Mask rule delays trial for ex-Oahu prosecutor’s brother

HONOLULU — A former high-ranking city prosecutor once took a photo with a line of cocaine on the desk of her husband, then-Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, according to court documents filed in preparation of a drug-dealing trial against her pain physician brother.

Dr. Rudolph Puana’s trial was scheduled for September, but lawyers on the case agreed Wednesday to postpone it to December because of concerns that jurors would have to wear masks. Is it unclear when Hawaii will lift its indoor mask mandate, which remains in place to protect against the spread of the coronavirus.

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Clint Broden, Puana’s attorney, said in an email after the hearing that while he supports state-issued mask mandates, most federal courts are allowing face shields during the jury selection process because “facial expressions are so important” in putting together a fair panel.

According to federal prosecutors, the Big Island doctor prescribed drugs to nearly 1,000 patients between 2012 and 2017. Twenty-one of them received 30-milligram oxycodone pills, but a “staggering number” of those pills went to just two patients, prosecutors said.

“As might be expected, those two individuals shared a common feature — but it was not a debilitating health condition requiring constant opioid treatment. Rather, they were Puana’s close friends,” prosecutors said in a motion asking to introduce certain evidence at trial, including Puana’s off-the-books notebook of prescriptions.

The friends sold the pills to earn easy cash, some of it funding cocaine parties with Puana, prosecutors said. Puana told the wife of one friend that she could sell the pills to pay for tuition at the pricey Big Island private school that the children of Puana and the friend attended, prosecutors said.

Puana’s sister, Katherine Kealoha, pleaded guilty to using her position as a deputy prosecutor to protect him from a drug-dealing investigation. She entered the plea after a jury found her and her now-estranged husband guilty of conspiracy in a separate case alleging they plotted to frame a relative to keep him from revealing fraud that financed their lavish lifestyle.

“Like a dolphin caught in a tuna net, the case against Dr. Puana is based on the fact that his sister is Kathy Kealoha,” Broden said in an email Wednesday. Puana will present a “vigorous defense,” the attorney said, adding that prosecutors’ main witnesses have been spared from prosecution by falsely implicating Puana.

“Puana’s use of controlled substances spiraled to the point of challenging his fellow users to take a photo of themselves using cocaine in an outrageous place,” prosecutors said.

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His sister “won” that challenge, prosecutors said, with the photo on the police chief’s desk. She is serving a 13-year prison sentence, and her court-appointed attorney declined to comment on the picture.

Louis Kealoha agreed to retire as police chief in 2017 amid the federal investigation. He’s serving a seven-year sentence.

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