HONOLULU — Hawaii’s public defender is reviewing the criminal cases handled by four Honolulu police officers and a deputy city prosecutor to uncover any possible wrongdoing after they were accused of planting evidence, falsifying reports and lying to U.S. investigators in a corruption probe.
Former Police Chief Louis Kealoha, his prosecutor wife, Katherine, and four current and former officers were indicted last week. Prosecutors say the couple bilked clients and relatives out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on their lavish lifestyle and then conspired with the officers to frame a relative to discredit him in a family financial dispute that threatened to reveal the scheme.
The Kealohas have denied the allegations and said they will defend themselves in court.
“We don’t know the extent … how many cases that are in our office that were handled or were touched by these officers or Katherine,” state Public Defender Jack Tonaki said. “Our deputies will look at it on a case-by-case basis.”
Tonaki and other defense attorneys want Honolulu’s top prosecutor to review cases that the defendants were involved in, but Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro has not announced any plans to do so.
Kaneshiro spokesman Chuck Parker said the office will respond to any challenges in court.
Defense attorneys would be fighting an uphill battle in court, Tonaki said, because a judge won’t dismiss a case based on speculation that something improper may have happened.
Based on the allegations, there is no telling what Katherine Kealoha accessed in the prosecutor’s office, said Victor Bakke, a Honolulu defense attorney who anticipates filing motions over cases she has handled.
“It shouldn’t be on the defense attorneys to have to go through and try to pull these cases out to make these determinations,” Bakke said.
For Kaneshiro to conduct a review on his own would be “sort of a confession he’s mismanaged the office,” said Peter Carlisle, former Honolulu mayor and former prosecuting attorney. “He certainly has the power to do it.”
The FBI raided the prosecuting attorney’s office earlier this year as part of the corruption investigation.
Federal prosecutors allege that the Kealohas staged the theft of a mailbox from their home to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle. The couple swindled hundreds of thousands of dollars from banks, her uncle, her 98-year-old grandmother and two children whose trusts she oversaw, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
Prosecutors say they spent the money on personal expenses such as Maserati payments, Elton John concert tickets and a trip to Disneyland.
A review or audit “would make sense especially since it’s been hinted at by the feds that this is bigger than has been presented” and because of the lengths the defendants were willing to go to charge someone with a crime he didn’t commit, said Kenneth Lawson, co-director of the Hawaii Innocence Project.
Prosecutors have an obligation to ensure defendants are treated fairly, Lawson said.
“How do you know that if you’re not willing to take a look?” he asked.