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Tuesday, January 23, 2024
Trial begins for Hawaii businessman accused of murder-for-hire, racketeering
By Selected News Articles @ 3:57 PM :: 1485 Views :: Ethics, Law Enforcement

Trial begins for Hawaii businessman accused of murder-for-hire, racketeering

The government has charged Michael Miske Jr. for a litany of conspiracy and racketeering crimes, including conspiracy to murder a man he blamed for his son's death.

by Candace Cheung, Court House News, January 22, 2024

HONOLULU (CN) — Opening statements began Monday in the long-awaited trial of a Hawaii businessman and accused crime boss in federal court, despite some last-minute shakeups in the case over the weekend.

Among other criminal activity, Michael Miske Jr. is charged with conspiring to murder a man he blamed for the death of his son. He also faces racketeering associated with his involvement in what federal prosecutors have been calling the “Miske criminal enterprise.”

Miske, who was arrested in 2020, is accused of heading this enterprise, which was involved in drug smuggling, robbery, fraud and assault among other crimes for nearly two decades.

The businessman is implicated in the illegal fireworks market, the kidnapping and beating of an elderly accountant and the release of tear gas into a rival's nightclub.

“The defendant used fear, violence and intimidation to ger what he wanted,” U.S. Assistant Attorney William Akina said in his opening statement. “And what he wanted was money, control and revenge.”

Prosecutors claim that Miske — the former owner of Kama’aina Termite and Pest Control, along with several other companies, including nightclubs and used car dealership — used his businesses in tandem with his underworld connections to enrich himself and his associates and curate a terrifying reputation for retaliation.

“Violence was often retaliation against those who disrespected him and those who knew him,” Akina said.

Michael Kennedy, attorney for Miske, instead painted the defendant as a successful, generous, self-made man. Kennedy kicked off his opening statements with a presentation of fumigation projects completed by Miske and Kama’aina, including at iconic Hawaii landmarks like the Waikiki Shell and Iolani Palace. The attorney noted that the fumigation of the Neal S. Blaisdell Center was donated by Miske to the city of Honolulu, which was scrambling to fund the funds to maintain the decades-old concert hall.

“The Miske enterprise doesn’t exist,” Kennedy said. “What does exist, is a business that the people of Hawaii have trusted.”

Kennedy cautioned the jurors about the government’s witnesses, asking them to keep in mind what they might have to gain from testifying against Miske, saying that they benefitted from pinning their own violent crimes on Miske.

Some of the most prominent charges against Miske involve the disappearance of Jonathan Fraser. Fraser, described by attorneys as the best friend of Miske’s son, Caleb, was reportedly last seen in July 2016 and has never been found. Prosecutors say that Miske blamed Fraser for the death of Caleb, who died in March 2016 due to medical complications following a car accident involving the two friends.

“’The kid’s got to go’,” Akina told jurors Miske purportedly told his enforcers.

Miske’s defense challenged the kidnapping and murder conspiracy charges, telling jurors that the government essentially had no case on Fraser’s disappearance.

“They can’t tell you who, they can’t tell you how or where or when,” Kennedy said.

Aside from Miske and Fraser's disappearance, the government has charged various members of the purported enterprise with similar racketeering and assault charges, though many of Miske's accused conspirators have since pleaded out. Miske now remains the lone defendant out of what was initially a sprawling case against 13 purported members of the enterprise.

Throughout the trial’s extensive jury selection process in January, Miske was set to stand trial alongside his half-brother John Stancil and daughter-in-law Delia Fabro-Miske, his son’s widow, both of whom had maintained their innocence.

Near the end of the six days of jury selection, however, Fabro-Miske pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and agreed to cooperating and testifying against Miske. And on the eve of the opening statements, Stancil, in an unusual weekend court appearance, also switched his plea to guilty on Sunday.

In response, Miske’s defense filed a motion to dismiss the jury, which they argued would undoubtedly now be influenced by Stancil and Fabro-Miske’s sudden departures.

Watson denied the motion, saying that curative instruction was sufficient for the 18-member jury.

The judge also acknowledged that there was significant speculation as to the details of Stancil’s plea deal and announced that the deal did not have a cooperation provision.

Aside from Fabro-Miske and Stancil, a slew of other codefendants, including some of Miske’s former business associates and alleged enforcers, have also taken plea deals, and a significant number of those individuals are now expected to testify against the businessman.

The trial, with hundreds of witnesses named by both parties, is expected to run for at least six months and will continue Tuesday.

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