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Ethics Commission Handling of Kealoha Cases Questioned

Ku'uwehi Hiraishi

The Honolulu Ethics Commission says it has not dismissed its investigations into retired Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a former city prosecutor. But the commission's former executive director called the commission's actions surrounding ethics complaints against the couple "careless." 

At an Ethics Commission meeting Wednesday, Chair Victoria Marks said there’s a lot of misinformation surrounding the board’s handling of the Kealohas cases.

A federal jury last month found the Kealohas guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for trying to frame Katherine Kealoha’s uncle for the theft of their mailbox as part of a family financial dispute.

In 2014, the Ethics Commission began receiving complaints against the Kealohas covering alleged misuse of city resources.

Chuck Totto, then the executive director of the Ethics Commission, and investigator Letha DeCaires were looking into the complaints when the Kealohas filed a lawsuit accusing Totto and DeCaires of conducting “vindictive" and "illegal" investigations.

The commission took Totto off the cases, saying the action was needed to maintain the integrity of the process. In the meantime, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s administration declined to renew DeCaires’ contract.

Totto then resigned.

Now that the Kealohas have been found guilty in the mailbox case, Totto feels vindicated, he told reporters.

"Would things have been different if we could complete our investigations? Yes, but the city never allowed us the resources to do that," he said. "The rug was pulled out from under Letha when her contract ended and would not be renewed despite my repeated requests and the rug was pulled out from under me when I was taken off all the cases."

Totto called the Ethics Commission’s actions “careless” and he said the commission should review the steps it took and ensure what happened to him and DeCaires doesn?t happen again.

Chair Marks said the commission is doing the best it can. She said it has hired a prosecutor and an investigator to take over the Kealoha cases.

The Kealohas are still facing trials on other federal criminal charges. Katherine Kealoha remains in prison, while the former police chief is free on bond. Both are awaiting sentencing in the mailbox case. 

Kuʻuwehi Hiraishi is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Her commitment to her Native Hawaiian community and her fluency in ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi has led her to build a de facto ʻōiwi beat at the news station. Send your story ideas to her at khiraishi@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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