Testimony shifts to alleged kidnapping in Miske trial

Jan. 25—A former employee of Michael J. Miske's businesses testified Wednesday that his boss used violence to get his way and helped him coordinate the kidnapping of an accountant.

Preston Kimoto, 45, took the stand on day three of Miske's criminal trial in U.S. District Court before Chief U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson.

Kimoto is one of 947 witnesses the U.S. Department of Justice plans to call, according to a Jan. 5 filing.

Kimoto met Miske, who also goes by "Bro," in 2015, he told the court, in response to questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney William KeAupuni Akina.

When asked if he saw Miske in the courtroom, Kimoto noted that his former boss and "close friend" was seated in front of and to Kimoto's left, wearing a gray aloha shirt.

Kimoto bounced back and forth between Miske's businesses, starting with Kama­'aina Termite & Pest Control. He also worked for Hawaii Partners, buying and selling cars from Manheim Hawaii's weekly auction.

He did sales for the pest control, plumbing and solar companies for Miske.

When Miske acquired Oahu Termite and Pest Control, Kimoto testified that he was tasked with building up that business to help conceal Kama'aina's poor reputation in the local market.

Kimoto pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit kidnapping in exchange for his cooperation with federal prosecutors' case against Miske.

Miske's attorney, Michael J. Kennedy, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in an interview after court Wednesday that "cross- examination will and always does help get at the truth, and the truth is what we seek."

"We look forward to asking the questions to Mr. Ki­moto tomorrow and going forward with Mike's defense," said Kennedy. "He's pled not guilty to this and all of these counts. Only cross- examination will get at the real story here ... Stay tuned."

The bulk of Kimoto's testimony Wednesday centered around an alleged conspiracy to kidnap Seung Ji Robert Lee, an accountant who owed money to the father of one of Kimoto's friends.

On Tuesday, Lee, 78, testified that on Oct. 17, 2017, he was kidnapped by two men posing as police officers in the parking lot at Fishermen's Wharf. Lee's hands were bound with zip ties, and his head was wrapped in a plastic bag, duct-taped shut save for a slit by his mouth allowing him to breathe.

Federal prosecutors showed emergency room photos to the jury of Lee's bruising to his face, arms and neck.

Lee said he was driven around and assaulted for nearly six hours over a $900,000 to $1 million financial disagreement he had with another man, Tony Kim, over a steel business.

Lee told the two men who drove him around and beat him "five or six times" that he didn't have the money.

"I asked them to release some of the duct tape because I cannot breathe," said Lee, who paused to drink water and collect himself several times Tuesday. "It was very scary."

On Wednesday, Kimoto told the court that in May 2017, Kim's daughter came to him after exhausting all legal avenues to recoup money from Lee.

She asked if he knew someone who could help collect. She gave Kimoto a Post-it with the amount owed, Lee's name and a number. She also mentioned that Lee liked to eat at Asahi Grill.

Kimoto said he told her it would cost 50% of the debt to be collected. She agreed.

Kimoto said he put the Post-it on Miske's desk, confirmed that he got it and understood that Miske was going to "talk to" Lee. Miske allegedly asked if the debt total was correct but never discussed kidnapping or spoke directly to Kimoto's female friend.

Kimoto photographed a man who he thought was Lee when he saw him on the street in Kakaako, then followed him into the restaurant to get a better picture. He gave the picture to Miske and didn't hear anything for several weeks.

During a break in Kimoto's testimony Wednesday, after Watson and the jury exited the courtroom, Miske remarked out loud that what "that guy (Kimoto) said on the stand is lies."

After work on Oct. 17, Kimoto said he and Miske were heading to lift weights at the Honolulu Club when Miske told him they had to go back to the Kama'aina Termite & Pest Control office.

Back in his second-floor office, Miske allegedly walked up to a clear board and wrote out and whispered that "they had the accountant and what does your friend want to do?"

Akina asked why Miske was whispering and Kimoto said because Miske often joked that they were under surveillance from law enforcement.

Miske allegedly relayed that former co-defendant Wayne Miller, a friend of Miske's with a penchant for violence, "has the person (Lee) and he's saying he doesn't have the money and what does your friend want to do?"

"My understanding was that Mike was going to talk to him, not kidnap him," said Kimoto, in response to a question from Akina.

Miller allegedly showed up at the office and Miske made him prove the accountant was not in the trunk.

"It was normal I guess ... I was in shock but it happened," said Kimoto.

Kimoto met up with his female friend and updated her. She allegedly told Kimoto to inquire how much it would cost to kill Lee by making a slashing gesture across her throat.

"I told her absolutely not," said Kimoto. "Then she asked if the person who had the accountant could try harder."

Kimoto told the court that he told Miske that his friend wanted Lee killed.

Miske allegedly said "No" because it would lead to more killing of witnesses to cover it up. Lee was eventually released. Tony Kim allegedly paid Miske $90,000 in cash in four installments, about 10% of the debt Miske was asked to collect, Kimoto said.

While discussing Miske's auto sales business, Kimoto alleged that Miske told him he sent underlings to beat competitors and that Miske's reputation often scared off other bidders.

"I mean, Mike has a reputation of getting what he wants," said Kimoto, when pressed by Akina to explain. "If not, he uses violence."

Kimoto's testimony will continue this morning.

During the first break of the trial Wednesday, Watson expressed frustration at the construction and introduction of evidence, stored in white binders allegedly ordered by number on shelves behind his bench.

After excusing the jury, Watson reminded the court that he and his staff are not responsible for managing evidence or creating exhibits. He encouraged improved organization of evidence.