From South Dakota small-town boy to international fugitive, Danny Davis has written a book, GRINGO. About his stupendous adventures as an international fugitive over 5 continents and 54 countries. The article by Steven Lee of the Capital City Journal is a synopsis of the book. It states that Dan “Tito” Davis was born in Pierre, South Dakota succeeding as a high school athlete and summer jockey at regional horse race tracks. That was before he went on to make millions of dollars over two decades of dealing white cross pills and pot. He was set up by a childhood friend on false charges of dealing methamphetamine forcing him to flee the country. He traveled the world looking over his shoulder for 13 years before he was kidnapped out of Venezuela.
It’s a story that’s hard to believe.
But the main outline is all there in court documents and stories from old friends, while some of the racy details of Davis’ high living might be a little rich. But who knows?
Peggy Stout saw Davis last summer when he stopped in her Prairie Pages Bookseller store in downtown Pierre to see her and ask her to sell his new book.
They started first grade together in Onida, but Danny flunked third grade.
Still, everyone hung out together in the small town.
“I was a wrestling cheerleader and he was a really good wrestler,” Stout says. “His dad worked for my dad and they lived just a block from us. I really liked Dan.”
Davis remembers, too: “Peggy and her two sisters, they were some of the most beautiful girls in South Dakota. They won beauty contests.”
Out of the drug trade and/or federal prison for the first times since his teens, Davis is living in Key West, Florida, playing pickleball and peddling his new book.
Not a bad gig and a big change for a long-time drug dealer who piloted his own plane and who has spent two stretches in federal prison – five years and nine years – as well as 13 years on the lam in several countries as a fugitive from U.S. justice.
Released in October 2015 from prison, Davis completed the book late last year.
Stout said the book is doing well on Amazon. “I’ve sold about 60 copies,” she said.
“Danny’s a talker, he’s a schmoozer,” she said. “He never got in trouble with the law or anything in school, but he kept life colorful at times.”
Howard Mark Weischedel grew up with Davis in Onida but hasn’t seen him since the early 1980s, although he’s heard about him as he made the news with his arrests over the years.
“We wrestled together,” said Weischedel, who lives in Plankinton, South Dakota. “He was really gung-ho and serious about wrestling. He was pretty athletic. And even if he was four pounds overweight right before weigh-in, he would get it down.”
Davis always has been a hustler and a hard worker, say those who knew him way back.
In his high school summers, jockey-sized, he rode race horses, in Fort Pierre, Aberdeen, Belle Fourche Rapid City and elsewhere on “the Leaky Roof circuit,” winning more than 100 races, Davis writes.
In one summer, he made $10,000 riding mounts, more than $50,000 today and much more than his father earned in a year, Davis says. So early on he got used to having his own money and plenty of it.
Growing up without much in a family of seven, Davis was looking to make money.
Shortly after he began at Black Hills State College in Spearfish in 1972, Davis’ classmate introduced him to “White Crosses,” the little white pills used by truckers and students to stay awake, energized and focused. It was said to be speed; that is, amphetamine.
He started dealing the pills to fellow students and soon was making thousands of dollars a week, he says.
He moved on to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to find a bigger market.
By 1974 in Las Vegas, he was making $40,000 a week, or about $190,000 in today’s money, Davis writes. His classmate and chemist partner discovered the white crosses actually were ephedrine, and legal. So they expanded their business. Davis obtained a pilot’s license and bought three small airplanes and began distributing “white crosses” across the country.
“By 1978 I was clearing two hundred thousand bucks a week, which equates to about a million a week today,” Davis writes. “I was 24 years old.”
Within a few years he had married Lisa Lien, daughter of Chuck Lien, a wealthy and prominent Rapid City businessman with lots of political connections. By the time they married circa 1982, he had left behind white crosses and was dealing cocaine, he says.
By 1985, he had been caught by federal drug agents, convicted and put in prison for five years.
His wife’s family and their prominent friends, including Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., a governor and two other U.S Senators, gave him lots of juice that helped get the charges down to tax evasion, less time and better prisons, he says.
He mostly made good drug connections in prison.
Still, by the time he got out about 1990, his baby son had died of sudden infant death syndrome, Lisa had divorced him and taken all his stuff, Davis says.
“When I entered prison, I owned homes, planes, apartment buildings and oil wells,” he writes in “Gringo.” “When I was released, I had nothing.”
He had promised the feds never to deal coke again and he kept his promise, he says.
So he began peddling pot.
There wasn’t as much money in it, he says, but by 1991 he was clearing $50,000 a week dealing pot, he says. He had a new wife, Julie, and a new low profile, not spending as much or living so large, he says.
“This time I sent my money south of the border into bank accounts in Mexico City,” using a banker named Carlos only too happy to “store” his American dollars, Davis writes. “This may have been the wisest move that I ever made.”
But a childhood friend from Onida, Marv Schumacher, betrayed him, lying to the feds that Davis was his meth supplier, to save his own bacon, Davis says.
So about 1994, Davis says he was looking at decades in prison as the feds were eager to nail this previously convicted felon.
“The DEA of course, offered me a deal, but there was no way I could live with myself if I gave up the people who had taken care of me in the past – I would be no better than Marvin,” Davis writes. “So I made the decision to run. Run far away.”
This leads to an interesting exchange in the book that Davis says he had with his attorney, Bob Van Norman of Rapid City.
As he agonized over what seemed his only option to avoid decades in prison, Davis said he hoped Van Norman might have some other genius plan, a way for him to “stay and fight for my freedom.”
Davis went to Van Norman’s office, where his attorney “looked me in the eyes for a few seconds and said, ‘I can’t believe you’re still here.’”
“The next day I vanished into Mexico and beyond, not breathing a word to my family and friends.”
Van Norman, however, laughs when asked about that and says he argued with Davis about that passage in the book.
“I told him ‘You have an entirely different recollection than I do,’” Van Norman told the Capital Journal. “What I told him was, ‘‘I’m surprised you showed up,’ rather than something along the lines like I’m counseling him to run, which I wasn’t So it’s not quite accurate.“
The two men have remained on good terms.
According to court documents, Davis paid Van Norman more than $300,000 in legal fees.
Included was the lawyer’s work, after Davis was back in federal custody in 2007, going down to Venezuela in what he says was a vain attempt to get Davis some local legal aid and recover some of his millions of dollars worth of property. Most of it was in the six-story luxury resort hotel on the ocean just completed before Davis was nabbed.
“I stayed in the hotel that Danny had built down there,” Van Norman said, describing nearly Trump-like decor and setting.
After being “kidnapped” in Venezuela and turned over to federal agents, Davis was charged in 2007 in federal court in South Dakota with four counts of dealing marijuana and two counts of dealing meth. He worked out a deal, with Van Norman’s help, and pleaded guilty to one count of dealing pot, with the other five counts dismissed.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, and with good time and time served subtracted, finished 105 months, mostly in Sandstone prison in Minnesota, freed in October 2015.
He’s on supervised probation until September 2018.
Davis has a way of not seeing his behavior as all that wrong and still thinks the feds unfairly nailed him based on what he calls a lie about meth dealing by his friend Marv, who died in 2013.
He never engaged in violence, although he consorted with violent types, including criminal bikers and Mexican and Colombian cartel members, Davis writes
Early on, still in college and working on his first big drug deal, he desperately needed a quick $10,000 to swing it, he writes. Lying to his parents about what it was for, he convinced them to take out a second mortgage on their modest home to get him the dough.
“When I picked up the money that my folks had wired me the next morning, I justified my behavior – I would pay them back with interest. And if my business took off as I anticipated, I would pay off their original mortgage. I would also buy my mom a mink coat and my dad a Cadillac.”
“But the truth is they wouldn’t have known what to do with those things. My folks were extremely conservative and frowned upon any excess. If my plan worked, I would do better to buy them a cow or something.”
“Looking back, I’m not proud of my behavior, but I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last, twenty-year-old who got some help from his parents to start a business.”
Well, maybe; but he’s writing about a criminal enterprise, not a hardware store.
Still, it’s also worth noting he ended up paying them back with interest and a cow, according to his book.
Nobody remembers Davis as a troublemaker in school in Onida. But elements of what made him willing to push the envelope could be seen, maybe, say people who knew him then.
Bill Witte was Davis’ wrestling coach beginning when Davis was in eighth grade in 1967-1968 and less than 100 pounds.
“He made it to the state tournament. He was a very, very scrappy kid,” Witte told the Capital Journal. “The interesting thing I remember with him is, he did not really have much regard to . . maybe some of the consequences . . . He tried moves that if they don’t work, he could end up in trouble, He thrived on trying things that were unorthodox, like a ‘suicide roll,’ that he had a definite risk of getting caught halfway through the move.”
“He was a very coachable kid,” said Witte, retired now and living in Gettysburg, South Dakota “. But he was someone who , if he had to move on the edge, he wasn’t afraid of making mistakes. If he got caught, he was usually strong enough to wiggle his way out of it.”
Witte hadn’t kept up with Davis over the years, except hearing the stories from afar.
“I heard he had some issues,” Witte said drily. “I heard he was evading the law. I didn’t know where.”
“He was by far the most popular, as far as on the wrestling team,” Witte said. “He related to them all. . . I don’t recall him ever being in what I would call trouble. . . But he liked to take a few chances.”
“He was always an interesting person and could always tell a good story,” Witte said.
Terry Hofer, a Rapid City attorney, grew up with Davis in Onida – and is a shirttail relative of sorts. Hofer wrote a letter to a judge for Davis based on his good character displayed in childhood.
Like other classmates of Davis, Hofer seems to have good memories of Davis that make him smile, tinged by the later long years of second-hand stories and rumors of the drug-dealing:
“Oh, Danny, Danny,” Hofer says with a chuckle when asked about the new book and Davis’ intriguing tales. “I just hope it doesn’t dredge up any bad stuff.”
I sent a letter to (federal) Judge (Richard) Battey on his behalf because he asked me to.”
“I wouldn’t describe him as a wild character in high school. I mean, we all rocked and rolled a little bit. . . Danny was quite a good, wiry wrestler.”
Hofer heard about the drug dealing and legal trouble Davis was getting into in the late 1980s and into the 1990s.
“I was a bit surprised. It was not consistent with the Danny I knew growing up in Onida,” he told the Capital Journal.
It was a different world back in the 1960s and early 1970s, especially in small town South Dakota, Hofer said, and there weren’t any drugs around for teens, Hofer said.
Davis’ dad was a welder in a machine shop owned by Peggy Stout’s dad. Hofer’s dad managed the lumber yard.
High school kids hung out in a downtown bar, the Blue Lantern, playing pinball, foosball and pool, where everyone knew everyone and nobody served alcohol to under-aged patrons, Hofer said..
“In small towns, people didn’t do what you are not supposed to do.”
Even Davis’ ex-in laws like him, it seems, although Davis says his first wife Lisa never talks to him. Last summer on his visit back home, Davis stopped in to see his Lein in-laws in Rapid City, he said.
Van Norman knows Pete Lien, brother of Davis’s first wife, Lisa, and a prominent Rapid City businessman.
“He speaks highly of Danny and has been supportive of him. Danny is a charming guy.”
Davis was a man of his word, as far as never turning on a former partner in crime, Van Norman said.
“I know that was an issue in 1994,” Van Norman said of the heavy federal case that spurred Davis to flee to Mexico. “Law enforcement was making all kinds of requirements . . . to cooperate,” as in rat out confederates. “That went nowhere with Dan. Which was kind of a refreshing thing, if you know how few stand-up guys there are,” said Van Norman. “ No. there was no cooperation.”
Van Norman, in fact, wrote a brief review of Davis’ book on Amazon.com, including: “The choice seemed clear to him: Danny ran when faced with unfairly insuperable legal odds and, for many years, beat those odds by creating a new life. To do that, he had to avoid arrest while leaving the U.S. and while traveling the world before settling finally in Venezuela. . . Notwithstanding one’s position on U.S. laws and their enforcement, Danny’s saga over the years is fascinating, the veracity of which I have no reason to doubt.”
“He’s a pretty smooth fellow who has had a lot of experience,” Van Norman told the Capital Journal. “Once people like that have accomplished a lot on one side of the law, what they could have done with a lot less effort on the same talents on the other side of the law … For an Onida boy he went far and did lots. I don’t know if anyone can use him as a model for their kids.”
Living in Key West now, playing pickleball for hours every day, giving lessons, Davis seems at peace and living a good life.
He’s happy with the book.
“The only problem with it, is I had to live it to write it,” he told the Capital Journal.
It’s more fun, he said, to talk and write about it. “When you are out there, it’s lonely.”
Being a federal felon isn’t great, either, Davis said.
“I can’t vote, can’t sell real estate, can’t fly (use his pilot’s license), can’t hunt. A lot of can’ts. You don’t want a felony conviction No way in hell. It’s no fun being a felon or in any institution.”
He has no financial concerns, but can’t go into any details, he says.
“I was fortunate. I had a few dollars. I took care of my family when I had a few dollars and my family is taking care of me. I’m doing well.”
He doesn’t express much regret about his life on the other side of the law.
“I tried to be honest, and not rip anybody off,” he told the Capital Journal.
Still, there’s collateral damage.
His business partner in Venezuela, Carlitos, was shot to death, with his driver, and their bodies burned with gasoline, after he was arrested a decade ago. It was probably, he admits, because of concerns Davis would finger others to the feds to get a lighter sentence. But he never did that, Davis said.
But his Venezuelan wife and her family had their lives turned upside down by the regime there that punishes anyone connected to such a fugitive, he said.
Key West is “full of liberal people,” he says. “Everyone is down to earth.. It’s a small place, I see my parole officer all the time. I couldn’t ask for a better place. Nice climate, nice people..”
In the tradition of Ernest Hemingway, lots of writers key in on Key West.
“I’m part of the Writers’ Guild down here. I’ve had book signings here, I have another one in Miami. This book is going to get some real ink. I’ve got a PR agent out of New York. In the next few months, “Gringo,” is going to catch some heat.”
Company Name: Elise Publicist
Contact Person: Elise Marie Michelle Arnaud
Address:88 Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré 75008, Paris
City: Paris 75008