HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Alleged organized crime boss Michael Miske pleaded not guilty Thursday to 17 felony charges, including murder-for-hire, as federal prosecutors seek to argue that he poses a “grave danger” to the community and should remain in custody as he awaits trial.
In a telephonic hearing Thursday, that trial was set for September.
Miske said little at the hearing beyond responding to the judge’s questions with short answers.
When asked by Judge Kenneth Mansfield if he understood the allegations against him, he said: “Yes, your honor.”
A separate hearing on whether Miske should be granted bond is set for Tuesday.
In a 27-page motion to detain Miske until trial, prosecutors note that Miske faces three of the 17 charges he faces could carry the death penalty.
They also said he has access to “vast financial resources” and poses a significant flight risk.
Authorities say that a review of Miske’s financial transactions show he spent about $15 million from 2010 to 2017 on major expenditures, including on homes, pricey cars and art.
For years, prosecutors say, Miske was the “unquestioned leader” of a racketeering enterprise that “routinely committed violent crimes and assaults and used threats and intimidation” to get away with them. Miske owns Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control and several other businesses, and federal authorities say he may try to argue “this position should weigh in favor of a pretrial release.”
Miske was arrested Wednesday morning at an Enchanted Lake home after authorities executed raids across Oahu as part of a 22-count indictment that also named 10 other alleged co-conspirators.
Together, they face an outrageous list of charges linked to what federal authorities called the “Miske Enterprise” ― and which Hawaii U.S. Attorney Kenji Price described as a group of criminal associates that’s “wreaked havoc” on Oahu for years as they sought to enrich themselves through illicit means and punish those who crossed them.
The court documents say nothing demonstrates Miske’s penchant for violence more than his “meticulously planned and premeditated abduction, kidnapping and murder of Johnathan Fraser in July 2016,” the documents describe that as retribution. Fraser was in a car accident with Miske’s son. Fraser survived, but the son didn’t.
The motion to detain says Miske “provided Fraser a place to live where Miske could keep tabs on him in the days leading up to the murder”.
Miske is also accused of purchasing a $425,000 Boston Whaler, named the Painkiller, to dispose of Fraser’s body.
The government also wants the others in the alleged organized crime ring to be held without bond adding that they loyally carried out Miske’s orders.
Price said the arrests “strike a blow to organized crime in Hawaii and they pave a way for justice that is long overdue.”
But Miske’s defense attorney, Tommy Otake, said the government doesn’t have a strong case.
“You can indict almost anything, proving it in court is an entirely different situation,” Otake told Hawaii News Now. “It’s easy to say things at a press conference not so easy to prove things.”
Miske was taken to the federal detention center after his arrest Wednesday along with eight other defendants. Two of the defendants are already in state custody.
The last defendant who was wanted, Norman Akau III, turned himself in on Wednesday night.
In addition to Miske, several other defendants indicted also pleaded not guilty in a federal hearing by phone Thursday.
Meanwhile, target or subject letters have been issued to eight others in connection with the investigation, indicating that more arrests and charges are likely.
Price described the investigation into Miske as “sprawling,” and said it involved poring over financial documents and tracking the digital footprints of the businessman and his associates, who used encrypted messaging or met in person to shield their plans from investigators.
When federal authorities were finally ready to execute raids on the alleged organized crime boss, the FBI flew in dozens of agents from Quantico to assist.
The indictment in the case was unsealed Wednesday morning and alleges Miske used a legitimate business ― Kamaaina Termite ― as a “headquarters” for planning criminal activities, laundering the proceeds of those crimes and fraudulently “employing” individuals engaged in acts of violence.
Federal authorities say Miske “instructed a co-conspirator ... to develop a plan for kidnapping and murdering Jonathan Fraser,” saying the associate could “name the price for carrying out the murder.” Then, around June 2016, the businessman allegedly bought a boat “that could be used to dump Fraser’s body into the ocean after Fraser was kidnapped and killed.” Fraser’s body was never found.
Miske’s enterprise, federal authorities say, was also involved in a laundry list of other illegal activities, some going back decades, from “various forms of fraud” to “fraudulent fumigation practices” to employment tax evasion schemes, extortion, robbery, money laundering, and drug trafficking.
The indictment even alleges Miske and several associates released a chemical weapon ― namely, chloropicrin ― into two different nightclubs in Honolulu. HNN has learned the chemical was used on a dance floor, conceivably to disperse anyone there.
Chlorpicrin is an insecticide, and is dangerous to inhale at high levels.
Price also said that even though Kamaaina Termite was a legitimate company, it was involved in fraudulent practices and even intimidated and sought to silence customers who complained about “slipshod” work. When the state Agriculture Department investigated the company, Miske and his associates allegedly used fraudulent documents to “frustrate” and impede their inquiries.
“When people hear the term ‘organized crime,' many times they think back to the mafia, gangsters in big cities like New York or Chicago,” said Sam Miranda, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Honolulu field office.
“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.”
Among the other allegations federal authorities outlined:
- In 2016, Miske and two other associates are accused of conspiring to commit a murder-for-hire against someone he suspected of cooperating with law enforcement;
- A year later, Miske and another defendant assaulted and tried to kill another victim;
- From the late 1990s to 2018, Miske and others “conspired to commit assaults in aid of racketeering” or extortion;
- In several instances, Miske’s associates are accused of robbing victims at gunpoint.
In addition to Miske, who is 46, those charged in the indictment are: John B. Stancil, 32; Kaulana Freitas, 32; Lance L. Bermudez, 29; Dae Han Moon, 24; Preston M. Kimoto, 41; Michael Buntenbah, 48; Harry K. Kauhi, 47; Norman Akau III, 47; Hunter J. Wilson, 26 and Jarrin K. Young, 26.
Moon and Bermudez were already in state custody for a 2016 murder at Ala Moana Center.
Several of the federal charges carry maximum sentences of 20 to 30 years behind bars.
But the murder in the aid of racketeering and the murder-for-hire charges carry mandatory minimum sentences of life behind bars. Those charges also carry the potential of the death penalty.
This story will be updated.