It’s been nearly six months since local businessman Michael J. Miske Jr. was arrested in a dramatic pre-dawn raid on a Kailua home, and named along with ten alleged co-conspirators in a 22-count federal racketeering indictment. Prosecutors charge the men were part of a criminal organization which used Miske’s successful businesses, including Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, as both a home base and a facade which concealed their ongoing criminal enterprise.
So far, prosecutors have been stingy with public details about the crimes alleged in the indictment, although court records show they have already turned over a mountain of evidence to Miske’s defense attorneys which includes some 450 gigabytes of digital data, 160,000 files and 32 disks of recordings and other data.
The scope of the allegations leaves a nagging question: How could a criminal organization of this size and duration have existed without previously coming to public attention? How could it have been concealed so effectively?
The answer is deceptively simple. Court records, including those involving Miske co-conspirators who have already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify, suggest the gang was hiding its activities in plain sight. Although a number of Miske insiders were arrested, charged, and convicted of individual crimes over years past, it is only in retrospect that they can be seen to have been part and parcel of the larger mosaic of drug dealing and criminal violence alleged by prosecutors.
Shortly before 7:30 p.m. on Christmas evening in 2016, two cars entered the deserted fifth floor of the ewa parking garage at Ala Moana Center, which was closed for the holiday, arriving within a few minutes of each other and parking side by side, separated by a single empty stall.
They were there for a drug deal, a simple cash-for-marijuana exchange. The driver and single passenger in the first car brought a pound of marijuana. The four young men in the second car were buyers, carrying about $1,000 in cash to make the purchase. It wasn’t a large transaction, either in the amount of money or drugs involved.
But before the deal was completed, a third car carrying three men made an unexpected entrance, and things quickly spun out of control.
A fight started, and within a few minutes Stevie Feliciano, the 20-year old driver of the buyers’ car, was lying on the parking garage floor, mortally wounded by a single gunshot wound to the back of the head, while Dae Han Moon, also 20, the driver of the unexpected late arrival and the suspected shooter, was on the run.
Within days, Moon was arrested and charged with second degree murder for shooting Feliciano. The defense argued the gun fired by accident, but the jury didn’t believe it. Moon was convicted of murder and related firearms charges in September 2018, and sentenced to a life term with the possibility of parole.
Two other men were also convicted in the case. Lance Bermudez, who was 25 at the time of the shooting, had not been at the scene but pleaded guilty to threatening a witness with a Russian AK-47 assault rifle in the hours immediately after the Christmas shooting. He also entered guilty pleas to auto theft and weapons offenses, and was sentenced to concurrent five-year prison terms. William Kan, 21, who brought the marijuana for sale, pleaded no contest to several drug charges, including selling marijuana to a minor, and one count of threatening a witness. Kan was sentenced to 10 years probation on the most serious charge, with lesser periods on the others.
There was lots of interest in the shocking murder, which occurred on a holy day in one of the most public and popular locations in Honolulu. However, Moon’s lengthy and well-publicized murder trial provided precious little information about the circumstances. Was it gang-related? Was there more than just a bag of marijuana at stake? Did the young men know each other? Had they gone there to fight? Why did this happen?
There were lots of questions but few answers, largely because pre-trial rulings by Judge Karen Nakasone narrowed the focus of the prosecution to the brief period when the shooting took place, and to evidence directly relevant to the shooting. She ruled prior contacts between those involved, their prior criminal records, if any, and previous drug use and drug deals, along with other less immediately relevant facts, were not directly relevant to the charges against Moon. They were therefore deemed off-limits in order to avoid biasing the jury. While it protected the rights of the accused, it made it difficult for the public to understand what was happening before that Christmas evening turned bloody.
In mid-2019, less than a year after Moon’s trial and conviction, he was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, and notified he was a target of its investigation, federal court records show.
Grand jury proceedings are secret, and Moon’s grand jury appearance wasn’t noticed by the news media, which was focused on the ongoing corruption probe and upcoming federal trial of one of Honolulu’s power couples, the former police chief Louis Kealoha and his wife Katherine, a senior deputy prosecuting attorney.
Moon, who was being held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center, wrote to the Office of the Federal Public Defender in Honolulu after receiving the grand jury subpoena, requesting that a lawyer be appointed to advise and represent him. His request was forwarded to Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang on July 24, 2019, court records show, and Wailuku attorney Clarence McCurdy Virtue was appointed days later to represent Moon in the proceedings. The court record so far does not indicate whether Moon ever testified.
However, the grand jury subpoena to Moon came at about the same time Mike Miske and an associate, Michael Joseph Buntenbah (now known as Michael Joseph Buntenbah Malone), were named in a secret grand jury indictment charging them with conspiring to purchase and distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine in July 2014.
Miske allegedly provided $400,000 in cash to finance the deal, while Buntenbah and another Miske associate, Wayne Miller, flew to Los Angeles with two carry-on bags filled with cash. They planned to connect with a source, pick up the drugs and then deliver them to a corrupt Transportation Security Administration employee in the San Francisco area who had agreed to allow the package through airport security so it could be flown back to Hawaii for sale.
But federal DEA agents, who had been monitoring the transaction, stopped their three-car caravan on its way north from Los Angeles, seizing the drugs and briefly detaining Buntenbah and Miller, who were later released without charges.
That indictment remained sealed for another year, during which the grand jury was actively expanding its investigation, likely using the original sealed drug charges as leverage to encourage witnesses to cooperate. Pursuing the classic technique of working from the outer ring of a conspiracy to its inner workings, prosecutors have reached plea agreements with at least five defendants, ranging from mid-level drug dealers to at least two who were close to Miske’s activities. Miller, who Miske once described as a “loyal,” “true,” and “real” friend, was arrested in 2018 on new drug charges. He pleaded guilty last month and agreed to testify against his former associates.
On June 18, 2020, the same grand jury issued the 22-count superseding indictment expanding the charges against Miske far beyond the original drug offenses, and sweeping up additional co-defendants. Miske and ten others, including Moon, Bermudez and Buntenbah, were charged with being part of a racketeering conspiracy that engaged in crimes ranging from murder-for-hire and kidnapping to drug dealing, armed robbery and extortion.
As was the case with the original charges, the superseding indictment remained sealed and secret until July 15, 2020, when armed federal agents apprehended Miske in a pre-dawn raid on the Kuuna Street home in Kailua where he had lived on and off for two decades. The case promises to be Hawaii’s highest profile organized crime prosecution of the decade.
The indictment’s inclusion of Moon and Bermudez among the inner circle of the Miske racketeering conspiracy provides a direct link back to, and new perspective on, their involvement in the 2016 murder of Stevie Feliciano.
Bermudez, who turned 25 in May 2016, already had “a well-earned reputation” as a “shooter,” according to allegations by federal prosecutors. Miske was allegedly looking for a shooter in early 2016, heard about Bermudez and asked Jake Smith, one of his crew, to arrange an introduction. Smith has admitted providing “muscle” for Miske, and pleaded guilty in November 2020 to being part of Miske’s racketeering and meth distribution conspiracies.
Miske, Smith, and Bermudez then met at the Kamehameha Shopping Center in Kalihi. Miske allegedly told Smith and Bermudez he had put out a murder contract on an as-yet unidentified target who Miske suspected of being a police informant, and said he would pay handsomely to get the job done.
Smith declined to participate, but Bermudez expressed interest, according to court records. Bermudez, along with Moon and a third Miske co-defendant, Harry Kauhi, later waited outside the intended victim’s home, armed and ready to kill him when he came outside, prosecutors allege in court filings. But the victim didn’t come outside while they were there, and the planned murder was ultimately not carried out.
Both Bermudez and Moon also face charges of conspiracy to distribute quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, oxycodone and marijuana, along with other Miske associates.
In April 2016, police found a stolen BMW abandoned in the middle of Tantalus Drive near Aaliamanu Place after it was involved in an accident at about 2:30 a.m. At least one person was seen leaving the scene carrying what appeared to be a rifle, according to a Hawaii News Now report.
“Inside, police found what appeared to be a pipe bomb, duct tape, zip ties, ski masks, body armor, ammunition and a gun scope mount. Also recovered was a receipt with what appeared to be the name Lance Bermudez and a eulogy pamphlet with the name Caleb Miske,” prosecutors said in a court filing justifying their request to hold Bermudez without bail pending trial.
Caleb was Mike Miske’s only child. He died in March 2016 as the result of injuries received in a November 2015 auto accident in Kaneohe.
Mike Miske blamed Caleb’s death on Caleb’s best friend, Jonathan Fraser, who was also critically injured in the crash but survived. Fraser disappeared on July 30, 2016 from a Hawaii Kai apartment where he and his girlfriend had been staying.
Bermudez reportedly helped cover up Fraser’s murder by destroying a key piece of evidence. Prosecutors allege that prior to Fraser’s disappearance, Miske had directed one of his associates “to obtain a vehicle for the purpose of transporting Fraser after he was abducted,” prosecutors allege. The person eventually purchased a white Toyota Sienna van that had been offered for sale on Craigslist.
This same person then asked Bermudez to “help in disposing of the van after the abduction and directed Bermudez to the van’s location in Hawaii Kai.”
On the evening of July 30, 2016, the day Fraser disappeared, Bermudez and another as-yet unidentified Miske associate allegedly “drove the van from Hawaii Kai to the West side of Oahu, parked it under a bridge overpass, lit it on fire and left the scene.”
Prosecutors say they were later able to track Bermudez’ location that night using data gathered from cell phone antenna sites and maintained by cellular companies. They were able to trace Bermudez as he drove from Hawaii Kai to a location in West Oahu near where police found the van engulfed in flames.
Prosecutors allege Bermudez also took part in several other armed robberies during 2016, including ripping off two rival drug dealers at gunpoint, in one case stealing five pounds of methamphetamine, and crashing an illegal game room in Mapunapuna, where “Bermudez put a gun in the throat of a member of the game room’s security staff while Smith took a cashier into the back and took approximately $5,000 in cash.”
Witnesses have also identified Bermudez as the gunman in four separate Honolulu shooting incidents in August and September of 2016, including one where the victim “owed a drug debt,” according to documents filed in court by prosecutors.
Moon was arrested on the evening of December 5, 2016, after the white Toyota SUV he was driving crashed into a police car and a low rock wall in front of the Kapiolani Bel-Aire condominium on Kaheka Street, across from the Don Quijote store, according to a news broadcast at the time. The police officer had reportedly been responding to a complaint about suspicious activity in the area when Moon tried to flee and hit his car.
A handgun was found on the driver’s seat of Moon’s car after his arrest, and police found $6,200 in cash in Moon’s left front pocket. Court records show the vehicle, which still displayed dealer paper license plates, was owned by Big Island Toyota. Moon was charged with auto theft and a firearm offense, and was released on $30,000 bail. He was still free on bail when he fired the fatal shot at Ala Moana Center on Christmas night.
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