Doctor connected to Kealoha scandal gets far lighter sentence than prosecutors had sought

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Published: Sep. 12, 2022 at 4:06 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 12, 2022 at 10:56 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Prominent Hawaii Island physician Rudy Puana was sentenced to 7 1/2 years behind bars on Monday following his conviction in a federal drug trial connected to the Kealoha scandal.

That’s far less than the 15 to 20 years that prosecutors had asked for.

Puana was found guilty of 38 drug counts in April and has been in federal custody since then.

Federal Judge Michael Seabright also sentenced Puana to three years of supervised release.

“So I think the judges sentence reflected that as long as Mr. Puana stays clean and sober, he’s not a threat to the community,” said retired federal public defender Alexander Silvert.


Puana walked into court on Monday from the federal detention center wearing his inmate uniform. But he appeared confident, waving and throwing shakas to his supporters. At one point, Puana teared up when a friend testified that he helped many people as a doctor and deserves mercy.

Puana was convicted on conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and fentanyl and distribution of the drugs without a legitimate medical purpose along with other counts. He also previously pleaded guilty to a firearms charge.

One big argument at trial was how much of a leadership role Puana played in the drug ring, which included supplying his sister ― former deputy city Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha. Kealoha is serving 13 years for multiple charges of corruption, including trying to protect her brother’s drug ring.

Silvert believes the case of Puana’s sister was a factor in the sentencing.

Puana prescribed pain medication to his friends and family members to sell or trade for cocaine. He was ultimately caught because Kealoha tried to protect him from police when drugs from Puana’s office turned up in a Honolulu narcotics bust. Puana admitted to being a drug addict himself.

“I know that Dr. Puana’s guidelines were higher than in fact, Katherine’s but I think this really reflects an understanding that Dr. Puana’s rehabilitation is a serious factor to consider,” said Silvert. “And I don’t think the judge really wanted to impose a sentence that was higher or worse than Katherine Kealoha’s sentence.”

In court, prosecutors pointed to the harm Puana caused, but nearly a hundred people wrote letters of support to the judge.

Puana’s former colleagues flew in for the sentencing.

His loved ones and his attorney also testified that he turned his life around.

“He is truly a testament to the rehabilitation that it’s possible for people addicted to drugs or alcohol.”

“I realized that there’s good sides to Dr. Puana and there’s bad sides,” said Puana’s former colleague Kenneth Ellington, who flew in from North Carolina.

“I think the judge did a really good job of explaining that.”

“I don’t know much about law, but I thought the judge was quite fair and clear and explaining why he came up with those figures and stuff,” said Dr. Ron Ah Loy, who has known Puana for about a decade.

“When you have that kind of community support, and they actually take the time out of their day and life and show up in court, that’s very significant,” added Silvert.

Puana asked to serve his prison time in Colorado or South Dakota.

The prosecutors declined to comment.

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