EXCLUSIVE: Under federal criminal probe, police chief says he's done nothing wrong

EXCLUSIVE: Under federal criminal probe, police chief says he's done nothing wrong
Published: Oct. 16, 2015 at 9:15 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 17, 2015 at 2:28 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Louis Kealoha, Honolulu's embattled police chief, has addressed the federal criminal investigation targeting him and his wife for the first time, telling a closed-door meeting of top police officials he's done nothing wrong, sources told Hawaii News Now.

The chief tried to downplay the situation at an internal meeting of police brass this week, sources said, even as a special federal prosecutor has been brought in from California to oversee the criminal probe against him.

Kealoha and his wife Katherine -- a top-ranking city prosecutor -- are the focus of an FBI investigation into whether they conspired to frame Kealoha's uncle in the theft of a mailbox from their home and used officers from special police units to do it.

Kealoha has declined to comment on the federal probe but spoke briefly about it to a command meeting of top officers Wednesday at HPD headquarters.

Kealoha told officers it will be proven that he made the right decisions and he's done nothing wrong, according to four people who were present at the meeting.

Kealoha also acknowledged that he has supporters and detractors inside the police department, sources said.

But Kealoha did not talk about a key issue that has many officers upset: whether he should be placed on paid leave during the investigation.

Officers who refused to be identified for fear of retaliation said it's a double-standard to allow Kealoha to continue in his job as the top cop when any other police officer who's the focus of a federal criminal probe would immediately be placed on leave.

The Honolulu Police Commission plans to discuss Kealoha's situation in executive session at its next regular meeting on Oct. 21.

Through an HPD spokeswoman, Kealoha declined comment to Hawaii News Now on Friday afternoon.

Meanwhile, sources said the Justice Department has brought in special prosecutor Michael Wheat from San Diego, to oversee the Kealoha investigation. He is collaborating with the FBI, working out of the FBI's Kapolei offices and the U.S. Attorney's office at the federal building in downtown Honolulu, sources said.

Wheat is legal heavy-hitter with three decades of experience as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Last year, he worked to bring federal indictments against 11 people, including baggage handlers who were accused of smuggling cocaine and methamphetamine to Honolulu International Airport and four other cities across the country.

In 2005, he was the lead prosecutor in a major public corruption case that ended with the acting San Diego mayor and a city councilman being convicted of trading political favors for campaign contributions from a strip-club owner.

The federal investigation of Kealoha and his wife began after a federal public defender turned over evidence to the FBI because he believed his client's civil rights were violated when the Kealohas allegedly fabricated a criminal case against him late last year.

In addition to the federal probe, numerous Honolulu police officers have been interviewed in a separate city Ethics Commission investigation that began looking into whether the police chief abused his power in his department's response to the relatively minor mailbox theft.

In an unusual use of resources, a homicide detective investigated the case and specialized police units – the Criminal Intelligence Unit that reports only to the chief and the Waikiki Crime Reduction Unit – conducted surveillance and made an arrest in the theft of the mailbox from the Kealohas' former home in Kahala. But the ethics case grew in scope as it uncovered other potential wrongdoing, sources said.

In September, the Kealohas sued the Ethics Commission, asking a judge to stop the ethics probe and force the commission to provide the original ethics complaint against them as well as the investigative file in the case. They filed the Circuit Court lawsuit as Doe and Roe to protect their "privacy interest," but sources identified the Kealohas as the plaintiffs.

Louis Kealoha has repeatedly said he did not overstep his authority.

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