Two Honolulu police officers told a jury Thursday that they saw Honolulu Assistant District Attorney Katherine Kealoha insert herself into an investigation involving her brother, who is on trial for allegedly running a prescription drug ring.
The testimony came on the third day of the federal criminal trial in U.S. District Court in Honolulu against Rudolph Puana, a Big Island anesthesiologist charged with writing opioid prescriptions for his friends to sell or trade cocaine.
Kealoha is serving a 13-year sentence in federal prison in California on corruption charges involving Puana and Kealoha’s ex-husband, former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha. However, she is on the list of prosecution witnesses and is expected to testify in the coming days.
Katherine Kealoha has previously pleaded guilty to helping her brother avoid prosecution in the drug case. Witnesses said Thursday that the then assistant district attorney was so involved that she showed up in person during a 2015 drug raid as part of the investigation.
“I have never seen a prosecutor show up at the scene of a law enforcement activity,” Sgt. HPD said. Grant Jhun, a narcotics officer and vice officer, told the court.
Puana was indicted in September 2019 on charges of health care fraud, unlawful possession of a firearm and conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and fentanyl, although he pleaded guilty. to the lone firearm charge the day before his trial began.
The day began with testimony from Puana’s childhood friend and well-known local writer, Christopher McKinney, who said he would sell oxycodone pills prescribed by Puana for $15 each. McKinney said he would also get cocaine from Tiffany Masunaga, who was dating HPD officer Alan Ahn, and brought Masunaga fentanyl patches given to him by Puana in 2015.
McKinney, who signed an immunity deal with prosecutors in exchange for his testimony, said he believed Puana knew he brought the fentanyl patches to Masunaga, but said Puana gave him no indication of what to do with the opioid patches.
These fentanyl patches were later reportedly found during a raid on Masunaga’s home on August 12, 2015, following an investigation that began with a tip Puana gave HPD Sgt. Daniel Sellers.
Sellers pleaded guilty in 2019 to federal charges for helping Kealoha and her then-police chief husband charge a family member with stealing their mailbox in a separate case.
Sellers said he first met Rudolph Puana and Christopher McKinney when he dated Kealoha during their school years.
He then rekindled his relationship with Puana in 2015 after meeting him and McKinney while celebrating the launch of a collaborative book, “The Red-Headed Hawaiian,” which was about Puana’s life.
In July 2015, Sellers said he had dinner with Puana, who eventually told him that Masunaga was selling drugs at her Waiola Street home where she lived with Ahn.
Sellers said he later informed Katherine Kealoha that her brother had substance abuse issues and told her about McKinney, Ahn and Masunaga.
Salespeople said he then arranged a meeting with Puana and McKinney to corroborate the tip, but was surprised to see Kealoha was also there. “Despite his attendance, we continued to have this meeting,” Sellers said. “I just thought she was called because she was the older sister.”
Sellers said he then met with a supervisor and Kealoha and decided to investigate Masunaga and Ahn. He added that they decided to have a prosecutor there to speed up the process, but he didn’t think the prosecutor would be Kealoha because of his senior level.
Jhun said he was told he would work with the vendors and that the vendors had a confidential informant, although Jhun was never told the identity of the informant. Jhun added that neither McKinney nor Puana’s name was ever mentioned during the initial investigation.
“We followed Alan Ahn with Tiffany Masunaga around town and observed drug dealings,” Jhun said.
Meanwhile, Sellers and the Criminal Investigations Division were doing the same until they witnessed what they believed to be a drug transaction outside Masunaga’s home in August 2015.
Police arrested the man and found cocaine in the paper bag, then persuaded him to cooperate with the investigation, Jhun and Sellers said.
Sellers said they told Kealoha it would be good for a prosecutor to come to the scene to offer the driver immunity. “I didn’t think it would be her,” Sellers told the jury.
Jhun testified that he was also struck by Kealoha’s presence at the scene when he arrived.
The cooperating witness rode in the backseat of a vehicle with Kealoha. Sellers was in the driver’s seat but said he got out after a few minutes, leaving Kealoha alone with the man.
Hours later, a SWAT team descended on Masunaga’s home, where police found cocaine, prescription pills and more than 100 fentanyl patches.
Kealoha also showed up at this scene, which Jhun told the jury he found odd.
The investigation stalled after the raid, according to Jhun. He testified that he then learned that Kealoha, Masunaga, and Masunaga’s attorney, Myles Breiner, were holding meetings without HPD agents present.
“At some point I got a call from Katherine Kealoha asking if I was busy,” Jhun said. “I said no, (and she said) ‘I have something to give you.’
Kealoha then met Jhun and gave him what he recognized as a transcript of one of the meetings, and he noticed something odd at the end of the document.
“The transcript showed that Tiffany Masunaga and Kat Kealoha knew each other,” Jhun said, adding that he was instructed to step down and stop working on the investigation shortly thereafter.
Sellers also said his involvement in the case ended around the end of 2015.
Masunaga would ultimately avoid conviction on numerous drug charges. Ahn did not contest and was sentenced to 60 days in jail and four years probation.
The trial against Puana was to resume Friday morning.