Agents search servers and seize computers as part of the ongoing Kealoha investigation
FBI agents served the Honolulu’s Prosecutor’s Office with a search warrant Friday as part of the ongoing federal corruption investigation involving the city’s outgoing police chief and a deputy prosecutor, officials said.
The move allowed the FBI to search servers at the office one day after a federal judge took possession of two work-related laptops belonging to Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, according to her attorney, Myles Breiner. Kealoha and her husband, outgoing Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, have been embroiled in a grand jury investigation into alleged conspiracy and corruption that centers around them and several police officers.
According to Breiner, the investigation’s special prosecutor, Michael Wheat, issued a subpoena Thursday for Katherine Kealoha to turn over two of her work laptops. However, Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro and Breiner each objected, he said. Kaneshiro, Breiner said, was worried that the laptops’ seizure could affect ongoing criminal investigations, and Breiner had concerns their seizure could violate attorney-client privilege.
U.S. District Judge Michael Seabright then took the laptops into custody, Breiner told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Breiner said the FBI’s separate search warrant Friday for computer servers at the Prosecutor’s Office could be a way to avoid at least the attorney-client privilege issues.
“It’s a hunting expedition. They’re looking for things,” Breiner said. “It’s a very broad-spectrum search warrant.”
FBI Special Agent Arnold Laanui issued a statement confirming that “special agents were conducting investigative activity at the Office of the Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney” on Richards Street. Citing FBI policy regarding ongoing
investigations, Laanui said the agency “will not be providing, at this time, any statements regarding the subjects of its investigation, identities of victims, or the purpose of today’s activity.”
“Preserving the integrity of our investigation, as well as the integrity of the Prosecutor’s Office, is a primary concern to the FBI. We wish to keep disruptions to their operations to a minimum,” he said.
In a brief written statement Friday afternoon, Kaneshiro said, “FBI agents served a search warrant at the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney this morning. This office fully cooperated with the agents and provided information requested in the warrant.”
The office offered no further information.
Attorneys say this was a highly unusual move by the federal prosecutor.
“In my lifetime I have never heard a federal prosecutor raiding a state prosecutor,” said Alexander Silvert, federal public defender. Silvert represents Katherine Kealoha’s uncle Gerard Puana, who he maintains was framed by the Kealohas for allegedly stealing their mailbox at their Kahala home in 2013.
The grand jury investigation stems from a family
feud involving Puana. Silvert also accuses Chief Kealoha of purposely triggering a mistrial Dec. 4 in the federal criminal theft case against Puana to avert a not-guilty verdict that would have undercut Katherine Kealoha’s standing in a civil case against Puana.
“It’s certainly extremely unusual,” said Silvert, who turned over information to the FBI for investigation, which led to the grand jury investigation.
Silvert said Kaneshiro “declared
war on the federal prosecutor and the federal grand jury” a few months ago by criticizing him and the federal grand jury process, calling it a “circus” and “outrageous.”
Although Silvert was previously unaware of the search warrant, he said, “There’s no question that this is related to the investigation.”
Kealoha, who last week agreed to retire, is still working out the details of his compensation package with
Holy cow! I’ve never heard of a search warrant being executed on a prosecutor’s office.”
Loretta Sheehan Former federal prosecutor, recently appointed to the Honolulu Police Commission
the Police Commission. On Dec. 20 the chief placed himself on voluntary paid leave after the FBI sent him a “target letter” informing him that he is the focus of a criminal investigation.
On Dec. 16 retired HPD officer Niall Silva pleaded guilty to conspiring with other police officers and Katherine Kealoha to frame Puana for the theft of the mailbox.
“Holy cow!” exclaimed Loretta Sheehan, a former federal prosecutor who was recently appointed to the Honolulu Police Commission, when she learned of the raid. “I’ve never heard of a search warrant being executed on a prosecutor’s office, but I have heard of it in lawyers’ offices.”
She added, “It’s an extraordinary step to execute a search warrant on a business as it’s very disruptive to the operation of a business. A search warrant suggests the federal prosecutors did not believe that a simple grand jury subpoena compelling records was sufficient.”
As a federal prosecutor, Sheehan said, she was familiar with cases where search warrants were executed at officers of attorneys who were suspected of colluding with clients, hiding money, hiding drug records or laundering money.
“There were times when you execute warrants; that’s when you think they’re involved in criminal activity,” she said.
Puana’s attorney, Eric Seitz, who has filed a civil complaint for damages on behalf of Puana against the Kealohas and five police officers, said he had no way of knowing what the search warrants were about but said, “I’m sure it’s related to the Kealoha grand jury (investigation).”
He said the civil suit, filed Dec. 14, has not been served, and he won’t take action until the criminal case is resolved.
Chuck Parker, spokesman for the Honolulu Prosecutor’s Office, left, delivered a written statement to members of the news media Friday after FBI agents searched computer servers at the office.