Fake 911 call helped unravel Vermont murder-for-hire

BURLINGTON, Vt. – A 911 call that sent Vermont State Police troopers to search for a non-existent man claiming to have shot his wife was an important clue that helped detectives unravel an international murder plot for vicarious account tied to a potentially lucrative – yet troubled – oil deal.

Hours after the body of Gregory Davis was discovered by the side of a snowy Vermont backroad in January 2018, investigators learned of the case that the New Jersey native threatened to tell the FBI about his experiences with two Turkish investors. that he felt he was not living up to their financial obligations.

Four years later, charges were filed.

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

Gumrukcu was arrested in May in Los Angeles. He was returned to Vermont where he pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to the charge of using interstate commercial facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire.

Most of the details of the case can be found in the voluminous court documents that have been filed in federal courts in Vermont, Nevada and California.

Davis, who was born in Englewood, New Jersey, 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 describes him as the managing director of New Jersey-based Mode Commodities. He 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 waste cleanup company, but court records and his work history indicate he was involved in a series of investment ventures. After Davis’ death, his wife, Melissa, told investigators that they were living off the money he received from investments.

It all 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 as having handcuffs, a rifle and wearing a jacket bearing the US Marshals emblem. Their 12-year-old son told investigators the man was driving a white four-door car with red and blue hazard warning lights on the dashboard.

The man told Davis he had a racketeering warrant against him from Virginia. They left together. Melissa Davis did not call the police.

About 15 minutes before the abduction, someone called 911 less than a mile from Davis’ residence to report that he had shot his wife and was about to kill himself. The caller did not provide the name of a city and the police could not find a local road matching the name given by the caller.

The following 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 chest. Investigators recovered .22 caliber cartridge cases.

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

Hours after Davis’ body was discovered, investigators began to focus on the oil deal as a potential reason for his abduction and death.

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

“Therefore, as we discussed, it would be prudent to deal with the outstanding accounting. Ask Murat and Serhat to come up with something to talk to,” Davis texted the intermediary, who was not charged, two days before he died. “Let’s hope to close this case and move on. Without that, our hands will be forced to hand this over to the authorities, which neither side wants.”

Shortly after Davis’ death, the investigation entered what prosecutors described as a “long secret stage.”

Court documents detail how, during this quiet time, investigators were piecing together the puzzle that allegedly began with the 911 call made from a phone Banks bought from a Walmart in Pennsylvania.

Over time, investigators uncovered 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 already pleaded guilty and admitted hiring Banks to kidnap and kill Davis. Eratay was arraigned in federal court in Vermont on July 29 where he pleaded not guilty. At 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 carry the death penalty or life in prison, but lawyers say the Justice Department will not seek the death penalty. As part of Ethridge’s plea deal with prosecutors, the attorneys will recommend that he be sentenced to 27 years in prison.

The FBI refers questions about the case to the Vermont Office of the United States Attorney, who, of course, declines to comment on ongoing investigations. Vermont State Police, which opened the investigation into Davis’ death after his body was found, referred questions to the U.S. Attorney.

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

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

“Additionally, Eratay’s Google data (obtained by search warrant) shows that he documented personal information about Davis in July 2017, including his full name, date of birth, place of birth and phone number. cell phone with a Vermont area code,” said a June. filing by prosecutors.

Gumrukcu is originally from Turkey and immigrated to the United States in 2013 and became a permanent resident a year later.

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

The medical school did not respond to a request for comment on whether Gumrukcu completed his studies there. But the defense filing said he did not provide direct patient care and never claimed to be licensed as a doctor in the United States.

In court on Tuesday, when asked about his level of education, Gumrukcu replied “university”.

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

In 2015, Gumrukcu began focusing on research, one of the offshoots of which was the 2018 co-foundation of Enochian Biosciences. The company describes itself as a preclinical biotechnology company committed to using “innovative gene and immune therapy interventions that offer the hope of lifelong cures or remissions for devastating diseases.”

But it was in 2017 that Davis threatened the Gumrukcus to turn themselves in to law enforcement with allegations of fraud.

During the same period, Gumrukcu was facing criminal fraud charges in California state court, involving housing investment fraud and bounced checks that were provided to the man who had worked to facilitate the oil deal with Davis. In January 2018, right after Davis’ murder, Gumrukcu pleaded guilty to a felony, but later managed to turn the conviction into a misdemeanor.

Also in 2017, Gumrukcu was putting in place a different deal whereby it secured a significant stake in Enochian Biosciences.

“In 2017, Davis’ fraud claims would have at least complicated the Enochian transaction, and likely would have completely scuttled the Enochian deal,” prosecutors’ June filing said.

Earlier this year, after Gumrukcu’s arrest, Enochian’s board 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 Enochian stock. About a week before his arrest, Gumrukcu generated $2 million in cash from a sale of Enochian stock.

Both Gumrukcus were questioned in early 2018 about Davis’ murder, but both denied involvement. Murat Gumrukcu left the United States in March 2018 and did not return. Efforts by The Associated Press to reach him in Turkey were unsuccessful.

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