HONOLULU – A man acknowledged in court Friday that a deputy Honolulu prosecutor who controlled his childhood trust fund convinced him to lie to a grand jury about what happened to his money.
Ransen Taito pleaded guilty to a felony conspiracy charge accusing him of impeding a federal corruption investigation into the prosecutor, Katherine Kealoha, and her retired police chief husband Louis Kealoha.
The investigation resulted in an indictment against the Kealohas in October, including allegations that they orchestrated the framing of a relative. The indictment also alleged that Katherine Kealoha depleted trust funds of Taito and his sister and used the money for herself.
In 2004, when Katherine Kealoha was in private practice, she was appointed trustee of the funds totaling more than $167,000 for then-12-year-old Taito and his then 10-year-old sister.
Taito, now 26, said he agreed to lie to the grand jury in 2016 that Katherine Kealoha gave him his entire trust fund, nearly $84,000, before he turned 18, because she threatened that if he told the truth, his mother would go back to jail. Kealoha lied to him that she gave the money to his mother, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Wheat, a special prosecutor from San Diego handling the case.
Kealoha coached him about what to say to the grand jury and made him sign false documents in various colors of ink — to make it look like he had received sums of money over the years, Wheat said.
“That was my lawyer … anything she asked me to sign, I assumed was for the greater good” of his family and himself, Taito said.
One of those documents said “Aunty Kat” gave Taito $2,000 at some point, Wheat said. The Taito siblings aren’t related to Kealoha, they called her “aunty,” their grandmother Marlene Drew has said, out of trust and respect, as is common in Hawaii.
The Taito siblings received the money from a medical malpractice settlement their father won before he died, their grandmother, Drew said.
By pleading guilty, Taito agrees to cooperate in the ongoing investigation into the Kealohas. Four current and former officers have also been indicted. The Kealohas and their co-defendants have pleaded not guilty.
Cynthia Kagiwada, Katherine Kealoha’s attorney, hasn’t commented on the allegations raised in Taito’s case.
The Taito siblings received a combined total of about $24,000 from their trust accounts, said Taito’s attorney, Michael Green. It’s not clear if they’ll ever be able to get their money back. The Kealohas have taxpayer-funded attorneys after a judge determined they can’t afford to pay for their defense.
Prosecutors say the couple also bilked others, including Katherine’s grandmother, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to spend on their lavish lifestyle and then conspired with the officers to frame a relative to discredit him in a family financial dispute that threatened to reveal the scheme.
Taito faces up to five years in prison, but Green said he doesn’t expect him to receive any time behind bars because prosecutors also consider him a victim.