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Hawaii businessman accused of running drug trade, ordering murders as underworld boss

Prosecutors say a prominent Honolulu businessman headed a sprawling criminal conspiracy, funneling drug money through shell businesses and ordering his minions to torture and kill his late son’s best friend in an elaborate plot for revenge. 

Jury selection for accused racketeering boss Michael Miske Jr.’s federal trial began on Monday; several co-defendants who struck plea deals for testifying and more than 900 witnesses are expected to take the stand in Hawaii, the Honolulu Civil Beat reported. 

Numerous charges have been leveled against the alleged kingpin, including for murder, kidnapping, assault, racketeering, bank fraud, use of a chemical weapon and cocaine distribution. Potential jurors have already raised concerns about the safety of themselves and their families, according to the Honolulu Civil Beat.

The 48-year-old is accused of masterminding a criminal operation, referred to as the “Miske Enterprise” in an indictment, from the late 1990s until his July 2020 arrest in the kidnapping and murder of 21-year-old Jonathan Fraser. 

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Fraser was best friends with Miske’s late son, Caleb Miske, Bloomberg reported. The pair, who loved cars and racing, were in a high-speed crash together in November 2015 – the accused kingpin’s son succumbed to his injuries. Although a police report indicated that Caleb had been driving, according to the outlet, Miske insisted that Fraser was responsible for the death of his only son. 

Miske seemed to be reconsidering his grudge when he moved Fraser and his girlfriend into a home with his late son’s young widow, Bloomberg reported, and provided the 21-year-old with a car to use. 

But Fraser’s girlfriend reported him missing to the Honolulu Police Department on July 30, 2016. Miske did not keep his grudge against his late son’s best friend a secret, and the man’s name came up instantly when they began to investigate, according to Bloomberg. 

From there, Miske’s alleged web of criminal activity came into focus. 

Law enforcement would raid Miske’s home in July 2020, but found no evidence that indicated Fraser’s whereabouts. 

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Miske and 10 codefendants were eventually indicted.

Miske had owned contracting, auto and fishing companies since at least the 1990s. Ads for his extermination business, Kama’aina Termite & Pest Control, aired frequently on Oahu. In addition to residential properties, according to the most recent indictment, he also owned the glitzy M nightclub, later renamed “Encore.”

But the pest control offices served as a “headquarters for criminal activity, the laundering of illicit proceeds and the fraudulent ‘employment’ of individuals whose ‘work’ consisted of engaging in acts of violence of fraud on behalf of the Miske Enterprise,” the indictment said. 

The men allegedly carried guns and used multiple cellphones, encoded communication apps and in-person meetings to avoid detection for decades. 

One person familiar with his fishing operation noted to Bloomberg that although Miske’s fishing boat made regular trips from Hawaii to California and back, it never seemed to be hauling much fish, speculating that he may be transporting something other than seafood. 

In July 2014, according to the indictment, Miske distributed at least 5 kilograms of cocaine. In 2016, Miske and his enterprise allegedly moved at least 500 grams of methamphetamine. The precise quantity of drugs allegedly moved by Miske and his cohorts is uncertain. 

The group would also target and rob competing drug operations in the area, according to the indictment, at one point driving one dealer off the road and stealing a Walmart bag filled with $65,000 of meth by tricking the other dealer with a fake badge one crew member obtained from the set of Hawaii Five-0. 

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Another dealer was pistol whipped by several of Miske’s underlings in an ambush that led the man to “[go] over to Miske’s house to complain,” Bloomberg reported. 

Among the forms of fraud prosecutors accuse Miske and his cohorts of include a cash payroll scheme, fraudulent change orders, phony licensing, fraudulent fumigation practices, bank fraud and even creating false documents, according to the indictment.

In the event of Miske’s arrest, according to the indictment, dozens of false character assessments and other helpful documents were forged and lodged with the man’s attorney to assist his defense. 

Miske’s attorney, Lynn E. Panagakos, could not be reached for comment at press time. 

Although Miske faces murder charges in Fraser’s disappearance, his body has never been found. 

James Borling-Salas, a young man associated with several members of the enterprise, told FBI agents that he’d seen Fraser in his final, excruciating moments: Borling-Salas said he would distribute drugs on Miske’s behalf. 

The young informant’s grandmother, a former corrections officer, told the FBI in later interviews that her grandson had admitted to a role in torturing and killing Fraser, recording the events on video. 

Borling-Salas denied direct involvement, but told agents that Fraser had been bound to a chair with zip ties and duct tape in an apartment used by the organization. Fraser’s face had been bloodied, the man recalled, and that he witnessed him being kicked repeatedly in the head. 

Two of Miske’s cohorts, including frequently-mentioned Lance Bermudez, allegedly burned the young man’s hands and worked their way up his body, Borling-Salas told agents, while a phone mounted on a tripod recorded the torture. 

A few days later, the man told agents, he saw a large bone protruding from a large cooking pot in the apartment’s kitchen. Bermudez was allegedly stirring the pot.

There was no smell, Borling-Salas recalled, and “the water had a shade of orange-red that [Borling-Salas] had never seen while cooking… [and] flesh began to fall away from the bone,” according to an affidavit reviewed by Bloomberg. 

Borling-Salas attempted suicide shortly after the interview, Bloomberg reported, and later retracted his story. 

Bermudez is among several underlings allegedly employed by Miske in the murder and other criminal activities who have since flipped to testify against him in court. He had a tattoo on his forearm of the contact information of the attorney hired to represent Miske and his crew, according to Bloomberg. 

One high-ranking underling allegedly told FBI agents that Miske ordered five hits on other prospective victims that never came to fruition between 2015 and 2016, court documents show.

 

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