Michael Miske, the former owner of Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, M Nightclub and other local businesses, is rumored to have been on the radar of law enforcement agencies for years before he was indicted in July 2020, along with 10 co-defendants, on charges of racketeering conspiracy, murder for hire, kidnapping, drug trafficking, armed robbery, bank fraud and more.
Now one of Miske’s attorneys has confirmed several FBI investigations going back decades turned up evidence now being used against him by prosecutors.
Lynn Panagakos, one of the attorneys leading Miske’s defense team, said in a court filing last week that the racketeering conspiracy charge against Miske and his associates “is the product of at least four FBI investigations, beginning in the 1990s,” as well as investigations by the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security Investigations, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Environmental Protection Agency and “numerous other agencies.”
The alphabet soup of agencies is an indication of the dimensions of the investigation leading to the takedown of Miske’s alleged racketeering organization.
Miske faces a possible mandatory life sentence if convicted of the pending federal charges, Panagakos said.
Miske was hit with his first felony indictment for the theft and fraudulent use of credit cards in early 1994, just a month before his 20th birthday, court records show. He pleaded no contest the following year, and was found guilty of the credit card offenses, and the theft and sale of a red 1986 Honda Prelude, becoming a multiple felon when he was just 21.
His long criminal history means defense lawyers have been swamped by a massive amount of evidence against their client, which has been disclosed to the defendants’ attorneys in four batches over the 18 months since the indictment was made public. The most recent batch of files was received from prosecutors in September, Miske’s attorneys said during a mid-November hearing.
But after reviewing the more than 700,000 pages and about 128 gigabytes of digital data seized from cell phones, cloud storage and email accounts, Miske’s defense team says too many documents are missing, and too much information has been blacked out, or redacted, in the documents that were provided.
These problems were cited during a Nov. 5 hearing as a reason to further delay the trial, which has now been pushed back to September 2022.
In a lengthy 57-page legal memo filed under seal last week and made public on Monday, Panagakos said the numerous problems Miske’s legal team have identified, and the government’s failure to correct them, “are compromising his Fifth Amendment right to due process, and his Sixth Amendment rights to a jury trial, to cross examine Government witnesses, to compel the appearance of witnesses, and to effective assistance of counsel.
“Government’s discovery failures must be remedied now in order to prevent further trial delay, and trial by ambush. Failure to remedy these violations now could also turn what might otherwise be a 3-4 month trial into a 6-8 month trial.”
Panagakos’ memo goes on to describe several types of discovery materials which have not been disclosed, or whose contents have been effectively concealed by extensive redactions, including evidence seized in a series of raids on residences and Miske businesses the day he and other defendants were arrested in July 2020, along with data obtained from phone and internet accounts associated with dozens of devices seized by the government.
So far, only “a microscopic fraction of the discovery that was seized from these locations” has been produced, she wrote.
For example, the raid on Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control office resulted in 142 boxes of evidence and 40 “digital devices” being seized, but little of it has been turned over to Miske’s attorneys, Panagakos wrote.
Like other materials identified as absent or so redacted as to be unrecognizable, Panagakos said the information would reveal the identity of material witnesses, and could provide critical evidence to show Kamaaina Termite was not simply a front for a racketeering enterprise, as the government alleges.
Panagakos said Miske’s attorneys have repeatedly made specific requests for unredacted disclosure of key materials, but that prosecutors have refused.
“As a result, Miske has been left guessing as to the identities of hundreds of witnesses whose names are redacted from the reports, and even as to which reports are interviews of the same witness,” the memo argues. “Miske has also been left guessing as to the substance of the information the witnesses have provided. Criminal discovery should not be a guessing game. To the contrary, this offends basic notions of Due Process.”
Although San Diego attorney John Ellis was appointed by the court early in the proceedings to manage and coordinate the discovery process, his monthly reports are filed under seal and are not publicly available. As a result, it is not known whether he has identified the redactions and missing documents as a problem.
This is the second challenge to the government’s redactions. An earlier attempt to obtain unredacted documents was made by attorney Dana Ishibashi, representing Miske co-defendant Jarrin Young.
“Almost all discovery, such as FBI reports of its investigation and interviews thus provided by the government, has been redacted of relevant information, including names of individuals interviewed,” Ishibashi said in a declaration at that time.
As a result, Ishibashi said, he was unable to determine who should be on the defendant’s witness list and whether further investigation is warranted.
“Additionally, timing of when the alleged acts and or law enforcement interviews took place is essential to put context to whatever story is being told,” Ishibashi wrote.
However, Ishibashi’s move was denied by Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield following a Nov. 8 hearing.
“His motion is supported by no authority other than the general discovery rules of federal criminal procedure,” Mansfield’s order states. “Nor has he provided any examples of improper redactions, instead arguing for a wholesale re-production without any redactions. On this thin record, the Court has no basis to grant the requested relief.”
Panagakos’ memo addresses the deficiencies Mansfield found in Ishibashi’s argument by providing detailed examples of missing information, and explanations of why each is important to Miske’s defense.
In a second declaration, Panagakos said her legal memo includes 45 exhibits consisting of copies of documents previously provided by prosecutors in discovery, which contain redactions that are now being contested.
Exhibits 10 to 45 were submitted under seal because the documents “reference confidential sources and witnesses,” Panagakos said in this declaration.
“Protecting the identities and privacy of possible witnesses at this stage of the proceeding is crucial,” Panagakos wrote. “Some of the information could identify previously unknown witnesses and subject them to public scrutiny long before any trial is held.”
Among the documents containing redactions being challenged are certain pages from indexes to the documents released so far to Miske’s defense attorneys. The indexes to three separate document releases fill a total of 375 pages, according to figures included in the Panagakos declaration.
Sealed exhibits listed by Panagakos also include excerpts from witness interviews conducted by the FBI, Homeland Security, and IRS agents in which witness names are redacted, as well as applications for search warrants and other documents filed in a various cases from April 2013 through 2019. The cases, which are identified by partial case numbers, appear to include both local and mainland criminal cases.
Panagakos exhibits numbers 21 through 26, including excerpts from two sealed affidavits and orders authorizing electronic surveillance, are identified as being from Case No. 18-0078 DKW-KJM.
The case number 18-0078 appears to be a criminal case being handled by Judge Derrick K. Watson (DKW) and Magistrate Judge Kenneth J. Mansfield (KJM).
The federal court’s PACER document system identifies this as the criminal case against Olivia Ronquilio, a former employee of the Tripler Medical Center pharmacy, who was convicted in 2018 of stealing 8,500 opioid tablets, including oxycodone and hydrocodone, by writing 82 fraudulent prescriptions.
There is no indication of how these documents related to Miske’s case, or what redactions his lawyers are now challenging.
However, Hawaii News Now reported at the time that Ronquilio told investigators “she planned to give the drugs to someone else to distribute them,” suggesting law enforcement authorities may have suspected a link to Miske’s drug trafficking activities.
Exhibit 27 consists of eight documents reporting sightings of Jonathan Fraser dated from June 2018 through March 2019. Fraser, a close friend of Miske’s son, Caleb, disappeared on July 30, 2016.
On May 29, 2018, just two weeks before the first report of a sighting of the missing man, the FBI offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for Fraser’s disappearance.
Miske is now charged with planning and funding Fraser’s kidnapping and murder as part of a murder-for-hire conspiracy.
Panagakos exhibit 38 consists of “various documents concerning a Toyota Sienna with various dates.”
This likely refers to the vehicle alleged to have been used in Fraser’s kidnapping and murder.
Prosecutors have previously alleged Miske directed one of his associates, a member of what prosecutors refer to as the Miske Enterprise, “to obtain a vehicle for the purpose of transporting Fraser after he was abducted. The Enterprise member did so, ultimately purchasing a white Toyota Sienna van via Craigslist.”
Late on the day Fraser disappeared, one of Miske’s co-defendants, Lance Bermudez, and another associate drove the van used in the kidnapping “from Hawaii Kai to the west side of Oahu, parked it under a bridge overpass, lit it on fire and left the scene,” prosecutors allege.
“Cell site data from July 30, 2016 established that Bermudez was on the east side of Oahu that evening,” according to prosecutor’s statements in court documents. “Cell site data further showed Bermudez then traveled to west Oahu where he had set the van on fire. Honolulu police later found the van, engulfed in flames, in that same general location.”
However, Panagakos points to heavily redacted witness interviews which appear to provide conflicting accounts of Fraser’s murder, including statements by unidentified witnesses who named others as being responsible for his kidnapping and death “for reasons unrelated to Miske,” including at least one person who reported being told “to blame everything on Miske.”
The memo concludes by asking the court to produce all discovery materials previously requested or which the memo identifies as missing, and to “remove all redactions which are concealing discoverable and/or exculpatory information.”
In an order issued Monday, Mansfield said he would decide the issues raised without a further hearing. Opposition by any party or member of the public must be filed by Jan. 7, and any reply is due Jan. 17.
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