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Ex-officer testifies he lied about chief’s mailbox theft

May 29, 2019
FILE - In this March 4, 2019 file photo, retired Honolulu police chief Louis Kealoha, and his wife, former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, walk into the U.S. courthouse in Honolulu. Retired Honolulu police officer Niall Silva testified Tuesday, May 28, 2019, that he conspired with a lieutenant and another officer to lie about evidence regarding a mailbox reported stolen from the former chief's home. The Kealohas and former and current officers are on trial on allegations they conspired to frame a man for stealing the couple's home mailbox to hide fraud that financed the Kealohas' lavish lifestyle. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, File)

HONOLULU (AP) — A retired Honolulu police officer testified Tuesday that he lied about evidence regarding a mailbox reported stolen from a former chief’s home.

Niall Silva is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty to conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements. He testified in the trial against ex-chief Louis Kealoha, his wife and current and former officers. They’re accused of conspiring to frame a Kealoha relative for stealing the couple’s mailbox to keep him from revealing fraud that financed their lavish lifestyle.

Silva, who was a technician in the Criminal Intelligence Unit, said he filed out a report saying he recovered surveillance footage from the Kealoha home on the 2013 morning their mailbox was reported stolen. But what really happened is that Lt. Derek Hahn gave it to him at police headquarters and it was Officer Bobby Nguyen who took it from the Kealoha home that morning, Silva said.

The three of them conspired to lie about the evidence, Silva said, because “it wouldn’t look good if Bobby had turned in the evidence because he used to reside with the chief.” Nguyen was married to Katherine Kealoha’s niece and lived in the Kealohas’ pool house, prosecutors said.

The Kealohas, Nguyen and Hahn have pleaded not guilty, along with retired Maj. Gordon Shiraishi, who is also on trial with them.

Silva told the same lie when he testified at the 2014 trial against Gerard Puana, who is Katherine Kealoha’s uncle, for the theft of the mailbox. The trial against Puana abruptly ended in a mistrial after Louis Kealoha gave improper testimony about Puana.

When he testified at that trial, he became upset when he saw Puana, he said. It was the first time he had seen Puana and his “heart sank” because he didn’t look like the person seen in the surveillance footage hoisting the mailbox into a car.

“I was like that is not him in the video cause he was one thick guy, no neck,” Silva said of Puana. The unidentified man in the video was “scrawny,” Silva said.

“Now I’ve perpetuated a lie,” Silva recalled of his 2014 testimony. “And it was against somebody who wasn’t guilty.”

After testifying he texted Nguyen to say that he had stuck with their story, so that they could keep their stories straight, Silva said: “I didn’t want him throwing me under the bus.”

Bank records show that Silva was at a bank conducting personal banking on the morning the mailbox was reported stolen, showing he wasn’t at the Kealohas’ house, said Michael Wheat, a special federal prosecutor. That’s when Silva came clean and agreed to plead guilty and cooperate, Wheat said.

Wheat asked Silva why jurors should believe him now after he lied previously under oath. He doesn’t want to put his family in jeopardy again, Silva said.

Nguyen’s defense attorney, Randy Hironaka, asked Silva if he expects to get anything from prosecutors in exchange for pleading guilty. He said he isn’t expecting anything and could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

“I wanted to come clean and not have to lie anymore,” Silva said.

Jurors earlier Tuesday heard from a mailbox designer who testified that the mailbox reported stolen from the Kealohas’ home was worth only about $150, not $300 as the chief and his wife claimed.

Derrick Dry said he designed the Gibraltar Industries mailbox that was in front of the couple’s home. Katherine Kealoha told authorities her missing mailbox was from a different manufacturer worth more than $300. The mailbox she claimed it was is a higher quality and more expensive than the one Dry designed, he said.

Dry said the mailbox he designed sold for about $150 in 2013, when she reported it missing.

Prosecutors say she inflated the value to make the theft a felony.

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