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Jones told Febonio he expected Alfaro to pay him about $20,000 for tending plants at the house. Febonio himself was expecting payment for the construction work he'd done on the place. But Alfaro stalled. According to witnesses, he used all of his ready cash to put a $32,000 down payment on a house he'd bought for Courtney in the same neighborhood. Within a couple of months, Febonio was pissed off with Alfaro's excuses and delays. Febonio moved back in with his parents, telling friends he'd had enough of the grow business. Annmarie had broken up with him over his friendship with Alfaro: She'd never liked him. Alfaro later told Jones he'd kicked Febonio out because he was smoking crack.
The last time Eddie and Margaret Febonio saw Stevie was August 24, 2007. That afternoon, Stevie gave his father an ominous warning: "If I don't come back for a couple of days, go to my room and see the note I left." Later that afternoon, Alfaro came by the house to pick up Stevie. Thinking of his son's warning, Eddie's training as a detective took over, and he paid close attention to details. Alfaro drove a red Acura. Stevie wore a green striped shirt and a pair of khaki shorts.
When Stevie didn't come home, Eddie called his son's cell phone; it went straight to voicemail. He contacted friends, like Michael Pampillonia, looking for his son. He called Jose Alfaro. Alfaro never returned his calls.
Eddie Febonio filed a missing persons report ten days later, on September 4. By this time, Eddie had found the note Stevie had mentioned on his way out the door. According to police reports and friends, the note said Stevie believed he was in danger from Alfaro. It gave the address of the grow house in Parkland.
A week after Eddie filed a missing persons report, on September 11, DEA agent Boyle showed up at the Parkland grow house he had been watching all summer, search warrant in hand. The agents knocked and entered just in time to see Jones fleeing out a sliding glass door at the back of the house. The DEA arrested Jones on charges of possession with intent to distribute more than 100 marijuana plants. Jones told police he was just renting a room there. Agents found 125 plants in the house, plus 60 clones growing in a closet. In Jones's Mustang, they scooped up a Tupperware container of weed.
Jones faced up to 40 years in federal prison on the grow house charges. But in March 2008, U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks sentenced Jones to the six months he had already served. He paid a $100 fine and walked.
Jose Alfaro, meanwhile, was still free.
On September 27, 2007, a little more than a month after Stevie Febonio disappeared, Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office Det. Sean Oliver followed up on Febonio's missing persons report. Oliver interviewed friends and family. And he got in touch with Kevin Perez, who had left a cell phone message for Febonio the day he disappeared.
Perez had been closely involved with Alfaro's grow house business, he admitted to Oliver. He told the detective that he was now afraid for his life and that "he didn't want these people to come after him."
Perez remembered that the last time he had seen Febonio was when he had stopped by to borrow money. He guessed that Febonio might have been on a crack binge. He also told Oliver that Febonio and Alfaro had a disagreement: Alfaro was stalling on paying for the drywall Febonio had put up.
Perez, the detective learned, had been the person who warned Justin Jones that the Parkland grow house was being watched by DEA agents. He too had loaned Alfaro money to set up the grow house — Alfaro promised him a return of $25,000. Alfaro had finally paid him back with about $4,000 worth of pot. Talking to Oliver, Perez was nervous, his emotions close to the surface. He blurted out that Alfaro had once boasted that the best way to get rid of a body was to cut it up and put it in a freezer. He remembered he'd seen a freezer in the garage of the Parkland grow house. When Oliver showed him a picture of Febonio, Perez broke down in tears and begged the detective to put the photo away.
A week later, Oliver interviewed Justin Jones. He too said he was scared. He told the detective that Alfaro owned an AK-47. "I don't want to become missing," he said.
When Oliver caught up with Alfaro the next day at the Parkland house he shared with Courtney, Alfaro told the detective that Stevie Febonio had "a history of disappearing."
"Eddie Febonio has accused you of murdering his son," Oliver told him point-blank. Stevie, he said, had left a note with the addresses of the grow houses. Visibly agitated, Alfaro claimed he had dropped Stevie off at the gym the day he disappeared, just 15 minutes after he'd picked him up. Stevie was mixed up with "bad people," Alfaro added ominously. "He's not going to be walking through any doors."
Oliver thought it was weird that Alfaro referred to Stevie in the past tense. But the detective's hunches and the claims of some pretty shady characters didn't add up to grounds for an arrest.