Former Honolulu police officer pleads guilty to felony conspiracy

Niall Silva and attorney William Harrison

Disturbing allegations have surfaced, indicating a conspiracy among Honolulu police officers to try to frame a man who was embroiled in a financial battle with the police chief and his wife.

Retired officer Niall Silva is the first Honolulu police officer to strike a plea deal alleging a cover-up.

Details were revealed in federal court Friday, laying out a sordid tale connected to a 2013 mailbox theft at the former home of Chief Louis Kealoha and his wife, Katherine, a city deputy prosecutor.

Silva pleaded guilty to felony conspiracy — accused of falsifying records, obstructing an official proceeding, and making false statements — and implicated other officers in a conspiracy to frame Gerard Puana, Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, for theft.

Puana was tried in federal court, accused of stealing the mailbox outside the Kealohas’ home. The case ended in a mistrial, but court records released Friday show that the cover-up continued even after the trial ended.

View the plea agreement in its entirety here.

The incident was supposedly recorded onto a hard drive from the home’s security camera.

Court documents say that a person identified as co-conspirator #1 falsely claimed that her mailbox had been stolen in order to frame and discredit Gerard Puana. While records don’t name her as Katherine Kealoha, documents say co-conspirator #1 reported the theft. In the past, Katherine Kealoha has told us that she reported the theft.

Court documents also say an HPD officer changed the hard drive the day before the theft was even reported. That officer then reviewed the hard drive with Silva and falsely identified Puana as the suspect. Documents say Silva took portions from the hard drive and falsely presented those as evidence.

“Unfortunately, Mr. Silva made a very regrettable decision to sign off on some documents presented to him by other police officers. Those documents were false. He then made the next regrettable decision in continuing that falsehood with the court and a grand jury,” said Silva’s attorney, William Harrison. “But today, he’s taken full responsibility for what he did, and it’s a very courageous decision on his part. And after this, he just hopes to put his life together and to go on with this matter.”

Court records also show that even after the trial, Silva again provided U.S. Postal Service inspectors with false information to cover up the conspiracy.

Puana’s attorney, Alexander Silvert, tells us his client has been vindicated, but there are a total of four co-conspirators in the case, and he says some of them are still in the police department.

“It’s telling the rest of the conspirators in this case that we have this evidence,” Silvert said. “We already have one individual that we have come forward, and that this is serious, and this is going to happen.”

The Honolulu Police Department released the following statement Friday:

“We are very disappointed to learn of the allegations.  We hold our officers to a higher standard and expect them to be truthful at all times.  If and when it is confirmed that other officers were involved, the appropriate actions will be taken.”

Silva will be sentenced April 3, 2017. He faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Kealohas’ attorney responds to the allegations, plus what it could mean for Honolulu’s chief of police

What are the implications for the chief of police? Some say the focus of the investigation appears to be shifting. What’s not in Friday’s plea deal has some saying Louis Kealoha may be able to breathe easier for now.

But just how high in HPD the alleged conspiracy goes and how many will turn for the federal prosecutor remains to be seen.

When asked if the Kealohas framed their uncle, the Kealohas’ attorney, Myles Breiner, said, “That’s ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous.”

Asked the same question earlier this year, the Kealohas told Always Investigating in an April 2016 interview:

“No, absolutely not,” Louis Kealoha said. “We would never do something like that.”

“It throws around a lot of facts that people are like ‘woo’ but there is no substance,” Katherine Kealoha said.

“If we did that, a police officer did that, I tell you what — we have difficulty keeping secrets,” Louis Kealoha added. “This would be out in the public. If more than two people know about it, game over.

“If any of that was true,” the chief continued, “we’d have cops coming out and saying yes, because the cops who work in this unit are the same ones that will have no problem going to the FBI when they see something wrong with another officer, and they’ve done it in the past.”

Always Investigating asked after Friday’s plea deal: Isn’t this an officer coming forward to say, yes, this happened?

“I don’t know what kind of leverage (U.S. Attorney special prosecutor Michael) Wheat has on Mr. Silva or what type of deal he worked out for Mr. Silva,” Breiner said.

But if Silva did nothing wrong, why would he need a plea agreement?

“That’s an interesting question,” Breiner said. “I don’t know what Mr. Silva did and I don’t know what the government has over Mr. Silva’s head.

“As far as the chief is concerned,” Breiner added, “there is nothing in this document, nothing regarding Mr. Silva, that implicates the chief in any improper conduct, so there is no reason for the chief to resign or step down whatsoever. Apparently the focus of his investigation has at least temporarily moved toward or pivoted toward Katherine Kealoha and away from her husband, the chief of police.”

It’s a pivot not lost on police commissioners, who have been outspoken in their criticism of the chief.

“It’s really troubling when allegations of misconduct are made and he’s (Chief Kealoha’s) still supervising those officers,” said Honolulu police commissioner Loretta Sheehan. “However I will say the information does not indicate that the chief of police is involved.”

Always Investigating asked, because many of the other alleged conspirators work for, or are related to, the chief of police, wouldn’t their conduct reflect on him whether he was directly telling them to do it, or simply looked the other way?

“Well, certainly the media is going to want to push that story, that narrative, that ‘Gee, the chief must have known, should have known. If he didn’t know, something’s wrong,’” Breiner said. “I’m certain in this document Mr. Wheat would have loved to have had someone implicate the chief, or perhaps it’s an example of police officers protecting other police officers, and it’s easier to throw a civilian albeit the chief’s wife under the bus to curry favor with the prosecutor.”

What of city prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, Katherine Kealoha’s boss, and what appears to be a building case against his employee? He said in a statement:

“The law of conspiracy is an agreement between 2 or more to commit a crime. The fact that only one person was charged by a complaint filed by the Assistant U.S. Attorney and not by a grand jury indictment indicates that there was not enough evidence of a conspiracy. If there was enough evidence of a conspiracy more than one person would have been charged.

The fact that he pled to an obstruction of justice charge indicates that he is not involved in a conspiracy therefore the allegations have nothing to do with Kathy Kealoha and I don’t proceed on allegations. There is no evidence presented that Kathy Kealoha committed a crime.”

“As far as Katherine Kealoha, her job has not been jeopardized,” Breiner said. “I understand Mr. Kaneshiro has not asked her to resign or to step down or remove herself from any of the cases she is involved in,” even since the Silva plea.

Always Investigating asked, does that ground grow more tenuous as things like the Silva deal come out?

“This is death by a thousand cuts,” Breiner said, “a tactic by the U.S. Attorney’s office to beat the grass, so to speak, or shake the tree. It’s also very effective in sending a message to other officers, ‘Come and see me now before it’s too late.’ He managed to compel Mr. Silva to fall on the sword and claim today that he’s telling the truth.

“He’s an admitted liar,” Breiner said of Silva. “When do we believe Silva? Do we believe him when he testified under oath in the original (Gerard) Puana trial that he was telling the truth, whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Or now when he’s facing criminal charges that he’s now going to tell the truth? Not only has he alienated himself from other officers, he has placed a sword on his neck — or I should say the government has — saying you either come through or else. That’s something a jury ordinarily doesn’t like, when they see someone who initially testified on behalf of the targets in this case and then turned around when his feet were put to the fire and said, ‘I guess I lied and I feel so bad about that.’”

Breiner says his clients are innocent and that they look forward to being exonerated in open court, if it comes to that.

“Assuming that ‘co-conspirator 1’ (in the federal court filing) is Katherine Kealoha, the only thing this document alleges is she made a call 911,” Breiner said, “and the implication is the timing of the call. People call 911 all different times.”

Breiner anticipates more charges are ahead.

“I suspect it’s going to be sometime either the end of year, the beginning of the year, but the basis of that,” Breiner said, holding up the federal charges against Silva, “(is) the tenor of today.”

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