Law enforcement scandal ended by 99-year-old’s stirring courtroom testimony

Florence Puana at her deposition

Last week, I told you about Florence Puana — the 99-year-old woman who ended Honolulu’s biggest law enforcement scandal ever. Puana, you might recall, moved to Hawaii right before the Pearl Harbor attacks, raised nine children there, and lived to see her 100th birthday. She also lived to see her abuser convicted of conspiracy.

Today, you’ll hear directly from Florence.

Her niece, Katherine Kealoha, was a powerful prosecutor in town, and married to the police chief, Louis Kealoha. Together, this power couple persuaded Florence to take out a reverse mortgage on her home and used that money to fund a lavish lifestyle — including a $24,000 luncheon to celebrate Louis being named police chief.

What happens next is a story that can’t be told in a few thousand words on a blog post. You have to hear it. Today’s conclusion of this two-part series includes extensive sections of Florence’s deposition — you get to hear her describe how she trusted her niece, and how that trust was so badly abused. You’ll also hear from her son Gerard, who was framed by the police department for a crime he did not commit, all in an effort to hide the conspiracy. As Gerard and Florence face off against Katherine and Louis in a Hawaii courtroom, I think you’ll feel just a little bit of your faith in humanity restored. Click this link or click play below to hear the conclusion on “Honolulu’s Power Couple.”



[00:15:17] Bob: The case is no slam dunk. After all, in a small place where everyone knows everyone, everyone seems related to everyone, it might not go well. Two more years go by and the sides dig in. When the trial finally arrives, the jury hears from 70 witnesses, including Gerard Puana, twice. But the most important witness is Florence Puana, the family matriarch. Now 99 and recovering from a heart procedure, she’s too sick to attend the trial in person. But the judge allows her to testify by video deposition, an unusual step in a criminal case. This is what the jury hears:

[00:15:57] (deposition)

Q: Let’s talk now about the reverse mortgage finalizing, okay?

Florence Puana: Yes.

Q: So in October of 2009, did the reverse mortgage finalize?

Florence Puana: It was at the Central Pacific Bank, I think. We went to Central Pacific Loan Bank, and we had it finalized.

Q: And how much money approximately did you get from the reverse mortgage?

Florence Puana: I did not get any money.

Q: So you didn’t ever see any of that money.

Florence Puana: No, I did not.

Q: Mrs. Puana, directing your attention to the bottom of the page…

Florence Puana: Yes.

Q: …where it talks about the balance of the loan, okay, was the balance of the loan going up or down?

Florence Puana: Up. It was going way up.

[00:16:49] Bob: The deposition takes almost all day. There’s more than four hours of video statements. It would be grueling for anyone, let alone a 99-year-old recovering from surgery. Lawyers for the Kealohas tried to trip her up.

Q: Is it your testimony that you did not know you could pick up your mail by showing your ID?

Florence Puana: Yes, but you, don’t you have to have a key to get into the mailbox? I didn’t have a key.

Q: But ma’am, you, did you know that you could have picked up your mail by just showing your ID even if you didn’t have a key.

Interjection: Objection, asked and answered, badgering the witness.

Florence Puana: I did not know anything.

Q: Okay, okay.

Florence Puana: I did not know.

[00:17:27] Bob: In the end, her testimony is devastating. Some parts of it are painful to hear.

Q: After you got those bank statements, did you learn what happened to your money?

Florence Puana: I did.

Q: And what happened to your money?

Florence Puana: She spent it all.

Q: Who is she?

Florence Puana: Katherine.

Q: Katherine Kealoha?

Florence Puana: She spent it all.

Q: I’m referring now to the statement period, December 31st to January 31st, 2009 to 2010. This is the bank’s number of ending 24 in Government’s Exhibit 1-13. Mrs. Puana, there’s a purchase reflected on this page of $23,976.69 at the Sheraton Waikiki. Did you spend over $23,000 at the Sheraton Waikiki?

Florence Puana: No, I didn’t.

Q: Do you know who did?

Florence Puana: Katherine did. That was for her husband’s breakfast.

Q: If Katherine Kealoha had come to you and said, “Grandma, I want to spend $23,976.69 at the Sheraton Waikiki, would you have let her?

Florence Puana: I wouldn’t have, because I, I didn’t have that kind of money.

Q:        Now, did you have a close relationship with Katherine as she was growing up?

Florence Puana: Yes, I did.

Q: How would you describe your relationship?

Florence Puana: She was a lovely, loving, gentle person. And I trusted her.

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About Bob Sullivan 1508 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.

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