. and Mrs. Kealoha,” Nadamoto said in testimony Tuesday. “That’s something that should have done and we are glad that it has been done.”

Nadamoto was testifying on Menor’s resolution calling for a city audit of the Prosecutor’s Office and Police Department to see whether safeguards now in place are adequate.

Nadamoto used the federal investigation to deflect Menor’s assertion that he should look back at what happened so he can prevent a repeat of the scandal.

That stance clearly frustrated Menor.

“Has your office done any sort of internal review of any cases in which Kathy Kealoha or Keith Kaneshiro had direct involvement with respect to the kind of concerns that I have raised?” Menor asked.

Nadamoto replied: "Basically the federal government has conducted the investigation and they have left, as I said, no stones unturned and they have the greater ability to do it. We have not come across anything where Mr. Kaneshiro was involved that we looked into.

Menor was shocked earlier this month when Nadamoto defended the office in a hearing on several issues that are now the focus of the federal investigation.

The first issue involved Kealoha’s dismissal of an excessive speeding ticket against her electrician. She claimed he wasn’t the driver and that his car and identity had been stolen by a career criminal.

Kaneshiro later told the media that he had authorized dropping the case because the electrician was a witness in an ongoing investigation into police corruption.

Federal prosecutors, using testimony of the people involved, determined that Kealoha took care of the ticket to help her electrician.

But in City Council testimony earlier this month, Nadamoto repeated the claim that the dismissal was because of the investigation of police corruption.

Menor challenged Nadamoto again on this point.

“This whole thing about an ongoing police corruption investigation is really a sham," Menor said.

"So as acting prosecutor attorney don’t you feel that you have an important responsibility to look into this issue more carefully to investigate it?”

In another case, Kealoha intervened to have a DUI case dismissed for her friend, author Chris McKinney.

Nadamoto repeated his assertion that the DUI suspect was an undercover witness. That too was debunked in the federal investigation.

Menor pointedly asked Nadamoto who had told him that the DUI suspect was a confidential informant and when, Nadamoto refused to answer.

“I really don’t want to get into that,” he said.

“We have a serious allegation here that Katherine Kealoha was able to obtain or push for a dismissal of a DUI charge to help a friend, which would have been a clear abuse of her authority,” Menor said. “Now this is very serious matter and I think that this council is entitled to a more straightforward response from you.”

Menor and Nadamoto had similar exchanges over Kealoha directing a deputy she supervised to reverse a deferral of her uncle Gerard Puana’s no contest plea in an illegal entry case.

If the deputy had been successful, Puana would have had a felony criminal record that could be used against him during a lawsuit over money Kealoha stole from him and his elderly mother.

The judge in that case rejected the maneuver, and Nadamoto conceded that influencing her uncle’s case was a conflict of interest, but still stuck to the argument the judge rejected — that he wasn’t eligible for the deferral in the first place — instead of admitting that it was an abuse of the office.

Several other incidents of abuse have been detailed in various federal court documents, testimony and even in Tuesday’s pleas in federal court.

Katherine Kealoha admitted to a judge Tuesday that she was assigned a drug case that could have led to her physician brother, Rudy Puana.

Instead, she knew the people involved were friends of his and she admitted to a federal judge that she misdirected the city prosecutor’s office to protect her brother. She said she should have withdrawn from the case and shared what she knew with federal investigators.

Menor’s resolution passed unanimously and will next be heard by the full Council.

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