Your Cookies are Disabled! NationalNotary.org sets cookies on your computer to help improve performance and provide a more engaging user experience. By using this site, you accept the terms of our cookie policy. Learn more.

The Great Hawaii Notary Frame-Up

Honolulu-police-resized.jpg

(Originally published in the November 2019 issue of The National Notary magazine.)

As a former deputy prosecutor with the city and county of Honolulu, Katherine Kealoha’s job was to uphold the law, protect the innocent and enforce justice. Instead, authorities say she abused her power and connections to frame an innocent man for a crime and protect herself. The case involves extraordinary greed, broken trust, a convoluted plot to steal money — and a fake Notary named Alison Lee Wong who became an accomplice in a web of deceptions going back more than a decade, according to court documents.

The Notary signature and stamp are intended to prevent fraud and corruption, but in Kealoha’s hands, they were powerful tools that helped her “deceive her way through” several different financial schemes, documents show. The trusted public servant who had portrayed herself as a pillar of the community went to extraordinary lengths to protect her reputation and keep the truth from coming out — even to the extent of inventing a Notary, according to documents introducing evidence for Kealoha’s motive for the crimes.

Kealoha and her husband, Louis Kealoha, former Honolulu police chief, were convicted in June of conspiracy and obstruction for framing her uncle, Gerard Puana, in the theft of a mailbox in a “desperate” move to discredit his claim that she stole money from him and his mother. Both now face lengthy prison sentences and hefty fines. Evidence was submitted during the trial of prior financial fraud and distress, which showed Kealoha had been using Wong as an alias for everything from bogus recommendation letters to notarizations on a variety of documents. “The Kealohas’ extraordinary greed inspired astonishing corruption,” said Robert Brewer, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California. “These two were supposed to be the good guys. They were supposed to enforce the law — not break it. Instead, they broke the community’s faith in a monumental way.”

Birth Of A Notary

The case began back in 2009 when Kealoha inserted herself into some family business in a ploy to enrich herself, authorities said. Her grandmother, Florence Puana, wanted to help her son, Gerard, buy a condominium, but he lacked credit. Kealoha rigged up a convoluted five-step solution: Florence would obtain a reverse mortgage; Katherine would use the proceeds to buy the condo outright; Katherine and her husband would use the remaining funds to consolidate their debts and improve their credit; the Kealohas would obtain a mortgage on the condo and Gerard would make payments to them; and the Kealohas would repay the reverse mortgage, according to prosecutors.

Kealoha also created a trust in Gerard’s name without his knowledge and made herself trustee. The condo was transferred to this trust at the close of escrow. “There is great reason to mistrust this document: the alleged Notary was Alison Lee Wong,” court records noted.

Wong had been an alias of Kealoha’s for years, and showed up, via email and never in person, at various times to corroborate Kealoha’s stories and notarize documents, records show. At the trial, a forensic document examiner testified that he was certain Gerard Puana didn’t sign the trust document and said the Notary’s signature was similar to Kealoha’s own handwriting, according to media reports. Kealoha has always maintained that Wong is real, though there’s no evidence such a person exists in the state as a Notary.

Wong, prosecutors said, was another example of Kealoha using various means to cover her tracks, but eventually, the situation caught up with her because she didn’t make good on her promises to her family: She spent all the proceeds of the reverse mortgage within six months; she never obtained the mortgage on the condo although she collected mortgage payments from Gerard; and she did not repay the reverse mortgage. Florence and Gerard eventually discovered the loan wasn’t being paid and confronted Katherine.

A Family Battle And Tarnished Reputation

Florence and Gerard filed a civil lawsuit against Kealoha, but Kealoha was incensed.

“I have never, will never or would never borrow, take or even request to borrow any money from Florence Puana!” she wrote the pair in a letter, according to court records. “I WILL seek the highest form of legal retribution against ANYONE and EVERYONE who has written or verbally uttered these LIES about me! They will rue the day that they decided to state these TWISTED LIES!”

Kealoha, who once worked in a division of the prosecutor’s office that sought justice for victims of sex crimes, initiated a solution authorities nicknamed “Silence the TruthTeller.” Along with her husband and two police officers from Honolulu’s elite Criminal Intelligence Unit, she hatched a plot to steal her own mailbox and frame Gerard in a bid to discredit him, records show.

The theft case ultimately resulted in a mistrial, and that mistrial led to an FBI investigation into whether Gerard’s civil rights were violated. The Kealohas and the police officers conspired to obstruct the FBI and grand jury investigations, which led to their indictment, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office.

One of the main concerns driving Kealoha was a need to protect her reputation. She had invested a lot into her public image. She and her husband were the subjects of a magazine cover story published by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs (OHA).

The 2010 article dubbed the Kealohas “native Hawaiians at the top of their game” who were the recipients of an OHA loan that allowed them to pursue their dreams.

“The loan allowed her (Katherine) to get into a private law practice, which then gave me the freedom to pursue my higher education. That’s what set us on our present path. There’s no doubt that if she didn’t get that loan, neither of us would be where we are today,” Louis Kealoha was quoted as saying. 

Louis was referring to the OHA loan, but just the year prior in 2009, the couple had concocted the reverse mortgage scheme, a loan that put them on a much different path than they likely expected.

A decade later, the couple face a second trial, scheduled to start in October, on charges of bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and obstruction in connection with the alleged theft of an inheritance. Katherine Kealoha faces additional charges on allegations she and her brother trafficked in opioids and she used her position as a deputy prosecutor to hide it.

There was a time when Katherine said she longed for a slower pace and to return to her origins as a “country girl.” 

“Maybe one day when we retire,” she said in the OHA article. “Then I can have that paddleboard right there in the front yard, on the sand, and I can just paddle off.” 

It may be a while before she can make that dream come true.

 

1 Comment

Add your comment

Cal Laing

02 Dec 2019

WOWWWWW.

Leave a Comment

Required *

All comments are reviewed and if approved, will display.