The trial of a Honolulu businessman is providing a possible glimpse of Hawaii’s underworld

“The defendant used fear, violence and intimidation to get what he wanted,” Assistant U.S. Attorney William Akina said in his opening statement.

A sign for the Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole Federal Building and Courthouse is displayed outside the courthouse in Honolulu on Monday. Jennifer Kelleher / AP

HONOLULU — A U.S. prosecutor revealed a possible glimpse into Hawaii’s underworld on Monday as he outlined the crimes a Honolulu businessman is accused of orchestrating: the kidnapping of a 72-year-old accountant who owed a debt, the release of a toxic chemical into a rival’s nightclubs and the killing of his late son’s best friend, among them.

Michael Miske Jr. was arrested in 2020, along with seven people whom prosecutors described as associates. But following a series of guilty pleas by the others — including a plea deal signed by his half-brother on Saturday — the trial opened with Miske as the lone defendant.

“The defendant used fear, violence and intimidation to get what he wanted,” Assistant U.S. Attorney William Akina said in his opening statement. “What he wanted was money, control and revenge.”

Miske’s attorney, Michael Kennedy, painted a completely different picture of his client.

Miske, 49, wasn’t a crime lord, but rather a “self-made man” who, despite growing up “on the wrong side of the tracks,” successfully built a family business called Kamaʻaina Termite and Pest Control, Kennedy said in his opening statement.

The company saved iconic Hawaii structures and “cultural treasures,” including outdoor theater Waikiki Shell, ʻIolani Palace and the Polynesian Cultural Center, Kennedy said. Miske even fumigated a Honolulu concert hall for free after the city couldn’t afford the $200,000 estimate, Kennedy said.

Akina alleged that Miske also owned several nightclubs where disputes over bar tabs would be met with physical assault from his “thugs.” In addition, he made millions selling illegal commercial-grade aerial fireworks on the black market, Akina said.

The businessman also groomed people from his Waimanalo neighborhood to violently rob drug dealers and carry out other orders, the prosecutor said.

Akina said Miske ordered hits on people, and though many were never carried out, at least one was: the 2016 killing of Johnathan Fraser, best friend to Miske’s only son, Caleb. Miske had long thought Fraser was a bad influence on Caleb, and blamed Fraser when the friends got into a car crash in 2015 that led to Caleb’s death, Akina said.

“There could be only one price to pay for the death of the defendant’s son,” Akina said. “A life for a life.”

An indictment alleges that Miske purchased a boat to dump Fraser’s body into the ocean, though the body has never been found.

Kennedy told jurors on Monday that Miske didn’t blame Fraser for the crash and had nothing to do with his disappearance.

The people who will be testifying against Miske have something to gain from authorities, Kennedy said, referring to plea deals made by his alleged associates.

“Lies are going to rain down into this courtroom from that stand,” he said.

Testimony is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

Opening statements proceeded despite a motion filed Sunday night by Miske’s defense team. His attorneys argued that a new jury should be selected because Miske’s half-brother John Stancil pleaded guilty after a jury had been assembled and sworn and Miske’s daughter-in-law Delia Fabro Miske pleaded guilty after four days of jury selection.

Defense attorney Lynn Panagakos noted that Stancil pleaded guilty early Monday before the courthouse was even open to the public.

U.S. District Chief Judge Derrick Watson denied the motion.