City's top attorney on paid leave after getting target letter
Two years ago, Leong played a role in the $250,000 payment to Chief Louis Kealoha that led to his retirement.
Honolulu city hall is now tied into the federal probe into former Police Chief Louis Kealoha and former deputy prosecutor Katherine Kealoha. Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced Monday the city's chief legal officer, Donna Leong, is taking a leave of absence with pay after receiving a target letter from investigators.
"I was saddened and yes I was surprised," the mayor said.
The letter from federal investigators arrived January 3rd.
"I understand that it involves the separation agreement with the former chief of police, Louis Kealoha, and monies paid to the chief as part of that agreement," Caldwell said. "I don't know any more than that."
Caldwell did not have further details about how the 250 thousand dollar severance payment or Leong's role related to the Kealoha cases. Leong did have a role in the $250,000 payout to Chief Louis Kealoha that led to his retirement. Kealoha will have to pay that money back if he's found guilty in the upcoming corruption and bank fraud trials.
Our partners at Honolulu Civil Beat report Leong's attorney says the payment was quote "properly authorized and processed," and her client will be exonerated.
UH Law professor Kenneth Lawson also questions why federal authorities are concerned.
"The corporation counsel is not the one negotiating the settlement, so to speak. She works on behalf of the police commission and those that entered into that agreement," he said. "I still can't see from the little bit we've been told why that would be subject to criminal investigation."
Civil Beat also reports the former police commission chair, Max Sword, met with the FBI to answer questions about that payment.
Another piece to a case Lawson says is puzzling.
"It's just so hard to say what this actually means but its not good, that's for damn sure," he said.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said in Leong's absence the first deputy will step in.
He also said his administration is taking the target letter seriously but still believes Leong is innocent until proven guilty.
"My hope is that she can act vigorously to clear her name, but again, you know, you never know," Caldwell said. "I would suggest she talk to the U.S. Attorney's office, perhaps, and others and find that out but I don't know. I don't want to speculate."
He said the reason he waited to make her leave official - and announce it to the public - was so she could secure a lawyer. She now has one.
Leong's letter comes after Honolulu's City Prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro and others in his department received similar letters from investigators. Mayor Caldwell said he is not aware of anyone else in his administration, including himself, who has received letters from investigators.