Long-awaited murder charges in the 2016 disappearance of a 23-year-old Hawaii Kai man finally were revealed with the arrest of a not-so-surprising suspect.
Federal agents, in an early morning raid Wednesday, arrested Michael Miske Jr., 46, at his Kailua home and arrested seven other associates named in a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday, in what U.S. Attorney Kenji Price of the District of Hawaii called a “sprawling organized crime investigation.”
The indictment names 11 men, including Miske, charging all but one with racketeering activity, and some with murder, kidnapping, arson and robbery among numerous charges. Federal authorities say agents discovered the murder suspect allegedly had been running an extensive criminal organization on Oahu patterned after traditional big city, Mafia-like gangsters.
Price said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon at the federal building in Honolulu that the organization has “wreaked havoc in our community for years,” and that charges “strike a blow to organized crime in Hawaii and they pave the way for justice that’s long overdue.”
The group operated since at least the late 1990s. The indictment filed June 18 in federal court does not name eight others, part of a sprawling federal investigation, who will be receiving target or subject letters, Price said.
On why it took so long to bring forth murder charges in the death of Johnathan Fraser, Price said, “I can tell you our law enforcement team and our prosecutorial team worked diligently on this matter and we pursued these charges at the time that we felt appropriate.”
Price did not offer a motive, saying the investigation is ongoing.
Sam Miranda, FBI special agent in charge of the Honolulu Field Office said: “The Miske criminal enterprise was identified several years ago by the FBI along with federal and local partners, who have worked tirelessly to stop it. Investigations into sophisticated criminal organizations like this one take time and patience.”
He said the term “organized crime” elicits images of the Mafia and gangsters in New York and Chicago.
“The Miske criminal enterprise did model itself after these organizations and it shared a traditional structure, which consisted of criminal conspiracy, fear, intimidation, corruption and greed,” Miranda said. “Like those big city organized crime groups, the Miske criminal enterprise had a structure in which Michael Miske was the head of it.
“He accumulated capital, wealth and operated several legitimate businesses on the island of Oahu, but under the thin veil of propriety. The most common characteristic of Miske’s businesses was the use of violence in order to further the criminal enterprise.
“Members and associates of the Miske Enterprise operated under Michael Miske’s direction and his protection. For years he used the power he wielded over them, his reputation for violence and various businesses he controlled to enrich members of the Miske Enterprise and protect their criminal activities.”
The organization used businesses to promote its criminal objectives, including Kamaaina Termite & Pest Control, Kamaaina Holdings, Hawaii Partners, Kamaaina Plumbing and Home Renovations, Kamaaina Home Renovations, Makana Pacific Development, and the Encore Nightclub formerly known as M Nightclub.
“Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control is particularly noteworthy because of its extensive involvement” in the criminal activities, Price said.
It served as planning headquarters for laundering illicit proceeds, and provided “phony employment of those whose work consisted of violent acts and fraudulent activity,” Price said. “The strong-arm tactics used by the Miske Enterprise would benefit Kamaaina Termite’s legitimate work.”
“Miske Enterprise used violence and the threat of violence to silence Kamaaina Termite’s customers who dared complain about sloppy service, business competitors and government regulators who pointed out its disregard for the law,” Price said.
The crime organization used fear and intimidation, assaulting anyone who dared to jeopardize its activities, and used tracking devices on anyone viewed as a threat, Price said.
The indictment alleges Miske, John Stancil and Kaulana Freitas conspired to use chloropicrin, a toxic chemical, as a chemical weapon, and released the chemical into two Honolulu nightclubs.
They allegedly made money through fraud, extortion, tax evasion, drug trafficking, money laundering and illegal structuring of cash transactions, Price said.
They also blatantly violated environmental rules and regulations, according to Price.
Price said that if convicted, Miske could face the death penalty, although only the U.S. Attorney General would be able to authorize that.
Miske’s defense lawyer, Thomas Otake, said his client is innocent of the charges and objected to Price’s suggestion of the death penalty.
According to the federal complaint, Miske and others “did willfully, intentionally, and knowingly combine, conspire, confederate, and agree together and with each other and others to murder Johnathan Fraser.”
The alleged kidnapping occurred July 30, 2016.
Federal prosecutors allege Miske offered thousands of dollars to four people to kill Fraser. In the complaint, authorities alleged he arranged to purchase a Boston Whaler boat in June 2016 to be used to dump “Fraser’s body into the ocean after Fraser was kidnapped and killed.”
The indictment also alleges the defendants used “various techniques to avoid law enforcement scrutiny of the Miske Enterprise’s criminal activities” that include threats and intimidation against potential witnesses.
Those named in the indictment are Stancil, Freitas, Lance Bermudez, Dae Han Moon, Preston Kimoto, Harry Kauhi, Norman Akau III, Hunter Wilson, Jarrin Young and Michael Buntenbah.
Moon was convicted of second-degree murder and firearms charges in the Christmas Day shooting of 20-year-old Stevie Feliciano at Ala Moana Center in 2016. Bermudez was also convicted of hindering prosecution in that case.
All others, except for Akau, were arrested Wednesday.
Price acknowledged the numerous federal, state and local agencies involved in the years of work that led up to the indictment.
Tom Murdock, special agent in charge of the Seattle office of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation, said, “Oftentimes it’s the financial investigation that really shows the true and complete picture of what the entity is doing,” “going all the way back to the Al Capone investigation.”
“Following the money, determining illegal profits from many varied fraudulent schemes of this enterprise,” took “long hours, painstaking, detailed financial analysis,” he said.
FBI special agents were at a home on Kuuna Street in Kailua throughout Wednesday morning.
Neighbors said they heard a loud siren and authorities speaking through a bullhorn about 5 a.m.
A resident who declined to give her name said she peered out of the window of her home and observed an FBI SWAT vehicle. Approximately 20 minutes later, she heard a “loud bang, ” similar to the sound of a firework.
“It was like watching an episode of ‘Hawaii Five-0,’” she said. Neighbors believe the sound was from a flash-bang stun grenade used by law enforcement in executing a search warrant.
No injuries were reported.
Miske’s son, Caleb-Jordan Keanu Miske-Lee, died in March 2016 from injuries sustained in a November 2015 car crash in Kaneohe.
Miske reportedly blamed the driver of the other vehicle and Fraser for his son’s death in the two-vehicle collision.
Four months after Miske-Lee’s death, family and friends reported Fraser missing.
He was last seen July 30, 2016, at his Hawaii Kai apartment. Investigators found his vehicle a couple of weeks later at a Kuliouou intersection.
Fraser was never found.
Price said the government intends to pursue forfeiture, if it gets a conviction, of properties at 6 Lumahai St. in Portlock, 614 Paokano Loop in Kailua and 559 Kumukahi Place in Hawaii Kai.
Miske grabbed headlines in 2013 when he was charged with second-degree assault for allegedly assaulting Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams at M Nightclub, two days before the Pro Bowl.
Miske also has ties to former Deputy Prosecutor Katherine Kealoha, wife of former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha. The Kealohas were convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice, and she pleaded guilty to bank fraud and a felony count in a drug-related case.
In 2015, the city Department of Prosecuting Attorney hired a Miske company, Kamaaina Plumbing, while it was investigating and prosecuting him for a felony assault and criminal property damage incident, according to an internal email disclosed by Katherine Kealoha that she submitted to block disclosure of her employment record.