Previously secret search warrants and related court records, made public for the first time last week, contain disturbing new allegations about the disappearance of 21-year-old Jonathan Fraser, who vanished from the Hawaii Kai apartment where he and his girlfriend were living on July 30, 2016. 

The documents show that in November and early December 2016, just four months after Fraser’s disappearance, a confidential FBI source told investigators he had been at a residence in Kalihi where a man, later recognized as Fraser, was bound to a lawn chair with plastic ties and duct tape, kicked repeatedly in the head, then burned with a torch.

However, it remains unclear whether investigators ultimately believed this to be a true and reliable account of Fraser’s demise.

Federal prosecutors allege former Honolulu businessman Michael J. Miske Jr., owner of Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control, M Nightclub and other Hawaii businesses, directed and funded the kidnapping-murder scheme as retribution for what Miske mistakenly believed was Fraser’s role in his son’s death.

Jonathan Fraser was reported missing July 31, 2016. Federal authorities have charged Miske and others with his murder. FBI

Miske’s son and only child, Caleb Jordan Miske, and Fraser, who was Caleb’s best friend, were critically injured on Kaneohe Bay Drive next to Windward City Shopping Center in November 2015 when their small car crashed at high speed into a pickup truck that was turning in front of them. Fraser survived and was discharged from the hospital, but Caleb Miske died four months later of complications from his injuries. 

Mike Miske mistakenly believed Fraser was driving at the time of the accident, although all available evidence, including multiple reports by first responders, documented that Caleb was trapped behind the wheel and had to be extracted from the demolished car.

Miske faces six separate charges related to Fraser’s death, including conspiracy, kidnapping, murder-for-hire and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, two of which carry mandatory life sentences upon conviction.

Probable Cause

Information obtained from the confidential source led investigators to determine they had probable cause to believe Fraser had been kidnapped as part of a murder-for-hire plot directed by Miske, and allegedly carried out by Miske associates Jacob “Jake” Smith and Lance Lee Bermudez, along with unnamed others, according to the witness account described by an FBI agent in affidavits submitted in support of a series of related search warrants.

Lance Bermudez Screenshot

Both Smith and Bermudez have already pleaded guilty as part of plea agreements with prosecutors, and are now expected to testify against their former associates when the case goes to trial, now set for April.

Bermudez entered a guilty plea earlier this month, becoming the sixth of Miske’s original 10 co-defendants to cut a deal with prosecutors. Smith, who was charged separately, was one of the first Miske-related defendants to jump ship, copping a plea in November 2020.

The newly unsealed files are among 47 search warrants and related documents in federal court files that are in the process of being unsealed following a  successful legal challenge to their continued secrecy brought by the Civil Beat Law Center for the Public Interest, a nonprofit law firm specializing in the public’s right to know. The Law Center is a separate and distinct entity that is not part of the Honolulu Civil Beat news organization.

The first batch of search warrants was made public last week after federal Judge Derrick Watson, who is overseeing the Miske case, signed a Sept. 23 order directing court clerks to restore public access to these files.

The Eye Witness

In a Dec. 9, 2016 affidavit in support of a search warrant for a home in the 3200 block of Kalihi Street, FBI Special Agent Grant Knorr stated that an unnamed confidential source, referred to only as “CS2,” had been providing reliable information to the FBI for about a month. The information provided to that point had been corroborated by a variety of records, including “telephone records, criminal history records, prison records, social media, Department of Motor Vehicle Records, and data from Pen Registers,” Knorr said.

This source was providing information “because of fear for his/her safety and the safety of the community,” Knorr wrote.

Honolulu businessman Michael J. Miske Jr. is at the center of a major federal organized crime case. FBI/2020

Although neither this nor several related affidavits disclosed the identity of CS2, the description provided, including an offense profile that included unauthorized entry into a motor vehicle, a Class C felony, and misdemeanor theft, suggest the source was James Borling-Salis, who was just 23 years old at the time of these meetings with the FBI. His identity was later confirmed to Civil Beat by a source with knowledge of the matter, who provided the information on the condition their name not be used because they are in a sensitive position.

Another cooperating witness described in the affidavit only as “CW3,” appears to be Borling-Salas’ grandmother, who accompanied him to meetings with federal investigators. 

In December 2019, three years after his meetings with the FBI, Borling-Salas was being held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center for violations of the conditions of his parole. He was beaten and left for dead by a group of inmates. He died the following month. 

His family believes he was killed for being a “snitch” suspected of providing information about Fraser’s death to law enforcement agencies, and a civil lawsuit has been filed against the Department of Public Safety and several individuals by Borling-Salis’ mother.

The lawsuit alleges Borling-Salis requested protection after being threatened for being a “snitch.” The lawsuit alleges the state was negligent in failing to protect him, and allowing him to be sent back into the general population after a period during which he was held in protective custody.

In light of the contents of these newly released affidavits, additional questions could be asked about whether federal authorities could or should have done more to protect him, and to investigate the circumstances of his death.

Attempts to reach Borling-Salas’ mother and grandmother for comment for this story were unsuccessful.

James Borling-Salas was cooperating with investigators in the Miske case. He was killed in the Oahu jail in 2016, after he’d given sworn statements to federal prosecutors. Hawaii Criminal Justice Data Center

According to Agent Knorr’s affidavit, Borling-Salas aka CS2 met with investigators on Nov. 30, 2016, and provided information about Fraser’s disappearance.

Borling-Salas said he had been associated with Jacob Smith and Lance Bermudez, and understood from them that Miske was a major drug distributor. Smith would tell him “when Miske ‘was happening.’ This meant Miske received a large shipment of drugs,” the affidavit reported.

Smith would also phone Miske “when he needed to make money,” according to the affidavit’s summary of Borling-Salas’ statements. Miske would return Smith’s call, and would tell Smith to stop by one of his businesses. On several occasions, Borling-Salas said he drove Smith to the office of Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control or to the M Nightclub, both businesses owned by Miske, where Smith would receive assignments.

“For instance, Miske would provide Smith with information about competing drug dealers that needed to be ‘clipped’ or ‘hit.’ Smith would arrange a robbery or an assault against the drug dealer, and Miske would pay Smith in return,” Knorr wrote.

According to Borling-Salis, Smith and Bermudez lived in an upstairs unit of a house in Kalihi Valley. A rental agreement later obtained by the FBI listed Smith and three other people as tenants for a lease running from May 1 to Oct. 31, 2016. 

HPD officers entered the house after the expiration of the lease, and the layout was consistent with the description provided by Borling-Salas. In addition, he later accompanied HPD officers to the house and was able to guide them to it.

According to the affidavit, Borling-Salas said he had visited the house on an unknown date, later estimated to be in late July or early August 2016, around the time of Fraser’s disappearance.

At that time, he “noticed another male individual in the outside bathroom underneath the stairs as he … approached the house,” the affidavit stated. “The individual had long hair and a scar on his face,” and was later recognized as Fraser after a Crimestoppers alert was broadcast.

“Fraser was tied to a green, plastic garden chair with zip-tie restraints and duct tape. Duct tape also covered Fraser’s mouth. Fraser had a bloodied face and Smith repeatedly kicked Fraser about the head,” according to the affidavit. Smith was a trained martial artist, and admitted to being paid to assault people when requested by Miske.

Smith and Bermudez then allegedly used a propane gas torch to burn Fraser.

“Smith and Bermudez started burning Fraser’s feet and hands,” and eventually “worked their way up Fraser’s body with the torch,” according to the affidavit. “While this was taking place, CS2 observed a tripod was set up and a phone was mounted to it. The phone recorded the torture as it occurred.”

Borling-Salas “was extremely disturbed” and left the house. He returned to the house “a few days later.”

“Smith explained that Miske wanted Fraser tortured as a repercussion for Miske’s son’s death,” according to the affidavit, and both Smith and Bermudez attempted to show Borling-Salas a video of the prior torture session which they had on their phones.

During that same visit, Borling-Salas said he saw Bermudez “in the kitchen tending to a very large pot cooking on the stove,” and he saw “a very large bone sticking out of the pot.” 

He believed the bone to be human, and “presumed it was part of Fraser’s body, and that Fraser was dead,” the affidavit states.

Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control building with obscured signs at 940 Queen street.
Federal prosecutors say Michael Miske used Kamaaina Termite and Pest Control as the headquarters for his criminal enterprise. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Borling-Salas told investigators he had driven Smith to the Kamaaina Termite office in August 2016, following Fraser’s disappearance, and Smith returned to the car “with a large amount of cash consisting of $100 and $50 bills bound by rubber bands.” 

On a second occasion, he again drove Smith to collect money, this time from the M Nightclub. “Smith returned with cash and advised it was from Miske,” the affidavit said.

After witnessing Fraser’s torture, Borling-Salas was depressed and despondent, and his grandmother told investigators he had attempted suicide. He then confessed to her what he had seen. Her intervention apparently led to his meeting with HPD and federal authorities several months later. 

According to the affidavit, Borling-Salas broke down when asked to take a lie detector test, and refused the test. He became extremely emotional, then “attempted to hide in the corner of the interview room and then crawled into the fetal position under the desk in the interview room.”

According to the affidavit, Borling-Salas appears to have recanted his statements about what transpired at the Kalihi house. He “stated that Miske had hired Smith and Bermudez to kill Fraser and that Smith told CS2 Fraser was never going to come home,” but “advised that everything else he/she told investigators was a lie.”

Borling-Salas’ grandmother, referred to as CW3 in the FBI affidavits, said he had returned to her home in early August 2016 in a black Monte Carlo that belonged to Smith. She said he returned the car approximately three days later, apparently when he returned to the Kalihi house and was shown video of Fraser’s torture.

Shortly after that, Borling-Salas attempted to commit suicide, and when confronted by his grandmother, said he had been with Smith and Bermudez when they abducted Fraser, and took him to Kalihi. He also told his grandmother he had been present “when Smith met with the father of a boy who had been in an accident with Fraser,” apparently referring to Mike Miske.

According to the affidavit, she said Borling-Salas told her “the father agreed to pay Smith $50,000 to kill Fraser, make him suffer, and record the murder on video.” 

Borling-Salas told her “he could not stand to watch,” and that Smith told him to take Smith’s car and leave, which he did. Borling-Salas also confessed to his grandmother he had used drugs and “committed other crimes with Bermudez and Smith, including robbery.”

Searching For Evidence

Perhaps coincidentally, the FBI had obtained court approval on July 21, 2016, for a “pen register trap and trace” for a cell phone known to be used by Miske. It allowed law enforcement agencies to collect, record, and analyze caller information. It recorded approximately 64 text messages and two voice calls to a phone used by Smith between July 29 and July 31, 2016, the period during which Fraser disappeared.

Apparently based on Borling-Salas’ disclosures and information from several other confidential sources, federal investigators obtained warrants to seize several cell phones used by Miske, Smith and Bermudez, and extract their digital data including text messages, contact lists, photos and video, and location information. Search warrants were also served on Google seeking contents of multiple Google Mail accounts the three men used.

Mike Miske and other defendants in the government’s massive criminal case have been locked up in the federal detention center in Honolulu for more than a year awaiting trial. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Investigators obtained warrants and searched the Kalihi house, as well as several vehicles used by Smith and Bermudez, along with personal items including a back pack seized from one of the vehicles.

During the search of the house nearly five months after Fraser’s disappearance, agents seized a number of items, including a 5-inch small rib bone, sink drain pipes from the master bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and half-bath, a trace of unknown hair, dryer lint trap, a zip-tie, folding chair, and sections of drywall.

Using luminol spray, forensic technicians observed what they believed to be blood in the bathroom that couldn’t be seen by the naked eye.

However, later reports indicated forensic tests were not able to identify blood in the samples they had collected, and biological samples collected “lacked interpretable DNA,” had levels of DNA too low for testing, or were “consistent with a mixture of two or more individuals.”

Questions Remain

Neither Smith nor Bermudez faced charges related to their alleged roles in Fraser’s abduction and murder, and their written plea agreements do not indicate whether they were questioned about or acknowledged their participation during debriefing by investigators.  

The failure to charge them, along with the apparent failure of the FBI search to find biological evidence of the murder, leaves in doubt whether the newly disclosed witness testimony was ultimately considered reliable.

And, of course, the lack of charges appears to provide a huge opening for defense attorneys to challenge the truthfulness of future testimony by Smith and Bermudez. If they provide incriminating testimony consistent with Borling-Salas’ account of Miske’s role in funding and directing the murder plot, defense attorneys will undoubtedly seek to show their testimony might have been falsified in order to escape being charged with offenses that would mean life in prison if convicted.

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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.