Organized crime has been a dominant if often hidden reality in Hawaii for decades. But at least for now one of its most violent sociopaths is out of commission. On July 15, Michael Miske Jr., was arrested at his oceanfront home in Kailua, Oahu Island and charged in Honolulu federal court, along with 10 other men, with numerous criminal charges including murder, racketeering, kidnapping, arson, robbery and money-laundering. Significantly, his empire involved, if perhaps inadvertantly, a Teamsters local. Prosecutors termed Miske “the unquestioned leader of a racketeering enterprise” which “routinely committed violent crimes and assaults, and used threats and intimidation to protect (its) illegal activities.” He pleaded not guilty to all charges. A month later, on August 11, U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenneth Mansfield ordered Miske held without bail, terming him a flight risk and a threat to the community.
Welcome to the “other” Hawaii. Behind the beautiful beaches, lush forests, luxury hotels and chic nightclubs lies a long trail of crime family turf wars. Explosive economic growth, see-no-evil local police, incursions by the Japanese yakuza, and an antiquated tribal system of property rights, among other factors, have contributed to a subculture of violent anarchy that hit TV shows Hawaii Five-0 and Magnum P.I. only have hinted at. Longtime Honolulu investigative reporter James Dooley, in his 2015 book, Sunny Skies, Shady Characters: Cops, Killers, and Corruption in the Aloha State (University of Hawaii Press), presents a rogues’ gallery that could give La Cosa Nostra a run for its money. Heavies include: Ronald Ching, possessed of a penchant for burying the bodies of people he’d murdered (including a state senator and the son of a prosecuting attorney) under beach sand dunes; Alvin Kaohu, who ordered the murder of a rival organized crime figure simply for switching family allegiances; and Henry Huihui, who ran gambling and extortion rackets on Oahu and The Big Island, along the way committing a murder and ordering another.
Michael Miske Jr., now 46, fits in well with such company. Under the cover of legitimate businesses typically bearing the Kamaaina brand name, he started a successful crime syndicate in the late-90s now known as the “Miske Enterprise.” According to the 42-page indictment, Miske and his partners waged acts of violence against “rivals, competitors and innocent members of the community over a period spanning years, if not decades.” Specifically, he “directed and facilitated numerous assaults, kidnapping, extortion, the use of firearms, attempted murder and murder for hire.” Thus far, the explosive-tempered Miske has amassed at least six felony convictions. He may be due for quite a few more.
Here are a few examples of Hawaiian hospitality, Michael Miske-style. At Kamaania Termite & Pest Control, if a customer complained about bad service (a frequent occurrence) Miske or an associate would terrorize the customers out of reporting the problem; he also allegedly used the company as a base for money laundering. In January 2013, two days before the NFL Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Miske was charged with assault for smashing a champagne bottle over the head of Washington Redskins offensive lineman Trent Williams in Miske’s M Nightclub, rendering Williams unable to play. And in a particularly vile act, Miske allegedly ordered the July 2016 abduction and murder of a young man, Jonathan Fraser, who accidentally had killed Miske’s son the previous year in a two-car crash. Miske, convinced this was no accident, methodically exacted his revenge against Fraser, whose body was never found and who according to authorities likely was not the driver anyway.
Highly relevant is Miske’s involvement with unions, particularly International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 996, which represents drivers for movie and television scenes. This union, along with Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 5, long had operated under a nonprofit Honolulu-based hardball outfit called Unity House, a project launched nearly 70 years ago by the late Hawaii labor boss Art Rutledge. While Rutledge, definitely Old School, might not have been corrupt, he recognized that outside mobsters under the command of Alema Leota, an associate of Hawaii crime godfather Nappy Pulawa, were muscling their way into union affairs. As Union Corruption Update noted in 2006, son Tony Rutledge and grandson Aaron Rutledge carried on the fiefdom for a while until their indictments in 2003 for embezzlement and tax fraud; they would plead guilty in 2006. Unity House continued to operate, albeit in worsening financial straits, until it closed shop in 2019.
Michael Miske very likely took a generous cut from Teamsters Local 996’s Movie Unit. During the Rutledge era, the local was notorious for padding TV and movie sets with excessive numbers of drivers, which in turn drove up production costs. Tom Selleck, star and co-producer of the original Magnum P.I. series, complained that he had to hire twice as many drivers in Hawaii as in Los Angeles for doing the same scene. “Unions here (in Hawaii) practically insist on placing whoever they want on the payroll,” he said. “I’m a union member and I believe in seniority, but I also believe in hiring on the basis of ability.” The Miske crew, say prosecutors, was very close to the union. Michael Miske himself was a Local 996 member, often driving actors and equipment to sets. His favorite hit man, the above-mentioned Ronald Ching, also drove vehicles for union projects. So did mobsters John Stancil (a co-defendant and Miske’s half-brother) and Harry Kauhi. Were union leaders aware of who they were hiring? And if so, did they participate in any of their crimes? In a recent blog, James Dooley tried to get a few answers, but the union provided no responses. But with several unindicted co-conspirators reportedly about to receive Justice Department target letters, answers may be forthcoming.
Michael Miske Jr. is a rich man. In a review of financial transactions during 2010-17, the “no bail” memo concluded that he spent more than $15.8 million on major items, including “luxury vehicles valued at over $100,000 as well as luxury watches, jewelry and art valued at over $200,000.” He’s using some leftover money to pay for his high-powered attorney, Thomas Otake. “Despite the feds trying to paint Mr. Miske out to be public enemy number one in their unsubstantiated filing,” stated Otake, “it is indisputable that he has successful businesses in Honolulu for many years, and provided employment to countless individuals in our community.” This sort of rationalization isn’t evidence of innocence. Since when does providing jobs absolve someone of a crime? And what exactly is “unsubstantiated” about the indictment, which lists 11 defendants (several of whom are cooperating witnesses) and is based on extensive grand jury testimony, cell phone recordings, search warrant seizures, wiretaps and electronic surveillance? U.S. Attorney Kenji Price calls Miske “a grave danger to the community.” A lot of people, including members of Teamsters Local 996, would agree.