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Wednesday July 8th, 2020 11:02AM

Ex-prosecutor, brother hit with drug charges in Hawaii

By The Associated Press
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HONOLULU (AP) — A federal grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday accuses a former Honolulu city prosecutor of dealing opioids with her physician brother and using her position to cover up their crimes.

Katherine Kealoha, the wife of now-retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, steered law enforcement away from investigating her brother, Dr. Rudolph Puana, after police told her that he was buying cocaine, according to the indictment.

The siblings and unnamed co-conspirators were charged with distributing oxycodone, fentanyl and Xanax. Messages left for their lawyers were not immediately returned.

Puana was arrested amid a growing federal corruption investigation that has resulted in indictments against the Kealohas and current and former officers.

They are scheduled to go to trial next month after being accused of framing Katherine Kealoha's uncle for the theft of the couple's home mailbox to discredit him in a family financial dispute.

On Tuesday, Hawaii Attorney General Clare Connors asked the state Supreme Court to immediately suspend Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro because he is a target in the investigation.

Connors called the petition "unprecedented."

A court hearing is scheduled Thursday for a separate petition by a Honolulu businessman calling for Kaneshiro's impeachment.

Bill McCorriston, an attorney representing Kaneshiro, confirmed that Kaneshiro received a letter saying he is a target of the investigation, but he contends Connors' petition is speculative and based on media reports. McCorriston said there's no dysfunction in the prosecutor's office and Kaneshiro deserves a presumption of innocence.

Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, Honolulu's chief legal officer, took a leave of absence after receiving a target letter linked to the corruption investigation. Chasid Sapolu, Honolulu's second-highest-ranking prosecutor, announced a leave of absence after receiving a subject letter, which is less serious than a target letter.

The latest indictment said Puana, an anesthesiologist and pain doctor, advised one co-conspirator to use proceeds from the sale of illegal prescription pain medication to buy cocaine for the two of them. They would also "sell and barter" medication in exchange for cocaine, the indictment said.

When a police officer notified Kealoha that her brother and a co-conspirator were buying and using cocaine, she "arranged to have herself assigned as the prosecutor" of the investigation, the indictment said.

That allowed her to "steer law enforcement scrutiny away from her brother's felonious conduct in that drug conspiracy," the indictment said.

She then gave favorable plea deals to others involved "to reduce the likelihood they would reveal that her brother had distributed controlled substances," the document says.

Puana is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.

He co-wrote a memoir with novelist Chris McKinney that tells his life story of growing up a red-headed Hawaiian, who despite struggling through school, went to Creighton University School of Medicine and worked at various hospitals before returning to Hawaii with a mission to help people.

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AP journalist Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.

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