Kealoha case fuels push to change pension laws for disgraced government employees

Published: Feb. 18, 2020 at 6:36 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Ex-Honolulu Police Chief and convicted felon Louis Kealoha continues to get a pension paycheck ― estimated to be upwards of $150,000 per year.

That fact is now driving some state lawmakers to consider a change to the law that would lower pension benefits for government employees convicted of felony crimes.

“It’s not rocket science,” said state House Rep. Chris Lee, Judiciary Committee chairman. “If you’re going to break the law in the course of your job from then forward you lose some of those benefits.”

Under a bill before the Legislature, voters would decide on a constitutional amendment to require forfeiture or a reduction in benefits for any employee or former employee convicted of a felony crime that was committed during their government career.

The city is already suing Kealoha to get back the $250,000 in taxpayer funds the police commission gave him to retire in 2017.

Back then, he promised in writing that he’d pay it back if he was convicted of the federal crimes he was suspected of at that time.

Kealoha and his wife Katherine, a former deputy prosecutor and also a long-time government employee, were found guilty of obstruction, conspiracy, bank fraud and identity theft.

They will be sentenced next month.

If Kealoha holds up his end of the deal, he’ll repay taxpayers after sentencing. But if he doesn’t, current state law does not allow garnishing of his pension.

Even if the House Bill 2747 passes and voters approve, it likely won’t apply to Kealoha.

But others facing prosecution, including city Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, might be affected.

Federal public defender Alexander Silvert helped launch the FBI investigation into the Kealohas in 2014. And he expressed concern over Kealoha’s $250,000 payoff while a target of the Department of Justice.

“Sometimes it just takes an event that we respond to, to get things moving and I think this is one of those times,” Silvert said.

Lee says he has not heard much opposition to the bill. In fact, public testimony submitted shows just one person who is not in support.

The bill next goes to the Finance Committee for a hearing on Wednesday.

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