Cops: Fake 911 call helped unravel Vermont murder for hire

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) – A 911 call in which Vermont state police officers searched for a nonexistent man who claimed to have shot his wife was a major lead that helped detectives unravel an international murder plot linked to a potentially lucrative – yet troubled – oil deal.

Within hours of Gregory Davis’ body being found along a snowy road in Vermont in January 2018, investigators learned of the deal in which the New Jersey resident threatened to tell the FBI about his experiences with two Turkish investors who he believes were not their own. meet financial obligations.

Four years later, a complaint was filed.

Prosecutors link Los Angeles biotech investor Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, to two intermediaries and then to Jerry Banks — the man who allegedly called 911, kidnapped and killed Davis.

Gumrukcu was arrested in Los Angeles in May. He was taken back to Vermont, where he… pleaded not guilty Charged Tuesday for using interstate commerce facilities in committing contract murder.

Most of the details of the case are in the voluminous court documents filed in federal courts in Vermont, Nevada and California.

Born in Englewood, New Jersey, Davis moved to Vermont about three years before his death at age 49. Davis, his wife and their six children rented a house in Danville, about 30 miles northeast of the capital Montpelier.

Davis’ LinkedIn page described him as the director of New Jersey-based Fashion Commodities. It also said he had 20 years of experience in foreign direct investment programs and had advised governments around the world.

Some time after arriving in Vermont, Davis took a job with an environmental garbage disposal company, but court records and his work history indicate that he was involved in a series of investment projects. After Davis’s death, his wife, Melissa, told investigators that they were living on the money he received from the investments.

That came to an end around 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, 2018, when a masked man knocked on the door of Davis’ home in Danville.

Melissa Davis described the man wearing handcuffs, a rifle and a jacket with the U.S. Marshals decal. Their 12-year-old son told investigators the man was driving a white four-door car with red and blue emergency lights on the dashboard.

The man told Davis he had a warrant for his arrest for extortion from Virginia. They left together. Melissa Davis didn’t call the police.

About 15 minutes before the kidnapping, someone called from within a mile of Davis’s home to report that he had shot his wife and was going to commit suicide. The caller did not give the name of a city and the police could not find a local road that matched the name given by the caller.

The next day, Davis’ handcuffed body was found at the foot of a snowdrift in the town of Barnet, about 15 miles from his home. He had been shot several times in the head and torso. The researchers found .22 caliber cartridge cases.

Melissa Davis has filed a civil suit against Gumrukcu. In court Tuesday for Gumrukcu’s arraignment, she declined to comment.

Within hours of Davis’s body being discovered, investigators began to focus on the oil deal as a possible reason for his kidnapping and death.

On December 29, 2017, Davis texted an oil deal broker for a $980,000 settlement to end the deal with Gumurkcu and his brother, Murat Gumrukcu.

“Therefore, as we discussed, it would be wise to address the outstanding accounting. Have Murat and Serhat present something to talk to,” Davis texted the middleman, who has not been charged, two days before his death. “Hopefully let’s close that case and move on. Without it, our hands will be forced to turn this over to authorities neither side wants.”

Not long after Davis’s death, the investigation entered what prosecutors describe as a “long secret phase.”

Court documents describe how during that quiet period, investigators pieced together the puzzle that allegedly began with the 911 call made from a phone purchased by Banks at a Walmart in Pennsylvania.

Over time, investigators discovered a chain linking the four suspects: Banks was friends with Aron Lee Ethridge, who was friends with Berk Eratay, who worked for Gumrukcu.

Ethridge has has already pleaded guilty and admitted to hire Banks to kidnap and kill Davis. Eratay was arraigned in federal court in Vermont on July 29, where he pleaded not guilty. During a hearing last week, his lawyer asked the court to release him pending trial, but the judge refused.

The charges against Gumrukcu, Eratay and Banks may carry the death penalty or life imprisonment, but lawyers say the Justice Department will not demand the death penalty. As part of Ethridge’s plea deal with prosecutors, the lawyers will recommend that he be sentenced to 27 years in prison.

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The FBI refers questions about the case to the United States Attorney’s office in Vermont, which, of course, declines to comment on ongoing investigations. The Vermont state police, which began investigating Davis’s death after his body was found, put questions to the US attorney.

Gumrukcu’s attorney in Vermont, David Kirby, declined to comment.

Responding to prosecutors opposing his release, prosecutors said Eratay’s banking records reveal more than $250,000 in transfers from a Turkish bank to two accounts he managed between June and October 2017. Eratay withdrew the money. as cash in daily increments of $9,000, just below the $10,000 currency reporting requirement.

“Further, Eratay’s Google records (obtained through a search warrant) show that he documented personal information about Davis in July 2017, including his full name, date of birth, place of birth, and cell phone with a Vermont area code,” said a June filing by officers of justice.

Gumrukcu is a native of Turkey who immigrated to the United States in 2013 and became a permanent resident a year later.

In a bail petition filed in Los Angeles in June, Gumrukcu said he received medical training in 2004 from Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey, and completed a residency in Russia.

The medical school did not respond to a request for comment about whether Gumrukcu completed his studies there. But according to the defense, he does not provide direct patient care and has never claimed to be licensed as a physician in the United States.

When asked in court on Tuesday about his level of education, Gumrukcu replied: “university”.

“As a scientist, he is a true genius,” reads a letter written as part of Gumrukcu’s citizenship request and which was included in Dr. Mark Dybul, CEO of Enochian Biosciences. “He has the remarkable and rare ability to see beyond disciplines and connect points that others cannot.”

In 2015, Gumrukcu began focusing on research, and an offshoot of that co-founded Enochian Biosciences in 2018. The company describes itself as a preclinical biotechnology company committed to using “innovative gene and immunotherapy interventions that bring hope.” offer a cure or lifelong remission from devastating diseases.”

But it was in 2017 that Davis threatened the Gumrukcus to go to the police with allegations that they were defrauding him.

During the same period, Gumrukcu faced fraud charges in the California state court, involving home investment fraud and accidental checks issued to the man who worked to facilitate the Davis oil deal. In January 2018, just after Davis’s murder, Gumrukcu pleaded guilty to one felony, but he later successfully changed the conviction to a felony.

Also in 2017, Gumrukcu made another deal that saw him acquire a significant ownership stake in Enochian Biosciences.

“During 2017, fraud allegations by Davis would have at the very least complicated the transaction with Enochian, and likely caused the deal with Enochian to fail altogether,” prosecutors said in June.

Earlier this year, following Gumrukcu’s arrest, Enochia’s board of directors issued a statement saying there was no connection between the crime Gumrukcu is accused of and the company.

The filing said Gumrukcu owned about $100 million worth of shares in Enochian. About a week before his arrest, Gumrukcu generated $2 million in cash from a stock sale in Enochian.

Both Gumrukcus were interviewed in early 2018 about Davis’s murder, but both denied involvement. Murat Gumrukcu left the US in March 2018 and has not returned. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach him in Turkey were unsuccessful.

____

AP reporter Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.

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