- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 20, 2015

HONOLULU (AP) - A civil trial that got underway Tuesday will be a chance for the wife of the Honolulu police chief to clear her name in a lawsuit accusing her of stealing money from her uncle and 95-year-old grandmother, her attorney told jurors.

“We are happy to be here so we can finally, finally tell our side of the story,” Katherine Kealoha’s attorney, Kevin Sumida, said in his opening statement.

Kealoha’s grandmother, Florence Puana and uncle, Gerard Puana, are suing her, claiming fraud, deception and misuse of funds.

The messy family squabble has led to allegations of police misconduct related to a criminal case against Gerard Puana. He was accused of stealing the Kealohas’ home mailbox, but the case was dropped after Chief Louis Kealoha improperly testified about Puana’s criminal past at his trial last month.

Puana’s public defender, Alexander Silvert, says his client was framed to discredit him in this civil suit. Silvert said Puana’s trial would have exposed misconduct in the way police handled the mailbox investigation. Silvert has taken the allegations to the FBI. The agency hasn’t said whether it will investigate.

Puana is a man “with a very checkered past,” Sumida told the jury, describing how Puana relies on disability payments, has a drug problem and lives with his mother.

The Puanas allege Katherine Kealoha spent money they entrusted to her in an investment partnership and a reverse mortgage on her grandmother’s home.

Kealoha was the first witness called by the plaintiffs and testified that she gave her uncle money as compensation for helping provide labor for renovations on the couple’s home. She said she gave him a debit card from a bank account she set up for him.

According to the lawsuit, Kealoha helped her grandmother get a reverse mortgage on her home to pay for a condo for Gerard Puana from an account they shared. There were disbursements of more than $513,000, but the apartment cost only about $376,000.

“Where’s the difference,” the Puanas’ attorney, Gerald Kurashima, asked in his opening statement. “What happened to that money?”

Kealoha helped facilitate the reverse mortgage but never promised that she would pay it off, Sumida said.

Gerard and Florence Puana “wanted to keep this whole thing a secret from the rest of the nine siblings,” Sumida said, because they didn’t want the siblings to feel that Gerard was the favored child.

It wasn’t until after the secret got out that Florence Puana wrote her granddaughter a letter asking what happened to the money, Sumida said.

Louis Kealoha has told reporters his performance as police chief hasn’t been compromised by the family dispute that’s being aired in court. Katherine Kealoha is on personal leave as head of the career criminal unit of the Honolulu prosecutor’s office.


Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at https://www.twitter.com/JenHapa .

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