By Chuck Strouse
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By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
On March 2, 2004, a crisp spring morning around 9:00, Surfside Police Det. John Davis left the station in a blue Crown Victoria. Accompanied by a fellow officer and three agents from the Florida Department of Revenue, he headed for a four-bedroom, two-story house on a corner lot at 1116 88th St. It featured a back-yard vista of the Intracoastal Waterway.
The bald, heavy-set cop knocked on the wooden French doors leading to a lush courtyard. "Surfside Police," Davis called out. "We're here to execute a search warrant."
The owners, Daniel and Brigitte Degrave, a middle-age French couple who had come to Miami-Dade in 1998, waited on a patio bench beneath a tree while the revenue agents scoured their home and office.
"Why are you doing this to us?" Brigitte asked Davis.
"You're the subject of a criminal investigation," he replied.
"For what?" Daniel asked incredulously.
"The Florida Department of Revenue and the Town of Surfside believe you defrauded them of sales tax revenue," Davis explained.
Seven hours later, agents carted away financial statements, bank account information, business records, and computers belonging to the Degraves. Thus began a saga that would show this sleepy beachside community is a hotbed of police dissension and tax fraud; and it would raise the specter of international money laundering.
Forty-three-year-old John Davis was born and raised in Miami. He attended Christopher Columbus High School, where he starred on the varsity football team, and then left for college. He returned home in 1985 to follow in his father's footsteps. William "Bill" Davis was a Miami Beach detective who would later become Indian Creek Village's police chief.
John Davis was hired by the Miami Police Department in 1986, when it was reeling from the Miami River Cops scandal, in which more than 100 officers were arrested, fired, or disciplined. Seven months later he married Loretta Ann Kendrick. Soon they had a son and a daughter.
In three years at Miami PD, Davis received 13 commendations and was named officer of the month three times. But he wasn't the perfect cop. Davis was reprimanded on nine occasions for insubordinate behavior and minor disciplinary offenses between 1988 and 1989. For instance, in early June 1989, he was cited for allegedly taking four hours to respond to an incident and for showing up late for roll call.
On June 18, 1989, 33-year-old Jerome Jean-Pierre, who was convicted of a misdemeanor for obstructing a police officer in 1988, accused Davis of punching and kicking him, as well as slamming his head onto a patrol car. At the time, Davis was arresting Jean-Pierre for armed robbery. Two cops corroborated Jean-Pierre's story, but another said Davis only kicked the arrestee in response to an attack.
Prosecutors cleared Davis of criminal wrongdoing, but internal affairs investigators substantiated excessive force charges, so he was fired. An employee review board later examined the charges and changed the records to say Davis had quit.
In February 1993 Davis and his family decamped to Hannibal, Missouri. Then the couple separated. In an incident that would come back to haunt Davis at Surfside, his wife claimed he kidnapped their three-year-old son April 19, 1994, and that he was carrying a 9mm pistol. Police helped her recover the boy. Davis was not arrested.
Three months later, he and his wife reunited, and the clan returned to Miami. Over the next few years, he worked for six hotels, a rental car agency, a security guard company, and a homeowners association.
The whole time, he pined to return to law enforcement. The Miami Beach Police Department rejected him twice. The U.S. Border Patrol declined his application. The Drug Enforcement Agency also passed. But then, in March 2000, the tiny Biscayne Park Police Department hired him part-time. There he excelled.
Two years later, Surfside's then-Police Chief Lawrence Boemler gave Davis a full-time job. Soon he became one of the department's most efficient cops. In 2003, Davis was named the town's officer of the year after he played a lead role in tracking down Reginald Watkins, a 44-year-old heroin user who had robbed 10 banks in six cities (including Surfside).
The same year Davis discovered child pornography on a drug suspect's computer. Then the Secret Service designated the cop, along with 29 others from Miami-Dade and Broward, a special deputy U.S. marshal. He would become involved in a federal electronic crimes and fraud task force. It seemed the problems at the Miami Police Department and in his personal life were behind him.
In 2005, Davis was voted president of the Surfside police union. But the cop wasn't universally loved. Boemler sometimes used him to investigate fellow officers.
In one case, Davis confirmed that Surfside Ofcr. Ralph Castro, on his day off, got into a scuffle with a bouncer and an off-duty Miami Beach cop at Mango's bar on Ocean Drive. Davis also verified that shift supervisor Manuel Crawford, while on duty, had driven a drunk officer home. Castro was fired. Crawford, who passed away earlier this year, was busted down to an administrative position.
Before his death, Crawford befriended the man who turned the tables on Davis: the Degraves' longtime friend and one-time business partner Jay Senter.
On August 25, 2003, Davis was following up on a call about suspicious activity at 9525 Carlyle Ave. After arriving at the house, he spoke with Alain Guillerm, a French tourist, who said he and his family were renting the place for a week from Brigitte Degrave of Miami Rental Management Inc.