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Pot Grow Houses in Florida Are Deadly Business

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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 Stevie, 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 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.

In December 2007, Alfaro set up another grow house in Delray Beach, according to PBSO documents, which also indicate that the DEA had been seeking an indictment against Alfaro for the Parkland grow houses since at least October. And he seemed to be daring law enforcement to pin him down. Friends who'd known him for years said his personality had taken a dark turn. The high-spirited boy had morphed into something more ominous: He openly threatened violence to anyone who might be planning on "ratting him out."

Courtney was fed up with him too, and frightened. Alfaro had beaten her, she told Oliver, and she'd finally left him. Now she was willing to talk: He owned a .45-caliber Glock handgun. He'd once described a theoretical murder plan: If he ever killed Stevie, he'd chop up his friend's body and scatter the parts all over the city.

Oliver tracked Alfaro to the Delray grow house in May 2008. At the same time, the Delray Beach narcotics division was planning a raid on the house based on an informant's tip. But when Oliver and Delray cops showed up, Alfaro had fled again — evidently warned that the cops were closing in. When Oliver and Delray police arrived, all they found were stray pieces of equipment — rows of black buckets, empty boxes that had once held lights. And that telltale sweet-acrid smell.

Meanwhile, Alfaro flew to Maine. He spent time in Canada. Then in the fall of 2008, he headed back to Florida and started yet another grow house, this time scaled down to fit in the condo he'd rented in a gated complex in Deerfield Beach, according to court documents. He also had a couple of new aliases: Julian Kane and Philip Durante. In Durante's name, using a fake I.D. and fraudulent credit, he'd bought a new, white Infiniti for $32,000.

Coconut Creek police stopped Alfaro's Infiniti for a traffic infraction the night of October 30 and found a sheaf of false I.D.s. At the station, Alfaro confessed to stealing the identity of Philip Durante, an old childhood friend. He sneered at how easy it had been to get a fake driver's license at the bureau, boasting, "The bitch didn't even ask for I.D. when I told her I lost my license." Cops got a sample of Alfaro's DNA off a bag of peanuts he'd been tipping into his mouth. They found Canadian currency in his car. They turned up credit cards in the name of his aliases. And they found out he already had an active warrant for his arrest from Broward Sheriff's Office for grand theft auto.

Oliver had a chance to interview Alfaro briefly, hoping to learn more about the murder, but Alfaro responded that he "had nothing to say." He did tell Oliver that the detective's "vendetta" against him had "cost him about $100,000." As he was being transported to jail, according to Coconut Creek police records, Alfaro taunted the cops again and again, regaling them with the details of his grow houses. Broward Sheriff's Office records say BSO went over and picked up the eight pounds of pot and ten marijuana plants in Alfaro's condo. Coconut Creek police charged him with fraud, larceny, and grand theft auto.

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Gail Shepherd
Contact: Gail Shepherd

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