Prosecutors allege cover-up of multimillion-dollar fraud was motive for Vermont man’s murder | #phishing | #scams


Prosecutors say a California business investor wanted a Vermont man dead because he feared the victim would go to the FBI with damning information about alleged fraud in a “multimillion-dollar oil deal” between them, according to newly released documents.

A court filing by federal prosecutors on Monday provides the first look into the motive and connections between four men from three different states charged over the past two months in what authorities have described as a murder-for-hire plot in which Gregory Davis, 49, of Danville was kidnapped and shot to death in January 2018. 

Serhat Gumrukcu, 39, of Los Angeles and Berk Eratay, 35, of Las Vegas were both arrested last week after being indicted by a federal grand jury in Vermont. The two men are each charged with conspiring to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of the murder scheme.

Federal prosecutors in Nevada, in a filing that seeks to hold Eratay in custody while the case against him is pending, went into much more detail about the alleged plot and reported that one of the defendants had confessed.

Early in the investigation, the filing stated, Serhat Gumrukcu was identified as a likely suspect in the murder because he and his brother, Murat Gumrukcu, were the only people who appeared to have a dispute with Davis that “would potentially be a motive for Davis’s execution.”

“In 2017, Davis was threatening the Gumrukcus about going to the FBI with evidence that the Gumrukcus were defrauding him in a multimillion-dollar oil deal that the Gumrukcus had entered into with Davis in early 2015,” according to the document signed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jacob Operskalski. 

“The Gumrukcus failed to perform on the deal,” the prosecutor said. “Davis believed that the Gumrukcus had lied to him about various matters.”

Also in 2017, the document stated, Serhat Gumrukcu was facing felony fraud charges in California state court, which included allegations of bounced checks that Serhat Gumrukcu had provided to the “middleman” in the oil deal. 

On those bounced checks, Serhat Gumrukcu reportedly falsely referred to himself as “HRH Serhat Gumrukcu,” a reference to “His Royal Highness.”

At that same time, the filing stated, Serhat Gumrukcu was putting together what turned out to be a successful deal after the murder: securing a significant ownership stake in a California biotechnology company, Enochian BioSciences. 

“Gumrukcu therefore had a strong motive to prevent Davis from reporting yet another fraud, and likely threatening the Enochian deal,” Operskalski said.  

Authorities said Serhat Gumrukcu appears to own more than $100 million worth of Enochian stock. About a week before his arrest earlier this month, prosecutors said, he sold some of his stock for $2 million in cash. 

“Neither Serhat nor Murat Gumrukcu had traveled to Vermont to personally kill Davis, so the most likely plot involved a hired killer,” according to the prosecution’s filing.  

Murat Gumrukcu, who lives in Turkey, apparently visited the United States between December 2017 and March 2018, and was staying at Eratay’s former apartment in Las Vegas at the time of Davis’s killing.

The Gumrukcu brothers were interviewed in early 2018 about the murder and denied any involvement. Murat Gumrukcu has not returned to the U.S. since March 2018, according to authorities.

Prosecutors said the investigation then turned to trying to identify the alleged hitman. In 2020, a break in the case came when a Colorado man named Jerry Banks was identified as a suspect, prosecutors said.

Banks, 34, was arrested in Wyoming in April on a charge that he kidnapped Davis. Aron Lee Ethridge, 41, of Henderson, Nevada, was also detained on a charge that he conspired with Banks on the kidnapping.

Police say Banks took Davis from his home on Jan. 6, 2018, by posing as a U.S. marshal who came to arrest him on racketeering charges. 

A day later, Davis was found dead in a snowbank in Barnet, 15 miles from his home, shot in the head and torso. 

Investigators believe Banks had been paid to kill Davis, since investigators could not find a personal connection between the two men. So far, nobody has been charged with murder in the killing of Davis.

The probe uncovered a chain connecting the four men charged so far in the case: Banks was friends with Ethridge, and Ethridge was friends with Eratay, who worked for Gumrukcu, prosecutors said.

Multiple pieces of evidence supported the link, such as Banks meeting with Ethridge on various occasions in late 2017 as the murder scheme was being finalized, authorities said.

“Ethridge was the first person Banks telephoned after the murder,” Operskalski wrote. “The first call Ethridge made after receiving the post-murder call from Banks was to Eratay’s phone.”

Authorities say Ethridge has admitted to his role in Davis’s kidnapping and killing.

“Ethridge admitted that he hired Banks to kill Davis and that he was in turn hired by Eratay (his former neighbor and friend for years) and Gumrukcu to find someone to murder Davis,” Operskalski wrote. 

“Ethridge’s admissions are highly credible, as they are consistent with the other evidence in the case,” the prosecutor said, adding that the government expects Ethridge to testify at trial against Banks, Eratay and Gumrukcu.

Financial records for Eratay, whom authorities said identified himself as Gumrukcu’s assistant, showed more than $150,000 in wire transfers from Turkish accounts Gumrukcu controlled between June and October 2017, “as the murder scheme was building,” prosecutors said.

“Eratay carefully and secretly transformed those funds into cash at the same time,” the court filing stated. “Further, Eratay’s email account showed 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.”

This story will be updated.

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