Honolulu businessman Michael J. Miske Jr. allegedly offered to pay $50,000 in 2016 to have a union official killed in an apparent dispute over access to jobs on Honolulu’s waterfront, according to unexpected testimony in federal court last week.
The startling allegation surfaced during a hearing last week, in which Norman Lani Akau III pleaded guilty to having been a willing participant for several years in a racketeering organization which Miske allegedly controlled and directed.
Miske, Akau, and nine other co-defendants were named in a 22-count indictment in June 2020 stemming from their ties to what prosecutors have called the “Miske Enterprise,” and are now awaiting trial. The charges include conspiracy to violate racketeering laws, murder and murder-for-hire, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and fraud.
Akau is a veteran stagehand from Kaneohe who served for nearly a decade on the executive board of IATSE Local 665, the union representing technicians and stagehands working on television and film productions in Hawaii. He appeared before U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson by video link to change his plea to guilty as part of a deal with prosecutors.
During the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Inciong said Akau had disclosed two murder-for-hire offers that were conveyed to him by Wayne Miller, who pleaded guilty in December to the same charge of racketeering conspiracy in a similar plea agreement.
While both offers were presented to him by Miller, Akau knew Miller reported directly to Miske, and understood the offers were initiated and funded by Miske, Inciong said. Akau referred to Miller as his “cousin,” although their exact family relationship was not disclosed.
Akau was first offered $50,000 to participate in the kidnapping and murder of Jonathan Fraser in 2016, but turned it down.
Akau was asked to pick up Fraser from Miller, then drive him to Oahu’s north shore, where Fraser was to be turned over to another unidentified associate.
“Mr. Akau declined to accept the offer” because Fraser was “a kid,” Inciong told the court.
Fraser disappeared suddenly on July 30, 2016, four months after Caleb Miske, his best friend and Mike Miske’s son, died of injuries he received in a critical accident in November 2015. Fraser and Miske were together in the car when the accident happened. Fraser survived. Caleb Miske did not.
The senior Miske repeatedly blamed Fraser for Caleb’s death, and wrongly insisted Fraser had been in the driver’s seat when the accident happened, although all available records indicated the younger Miske had been driving, and had to be cut out of the driver’s seat at the scene.
The two friends had shared an apartment in Waipahu with their girlfriends for several months in 2014. At the time of Fraser’s disappearance, he and his girlfriend were living in a Hawaii Kai apartment with Caleb Miske’s widow. Fraser told a relative the apartment was being paid for by Mike Miske, but that the arrangement was supposed to be a secret.
After declining to get involved in Fraser’s kidnapping, Akau then accepted a second offer to murder an individual, identified only as Victim 12, for the same $50,000 fee.
The intended victim’s car was equipped with a GPS tracker, which allowed Miller and Akau to follow it to a plate lunch restaurant on Sand Island, Inciong said.
Akau was carrying a gun in his backpack, and was supposed to shoot the victim when he came out of the restaurant. But at the last moment, Miller told Akau not to shoot because he had been unable to remove the GPS monitor, which could have tied them to the crime.
After Inciong finished his overview of the admissions that formed the basis of the plea agreement, Judge Watson questioned Akau about this incident.
“He (Miller) asked me if I could help him,” Akau responded to Watson. “He fell out of favor with Mr. Miske, and asked me if I could help him with that situation as a way to get him back into good graces with Miske.”
“Were you prepared to fire?” Watson asked. “Yes, your honor,” Akau replied, although he said the gun was still in his back pack when Miller directed him to “stand down.”
Responding to Watson, Akau made a passing reference to the intended victim as a “union rep.”
Watson then asked why this victim had been targeted.
Akau said the problem involved hiring for jobs on the docks, and that removing Victim 12 “would help the flow of jobs onto the docks.”
The identity of “Victim 12” was not disclosed and Watson did not pursue the matter further, due in part to time pressure to finish the hearing, which was running well behind schedule because of computer connection issues and audio problems in the link between the court and the Federal Detention Center.
Several of Miske’s crew, including his son, Caleb, and brother, John Stancil, had landed coveted jobs on the docks. It was widely rumored Miske had paid handsomely to allow the people he referred to jump to the front of the line for the union card necessary to land the highly paid waterfront jobs, but no evidence of this is publicly available.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported in 2019 that the FBI was investigating reports that some trying to get stevedore jobs paid up to $60,000 in cash for the privilege.
In addition to the murder-for-hire plots, Akau also admitted to taking part in a series of robberies in the period 2016-2018, often targeting other drug dealers.
In one case described by Inciong, two cars blocked and stopped the car of a drug dealer, identified only as “Victim 4,” on North King Street. Akau, who was driving one of the cars, was dressed to impersonate an undercover police officer and carried two hand guns, including a silenced 22-caliber pistol.
He flashed a badge obtained when working on the “Hawaii Five-0” television series, Inciong said, before opening the trunk of the victim’s car and taking a blue Walmart bag containing several pounds of methamphetamine.
The second car was a Mercedes sedan driven by Lance Bermudez. Riding with him were several other armed men wearing ski masks, including Miske’s brother, John Stancil, Harry “Harry Boy” Kauhi, and Jake Smith, as well as a young woman, Ashlin Akau, and another man who was not identified.
Smith, described as “a skilled martial artist,” has admitted to being “on call” to assault others when requested by Miske. He pleaded guilty in November and, like the others, is now cooperating with prosecutors.
Although Norman Akau’s guilty plea was upstaged by his admission about the two murder-for-hire plots and the armed drug robbery, it is a significant step in the government’s case against all of the remaining Miske Enterprise defendants.
Akau is now the second of Miske’s original 10 co-defendants to plead guilty and agree to cooperate fully with federal prosecutors. In addition, six others who were associated with the Miske Enterprise, including Wayne Miller, Jake Smith, and Ashlin Akau, have also entered into similar deals and have turned on their former associates.
Under the terms of Norman Akau’s plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to a single count of having “willfully and knowingly” conspired with others, “to participate, directly and indirectly, in the conduct of the affairs of the Miske Enterprise through a pattern of racketeering activity” which included multiple acts of murder and murder-for-hire, kidnapping, arson, drug trafficking, weapons offenses, and fraud.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, a possible $250,000 fine, several additional years of supervised release, and the loss of some civil rights stemming from the felony conviction, a sentence Inciong said reflects the seriousness of the charges.
In exchange for the guilty plea and Akau’s agreement to cooperate with prosecutors, the government agreed to drop four additional charges that carried maximum sentences as well as mandatory minimum sentences of five years and up. Prosecutors also agreed that no additional charges would be added involving other crimes completely and truthfully disclosed by Akau.
In a separate hearing earlier this month, Akau’s attorney, Ron Richards of Beverly Hills, California, said Akau has now chosen “a pathway of truthfulness, cooperation, and compliance with all things that have been asked of him” by prosecutors.
“He came in like a champ and told the government everything that was truthful, and told them things they didn’t know,” Richards said, which included other “bad things” he had done, although those disclosures could now put him at personal risk.
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Ian Lind is an award-winning investigative reporter and columnist who has been blogging daily for more than 20 years. He has also worked as a newsletter publisher, public interest advocate and lobbyist for Common Cause in Hawaii, peace educator, and legislative staffer. Lind is a lifelong resident of the islands. Read his blog here. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.