By WILSON RING | The Associated Press
BURLINGTON, Vt. – A 911 call that sent Vermont State Police officers searching for a nonexistent man who claimed to have shot his wife was a key lead that helped detectives uncover an international assassination conspiracy linked to linked to a potentially lucrative – yet troubled – oil business.
Within hours of Gregory Davis’ body being found by the side of a snowy Vermont back road in January 2018, investigators learned of the deal, in which the New Jersey native threatened to tell the FBI about his experiences with two Turkish investors who, in his opinion, had failed to meet their financial obligations.
Charges were filed four years later.
Prosecutors are connecting Los Angeles biotech investor Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, to two middlemen 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 returned to Vermont, where he pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges of using interstate trade facilities in committing contract killing.
Most of the details of the case are contained in the extensive court documents 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 the age of 49. Davis, his wife, and their six children rented a home in Danville, about 30 miles northeast of the capital, Montpelier.
Davis’ LinkedIn page described him as the executive director of Mode Commodities based in New Jersey. It also said he had 20 years of experience in foreign direct investment programs and had advised governments around the world.
Sometime after arriving in Vermont, Davis took a job at an environmental cleaning company, but court records and his work history show he was involved in a number of capital projects. After Davis’s death, his wife, Melissa, told investigators that they lived on the money he received from the investments.
It all ended around 9 p.m. on Saturday, January 6, 2018, when a masked man knocked on the door of Davis’ Danville home.
Melissa Davis described the man as wearing handcuffs, a rifle and a jacket with a US Marshals emblem. Her 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 Virginia extortion warrant out for his arrest. They went away together. Melissa Davis did not call the police.
About 15 minutes before the kidnapping, someone called 911 from within a mile of Davis’s home to report that he had shot his wife and was in the process of killing himself. The caller did not provide the name of a city and police could not find a local street that matched the name provided by the caller.
The next day, Davis’ handcuffed body was found at the base of a snowdrift in the town of Barnet, about 15 miles from his home. He had been shot multiple times in the head and upper body. Investigators recovered .22 caliber cartridge cases.
Melissa Davis has filed a civil lawsuit against Gumrukcu. She declined to comment in court Tuesday on Gumrukcu’s charges.
Within hours of discovering Davis’ body, investigators began to focus on the oil business as a possible reason for his kidnapping and death.
On December 29, 2017, Davis texted an oil middleman 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 address the outstanding accounting. Have Murat and Serhat come up with something to talk to,” Davis wrote to the mediator, who was not charged, two days before his death. “Let’s hopefully close this matter and move on. Without this, our hands will be forced to turn this over to the authorities, which neither party wants.”
Not long after Davis’ death, the investigation entered what prosecutors described as a “long covert period.”
Court documents describe how during this quiet period, investigators piece-by-piece pieced together the puzzle that allegedly began with the 911 call made with a phone Banks bought at a Walmart in Pennsylvania.
Over time, investigators uncovered a chain connecting 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 to 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 attorney asked the court to release him pending trial, but the judge refused.
The charges against Gumrukcu, Eratay and Banks carry a possible death sentence or life imprisonment, but lawyers say the Justice Department will not seek the death penalty. As part of Ethridge’s settlement with prosecutors, attorneys will recommend that he be sentenced to 27 years in prison.
The FBI is escalating questions about the case to the Vermont Attorney’s Office, which, of course, is refusing to comment on the ongoing investigation. The Vermont State Police, who began investigating Davis’ death after his body was found, deferred questions to the US Attorney.
Gumrukcu’s Vermont attorney, David Kirby, declined to comment.
In a response from prosecutors who opposed his release, prosecutors said Eratay’s bank records revealed transfers of over $250,000 from a Turkish bank to two accounts he controlled 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.
“Furthermore, Eratay’s Google data (obtained via search warrant) shows that as of July 2017 he documented personal information about Davis, including his full name, date of birth, place of birth and cell phone with a Vermont area code,” said a June filing by prosecutors.
Gumrukcu is a native Turk who 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 from Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey, in 2004 and completed residency in Russia.
The medical school did not respond to a request for comment on whether Gumrukcu completed his studies there. However, the defense filing states that he does not provide direct patient care and that he has never claimed to be licensed as a physician in the United States.
When asked in court Tuesday about his educational level, Gumrukcu replied: “University”.
“As a scientist, he is a true genius,” said a letter written as part of Gumrukcu’s application for citizenship and Dr. Mark Dybul, CEO of Enochian Biosciences. “He has the remarkable and rare ability to see in an interdisciplinary manner and connect dots that others cannot see.”
In 2015, Gumrukcu began focusing on research, and an offshoot of this was the co-founding of Enochian Biosciences in 2018. The company describes itself as a pre-clinical biotechnology company dedicated to the application of “innovative gene and immunotherapy interventions that giving hope for cures or lifelong remissions for devastating diseases”.
But it was in 2017 that Davis threatened the Gumrukcus to go to law enforcement with allegations that they had cheated on him.
During the same period, Gumrukcu faced a felony fraud charge in California state court involving home investment fraud and bounced checks provided to the man who worked to facilitate the Davis oil trade. In January 2018, shortly after Davis’ murder, Gumrukcu pleaded guilty to a felony but later successfully changed the conviction to a misdemeanor.
Also in 2017, Gumrukcu put together another deal that gave him a significant stake in Enochian Biosciences.
“In 2017, fraud complaints from Davis would have at least complicated the Enochian transaction and likely derailed the Enochian deal altogether,” prosecutors said in the June filing.
Earlier this year, following Gumrukcu’s arrest, Enochian’s board of directors issued a statement saying there was no connection between the crime Gumrukcu is accused of and the company.
The filing states that Gumrukcu owned approximately $100 million in Enochian stock. About a week before his arrest, Gumrukcu made $2 million in cash from an Enochian stock sale.
Both Gumrukcus were questioned about Davis’ murder in early 2018, but both denied involvement. Murat Gumrukcu left the US in March 2018 and has not returned. Efforts 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.
https://www.ocregister.com/2022/10/05/cops-fake-911-call-helped-unravel-vermont-murder-for-hire-2/ Prosecutors Link LA Investor to International Contract Killing – Orange County Register