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Wednesday December 11th, 2019 3:20AM

Hawaii trial starts in case that was power couple's downfall

By The Associated Press
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HONOLULU (AP) — A trial for what has been described as the biggest corruption case in Hawaii history began Wednesday for a former Honolulu police chief, his wife and current and former police officers accused of conspiring to frame the wife's uncle for a crime he did not commit.

What started as a curious case of a mailbox reported stolen from the home of ex-Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha and his former deputy city prosecutor wife Katherine Kealoha has turned into a scandal involving allegations she stole money from banks, relatives and children whose trusts she controlled to fund the couple's lavish lifestyle.

Five women and seven men were selected as jurors, along with five alternates, ahead of the trial's opening arguments.

The Kealohas were indicted in 2017 on charges including conspiracy and obstruction. Federal authorities began investigating the two in 2015 and both stepped down from their jobs as the probe deepened.

The indictment was later separated into two trials. This first one focuses on the mailbox conspiracy allegations. A second trial will focus on bank fraud and identity theft. Katherine Kealoha also faces a third trial for a separate indictment that accuses her and her pain physician brother of dealing opioids.

Katherine Kealoha's uncle Gerard Puana and her grandmother had filed a lawsuit alleging she stole money from them in a reverse mortgage scheme, so she orchestrated framing him for stealing the Kealohas' home mailbox, prosecutors have said.

The couple's "financial stress and concomitant desire to present themselves as the power couple of Honolulu paved the path to their fraudulent financial dealings and, ultimately, to frame ... Gerard Puana for the staged theft of their mailbox," prosecutors have said in court documents.

Puana is expected to testify along with the federal defender who represented him in the mailbox case that ended in a mistrial. The federal defender, Alexander Silvert, got the investigation into the couple started by providing federal prosecutors with evidence he planned to reveal at Puana's trial about how the Kealohas used officers in an elite unit hand-picked by the chief to frame Puana and discredit him in the family financial dispute.

Jurors are also expected to hear from Katherine Kealoha's 99-year-old grandmother, Florence Puana, who gave a video deposition last month because she is in poor health.

The jury of 12 with five alternates was selected from a jury pool that started with 413 people who were called because the case has generated intense publicity.

Some prospective jurors said they had never heard of the case while others said they had heard about it and that it started with a stolen mailbox.

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