By the time Lance Lee Bermudez was 25, he had a reputation as a shooter to go with his nickname, “Hammah.”

He had landed a spot as part of a criminal organization that federal prosecutors allege was controlled and directed by local businessman Michael John Miske Jr., who owned and operated Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, M Nightclub, a longline fishing boat and several other businesses.

And he displayed a large collection of body art on his 5-foot, 9-inch frame, including “Bermudez” spelled out in ornate letters across his chest and, on the left side of his neck, a biblical quotation: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

But on Wednesday morning, that willingness to sacrifice for his friends proved to have limits. Bermudez, now 31, appeared before federal Judge Derrick Watson by video conference to plead guilty to three felony charges as part of a deal with prosecutors.

Lance Lee Bermudez, who pleaded guilty Wednesday, has a neck tattoo that says: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Screenshot

At the beginning of the hearing, Watson explained Bermudez was appearing with his attorney, Birney Bervar, from an undisclosed mainland location because of security concerns. Watson said “putting the defendant on a plane back to Honolulu for this plea agreement” was considered risky because Honolulu has a single federal detention center, and it is where Miske and his remaining co-defendants are now housed.

Given the availability of video and Zoom teleconferencing, Watson said it was an unnecessary and avoidable risk, and attorneys on both sides agreed to proceed by video.

As if to underscore the risk, all information about Bermudez has been removed from the Federal Inmate Locator, which is supposed to include the locations and dates of incarceration of all those in facilities managed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons from 1982 to present. Bermudez was until recently shown to be held at Honolulu’s Federal Detention Center, but that information, and his present whereabouts, have now been removed.

In his plea agreement, Bermudez admitted to having participated in a conspiracy to violate federal racketeering laws by being part of what prosecutors refer to as the “Miske Enterprise,” and acknowledged distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute, controlled substances including methamphetamine, cocaine, marijuana and opioids. Finally, he confessed to taking part in a series of armed robberies of other drug dealers along with several other Miske associates.

The plea deal requires Bermudez to cooperate with prosecutors by giving “truthful and complete answers” to investigator’s questions, and to testify against Miske and other former associates at their trial, now scheduled for next April. In exchange, prosecutors agreed to dismiss four other charges spelled out in last year’s second superseding indictment in the case, and to recommend at least a three-level reduction be included when federal sentencing guidelines are applied.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Inciong, appearing for the government at the hearing, said Bermudez faces a 10-year mandatory prison sentence on the drug trafficking charge, as well as a maximum 20-year sentence on both the racketeering conspiracy and armed robbery charges, plus additional fines and periods of supervised release following prison.

The Federal Detention Center in Honolulu, where Miske and other defendants are housed, was considered too risky for Bermudez, who was moved to an undisclosed location on the mainland. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Bermudez becomes the sixth of Miske’s original 10 co-defendants to plead guilty and flip by agreeing to give information and testify against their former associates. In addition, at least eight others associated with the Miske organization were charged separately and have pleaded guilty as part of plea agreements, and are cooperating.

His testimony could be critical in tying Miske and another defendant, Jason Yokoyama, to a murder-for-hire plot which targeted a Waimanalo man who, prosecutors allege, Miske suspected of providing information to law enforcement.

Yokoyama was added as a defendant in the Miske case last year in a second superseding indictment, charged with a single count of racketeering conspiracy. He is currently free on bond pending trial, under restrictions to his movements and a schedule required by the court.

After being told of Bermudez’s reputation as a shooter, Miske asked Jacob “Jake” Smith to arrange a meeting.

Smith, who pleaded guilty in November 2020, admitted he and Bermudez met with Miske at the Kamehameha Shopping Center in Kalihi sometime in early 2016. During the meeting, Miske explained he wanted to have the suspected snitch killed and would pay well to have it done. Smith decided not to participate, but Bermudez agreed to do the job.

John Stancil, Miske’s half-brother and now also a co-defendant, showed Bermudez where the intended victim lived in Waimanalo. Later, Bermudez and Dae Han Moon took weapons and hid outside the house, waiting for a chance to ambush the victim, but he didn’t come out of the house while they were waiting.

At a later point, the hit was called off, according to the plea agreement, and Watson asked Bermudez how that happened.

Bermudez said he met up with Yokoyama, who had been an employee of Miske’s Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, and later was, at least on paper, majority owner of M Nightclub, although federal prosecutors allege Miske actually owned and operated the nightclub while concealing his role.

“And (Yokoyama) told you Miske no longer wanted this guy killed?” Watson asked.

“Yes,” Bermudez told the judge.

“Were you paid for the work you had done?” Watson queried.

“No,” Bermudez replied.

Although many of the other incidents Bermudez admitted to in his plea agreement have been previously recounted by others who have already flipped, Inciong added significant new details concerning the disappearance of Jonathan Fraser.

Then 21, Fraser disappeared suddenly on July 30, 2016. He had been best friends with Miske’s son and only child, Caleb Miske. The two young men were involved in a serious high-speed crash next to Windward City Shopping Center on Nov. 17, 2015. Both were critically injured, but Fraser survived and was released from the hospital. Caleb Miske died of complications from his injuries in March 2016. 

The indictment alleges Caleb’s father wrongly believed Fraser had been driving when the accident occurred and blamed him for Caleb’s death, and then planned and financed a murder-for-hire plot to carry out Fraser’s kidnapping and murder.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Inciong said that on the same day Fraser disappeared, Yokoyama called Bermudez and asked him to meet at M Nightclub.

Bermudez then drove to the club to meet Yokoyama, who told him “he needed to get rid of a van,” Inciong said, adding that the van was believed to have been used in Fraser’s kidnapping.

Yokoyama and Bermudez then drove to East Honolulu, where Yokoyama pointed out a cream-colored Toyota Sienna van. They then drove back to the nightclub, where Bermudez retrieved his car and returned to where the Sienna was parked. Bermudez broke the ignition and drove the van to Ewa Beach, where he set it on fire. He was picked up by Dae Han Moon, who had followed him on the drive to Ewa in another vehicle. 

The two then returned to Miske’s nightclub, where Yokoyama paid Bermudez $3,500 for torching the van.

Bermudez faces a 10-year mandatory prison sentence on the drug trafficking charge, as well as a maximum 20-year sentence on both the racketeering conspiracy and armed robbery charges. Screenshot

Data retrieved from cell phone towers show a cell phone used by Bermudez was present in East Honolulu on that day, July 30, 2016, and traveled that night to the same West Oahu area where police found the van engulfed in flames, Inciong said.

A burner phone used by Yokoyama exchanged 29 text messages in a 61-minute period on the night of July 30, including one contact with Bermudez’s phone at 12:15 a.m., Inciong said.

Yokoyama’s phone number, ending in 0964, appeared in Bermudez’ cell phone directory under the name “J,” and in Miske’s phone account as “Jason.”

In another previously undisclosed incident, Bermudez served as the getaway driver while Miske’s half-brother and co-defendant, John Stancil, and two others who were not identified, dressed in sheriff’s long-sleeve t-shirts and ski masks, and carrying firearms, then entered and robbed a store on Oct. 27, 2015. They fled the scene in a white Acura Integra driven by Bermudez. The car was later abandoned and burned.

Bermudez also confirmed his involvement in several shootings during August 2016. 

On Aug. 3, Bermudez drove a black Nissan Infiniti up alongside a group of people standing at the corner of School Street and Ahunui Street. He lowered the driver’s window and fired several shots, striking two victims in the leg, Inciong said, referring to the plea agreement.

Then on Aug. 27, Bermudez retaliated after an unidentified friend was beaten outside the Xclusive Bar and Grill on Sheridan Street. Again accompanied by Moon, Bermudez drove a black vehicle to the club, where both men fired shots and one victim was hit. Cell phone data placed Bermudez in the area, and text messages were exchanged with the friend who had been beaten, Inciong said. 

On Aug. 31, Bermudez drove Steven Donohue to an area along Kuwili Street looking for a homeless person who owed Donohue a $100 debt for a previous meth buy.

Federal court records show Donohue was charged in October 2019 with being a felon in possession of firearms during a period that included the date of the August 2016 shooting on Kuwili Street. He pleaded guilty in a deal with prosecutors on Oct. 10, 2019, just days after the charges were publicly filed in court. His case was not previously known to be linked to the Miske Enterprise. 

Donohue, in his plea agreement, admitted driving with another person, now identified as Bermudez, looking for a homeless person who owed $100 for a previous meth purchase, and who was living near 414 Kuwili Street. Donohue covered part of his face while asking a group of people where they could find the person he was seeking, and then fired a shot toward a group living in tents along that section of Kuwili Street, hitting one of them in the ear.

Donohue’s sentencing has been repeatedly delayed, as have most of the others who have entered into plea agreements, so that the court can assess the degree to which they comply with their agreement to cooperate and, if asked, testify against other defendants.

While being quizzed by Judge Watson about the facts recited in the plea agreement, Bermudez objected to two things. First, he said that although he admitted to taking part in the 2015 robbery of a store, he denied being the one that later burned the getaway car.

And he also objected to a statement indicating he had “encouraged” Donohue to shoot towards the homeless tents, while admitting he had driven him to the area and was with him when the shots were fired.

Watson, after clarifying the objections, authorized those changes to be made, and they will be included in the final version of the written plea agreement when it is signed and returned to the court in Honolulu for filing.

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About the Author

  • Ian Lind
    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.