The building blocks of the government’s criminal case against Honolulu businessman Michael J. Miske Jr. continued to emerge into public view last week when a co-defendant appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson by video link and admitted to being part of the racketeering enterprise Miske is alleged to have controlled and directed.
Hunter J. Wilson, a 25-year old who joined the Miske-led criminal conspiracy in 2016, when he would have been just 20 years old, entered guilty pleas to two counts of the grand jury indictment handed down in June 2020: Count 1 (conspiring to violate racketeering laws) and Count 16 (conspiring to possess quantities of methamphetamine, cocaine, oxycodone, and marijuana, with intent to distribute).
The indictment alleges the organization profited not only from drug trafficking, but also from acts of violence, extortion, robbery, various forms of business and financial fraud, money laundering and other illegal practices.
Miske is charged in 17 counts, including four capital crimes stemming from having allegedly directed and bankrolled the kidnapping and murder of 21-year old Jonathan Fraser, who disappeared on July 30, 2016. The maximum sentence for each of these counts is death, although the Justice Department has not yet indicated whether it will seek the death penalty. Hawaii abolished capital punishment in 1957, but the federal courts are not bound by that decision.
Fraser and Miske’s son, Caleb, were best friends, and were together when their car was involved in a critical accident near Windward City Shopping Center in Kaneohe in November 2015. Fraser survived the accident, but Caleb died of his injuries after nearly four months in the hospital. Miske mistakingly blamed Fraser for being the driver, and causing the accident and Caleb’s death, a belief contrary to all available accident records.
Miske’s alleged criminal organization, which prosecutors refer to as the “Miske Enterprise,” stands out due to its longevity, allegedly having operated for two decades; its reputation for and use of violence, intimidation and threats to protect the organization’s power and profits; and its use of Miske’s network of “legitimate” businesses as facades behind and within which criminal activities were conducted.
At the time of Miske’s arrest in a dramatic pre-dawn raid at a Kailua home in July 2020, Miske was the owner of a number of businesses, including his flagship Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, one of the largest and certainly the most visible of Oahu’s pest control companies.
He also owned Oahu Termite & Pest Control; Kamaaina Holdings LLC, which owned and operated the Fishing Vessel Rachel, a 90-foot longline fishing boat which operated in the Pacific; Hawaii Partners LLC, which was licensed as a used car dealer; Kamaaina Plumbing, and Makana Pacific Development LLC.
His M Nightclub, once a popular downtown Honolulu venue, closed in 2016. All the companies were shut down after his arrest when their offices were raided and business records seized as evidence.
Prosecutors allege the members and associates of Miske’s criminal enterprise protected the businesses by silencing unhappy customers, business competitors and government regulators through the use of violence and threats of violence or economic harm.
With his plea, Wilson becomes the seventh member or associate of Miske’s criminal organization known to have entered guilty pleas and agreed to fully cooperate with prosecutors, but Wilson is the first of Miske’s 10 co-defendants to break ranks and “flip” against his former crew.
As part of Wilson’s plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to drop three additional charges involving weapons offenses and armed robbery in exchange for his plea and, more importantly, his agreement to cooperate with prosecutors and testify against other defendants.
Wilson faces a maximum 20-year sentence on the racketeering conspiracy charge, and a mandatory minimum of 10 years on the drug trafficking charge, with up to a maximum of life in prison. Each count also carries a period of supervised release after any prison sentence has been completed.
Wilson was released from federal custody in July 2020 on $50,000 unsecured bail, subject to admission into a program providing clean and sober structured living for men in recovery, with GPS location monitoring required.
In November 2020, Judge Watson approved a recommendation Wilson be allowed to move to the island of Hawaii where he could live with family. During Thursday’s hearing, Watson ruled Wilson could remain in the community until his sentencing hearing scheduled for Aug. 24. The judge said there have been no issues since Wilson was released from custody in July 2020, soon after he had been arrested. He said Wilson has complied with location monitoring, has been employed and has been reported to be a dependable worker, and has submitted to drug testing and counseling as required.
During Thursday’s hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Inciong said Wilson became a member of Miske’s organization “at least by 2016.”
In August 2016, Wilson identified a person who he thought would be a “good target” for other Miske associates to rob because he was believed to have a stash of drugs. Wilson provided information to Jacob “Jake” Smith describing where the person identified only as “Victim-5” lived, even suggesting a specific door to use to enter the residence.
Acting on Wilson’s information, Smith and another Miske insider, Lance Bermudez, along with an unidentified third person, arrived at the victim’s house wearing masks and carrying guns. At the last minute, they got confused about which entry Wilson had suggested. Smith then called Wilson, “who clarified which door to use,” Inciong told the court. The men left after taking quantities of the prescription drug Xanax and marijuana.
Inciong said Wilson, along with other Miske Enterprise members, “engaged in or facilitated” other robberies between 2016 and 2018.
“Mr. Miske was not personally involved,” Inciong said, “but Mr. Wilson’s actions and activities were assisted and emboldened by being a member of the Miske Enterprise.”
Later in Thursday’s hearing, Judge Watson queried Wilson about the incident.
“You provided information on how to access the home?” Watson asked.
“Yes,” Wilson responded in a clear voice.
“This was at gunpoint,” Watson asked?
“Yes,” Wilson replied.
Watson then asked how this related to Miske, who was not present when the robbery took place.
“I know Jacob Smith worked for Miske,” Wilson said, “and so did Lance Bermudez.”
“And that meant nobody would mess with them?” Watson asked.
“Yes,” Wilson replied.
“Because they were part of Mr. Miske’s group?”
“Yes,” Wilson answered.
Wilson also admitted to being part of a conspiracy to possess, with intent to distribute, methamphetamine and other drugs over the same two-year period between in 2016 and August 2018.
Prosecutors allege, and Wilson acknowledged in his plea agreement, that on May 4, 2018, he had talked by phone to Timothy Taboada, a Kaneohe drug dealer, and agreed to deliver about 2 pounds of meth for further resale. The call was caught by federal agents on a court-authorized wiretap. In a later call, also caught by the wiretap, Wilson told Taboada he was on his way to their meeting.
Wilson’s car was intercepted and stopped near Castle High School in Kaneohe about 7:45 p.m. by a pair of officers, a federal task force officer and an HPD officer, driving a marked HPD patrol car. Wilson and a passenger were instructed to get out of the car, which was then searched, based on the probable cause revealed by the wiretap.
A white canvas bag was found in the trunk which contained a clear plastic bag holding what turned out to be 100% pure crystal meth, packed into seven smaller plastic bags. The drugs were seized, but “in order to preserve the integrity of the ongoing wiretap investigation,” Wilson and his passenger were instructed they were free to leave and departed the scene.
Judge Watson asked Wilson during the hearing to tell him about the May 2018 drug deal in his own words.
“I talked to Mr. Taboada,” Wilson said, “to give him drugs.”
And, Watson asked, “that was roughly 2 pounds of methamphetamine?”
“Yes, your honor,” Wilson replied.
Watson again asked about the connection to Mike Miske.
“Was it your understanding that you and Taboada worked with and were protected by him and his organization in conducting this drug deal?”
Wilson’s answer was short and direct. “Yes,” he said.
Wilson’s plea agreement names four others involved in drug dealing with him, based on wiretap interceptions from cell phones used by Wilson and others in 2018 — Taboada, Jake Smith, Nicholas “Nico” Carignan, and Jarrin K. Young.
Taboada, who sold meth on a daily basis out of his home in the Kapunahala neighborhood of Kaneohe, pleaded guilty in November 2019 to being part of a conspiracy to distribute meth, a conspiracy he said included Wilson, Smith and Bermudez. In his plea agreement, Taboada named Wilson and Smith as his “main sources” of methamphetamine, which he bought in pound quantities.
Jake Smith, a “shooter” and martial artist who said he was paid by Miske to threaten or assault others, pleaded guilty in November 2020 to being part of the racketeering and drug trafficking conspiracies, and has also agreed to testify against other defendants.
Young is another of Miske’s co-defendants charged in the current case. He faces charges of being part of Miske’s racketeering and drug trafficking conspiracies, and also for carrying and using a firearm during at least one drug-related crime. The latter two charges carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, as well as mandatory minimum sentences, if convicted. In 2018, Young was convicted in state court for robbery and terroristic threatening.
Taboada, Smith and Young are all currently detained in the Honolulu Federal Detention Center, according to the online federal inmate locator.
Carignan has not previously been publicly linked to the Miske Enterprise case. Court records show he was named in a federal criminal complaint filed on March 8 for allegedly dealing methamphetamine and being a felon in possession of a firearm, a Polymer80 pistol known as a “ghost gun” which had been converted into an automatic weapon. The government has until May 24 to charge Carignan via a grand jury indictment or an “information,” a process that does not require grand jury action.
Carignan has been released to a clean and sober live-in facility, subject to GPS location monitoring, pending a preliminary hearing on May 24.
Prosecutors have previously said the evidence against Miske includes “grand jury testimony of dozens of witnesses including numerous cooperating defendants, several of whom have either already pled guilty or have agreed to do so in the future.”
With seven guilty pleas and associated plea agreements already on the public record, it seems likely more will follow, according to Ken Lawson, a former criminal defense lawyer and co-Director of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, a law clinic of the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law.
In a telephone interview earlier this year, Lawson predicted additional defendants are likely to “flip” as the trial, currently scheduled for September, gets closer.
“Everybody is pretty tight and close knit when they’re first arrested and appear in court,” Lawson said. “But the longer you sit awaiting trial, the more your priority becomes your own freedom, and the looser your connection with the others becomes. Understandably, what happens … people cut deals.”
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