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Red Sox great David Ortiz was shot point-blank in the back in his native Dominican Republic in 2019 because a notorious international drug kingpin whose path he crossed multiple times wanted him dead, former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis determined after a six-month private investigation into the brazen alleged murder conspiracy.
Davis, disclosing his findings for the first time, said the powerful and politically connected drug lord César “The Abuser” Peralta came to feel disrespected by Ortiz, prompting him to place a bounty on Ortiz’s head and sanction the ragtag hit squad that tried to kill him.
“Peralta said he had David shot,” Davis said in an interview, citing information that he said US law enforcement officials gathered and shared with him.
Ortiz, in a phone call from the Dominican Republic, said he was “sad, confused, angry, all kinds of emotions” when he received the news from Davis, whom he hired to conduct the investigation, and Ric Prado, a former high-ranking CIA official who participated in the inquiry.
Davis’s findings contradict narratives presented by Dominican law enforcement officials. They first alleged that an unspecified person with an unknown motive placed a bounty on Ortiz. They quickly abandoned the theory, however, and chalked up the shooting to a case of mistaken identity, without ever implicating Peralta.
Peralta’s Miami-based lawyer, Joaquin Perez, said Peralta “had nothing to do with” the attempt on Ortiz’s life.
“As bad as César Peralta is, it’s not even close to being in the ballpark to say he had something to do with this,” Perez said.
Perez described Ortiz and Peralta as “close friends” and said Peralta was in the crowd that flocked to the clinic where Ortiz was rushed, clinging to life, the night of the shooting.
Ortiz denied having any more than a casual relationship with Peralta.
Thirteen suspects are awaiting trial in the case, including Victor Hugo Gomez, a reputed associate of the Gulf Cartel, who Dominican authorities allege helped assemble the hit squad to murder Ortiz’s friend, Sixto David Fernández, because he was considered an informant.
The gunman, however, mistook Ortiz for Fernández, Dominican prosecutors allege — a theory widely ridiculed because the two bear little resemblance.
Several months ago, Ortiz faced many of the suspects, including the alleged triggerman, at a pretrial hearing in a Dominican courtroom. Now, he finds himself torn between the conflicting accounts developed by Davis and Dominican authorities.
“I accept what Ed and Ric are telling me, but how come no one in the Dominican justice system has told me this is how it went down?” Ortiz said. “Instead, it’s the opposite.”
Ortiz’s communications adviser, Joe Baerlein, said Ortiz later asked the Globe to add to his comments that “while David appreciates the thoroughness of [Davis’s] report, he awaits further legal action in the Dominican and US courts to bring final clarity and answers on why this happened to him.”
Wary of kingpin, even when jailed
Ortiz, who in January became the fourth Dominican-born player elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, said he hired Davis in 2019 partly because he was concerned about the integrity of the Dominican investigation under Jean Alain Rodríguez, the attorney general at the time. Rodríguez has since been jailed on public corruption charges unrelated to Peralta.
“To be honest, when you live in a country where justice is corrupted, you want to believe [what the government alleges] but you also will disagree, and that was what was going on at the time,” Ortiz said.
‘To be honest, when you live in a country where justice is corrupted, you want to believe but you also will disagree.’
David Ortiz on the investigation into his shooting
He said Rodríguez called him at his home in Weston two months after the shooting and asked him to make a public statement endorsing the mistaken identity theory. Seated with Ortiz at the time were Davis, Prado, baseball agent Fern Cuza, and Baerlein.
“We understood the attorney general was trying to make [Peralta’s possible involvement] go away because if Peralta went down, many people in the government were going to go down,” Prado said.
Ortiz said his faith in the Dominican government has increased since a new presidential administration in 2020 launched an anti-corruption campaign. Yet prosecutors stand by the mistaken identity theory, and Ortiz is reluctant to criticize them.
He also said he wants no part of provoking Peralta, whose name he did not mention during a 35-minute interview while he watched his youngest son, David Andres, play baseball. He referred to Peralta mostly as “this guy.”
Peralta, 47, is currently being held without bail in Puerto Rico, facing charges of conspiracy to import cocaine and heroin.
“I’m in a tough spot because we’re dealing with some dangerous people,” Ortiz said. “I’m pretty sure this guy is sitting in jail right now thinking about what he is going to say or going to do. I’m not planning on living my life in hiding.”
Peralta was a fugitive from the US charges when Ortiz was shot. Yet he was thriving in plain sight in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, where he owned many high-end nightclubs and restaurants and a money exchange. US authorities allege he used the businesses to launder drug money and employ women he trafficked from South America.
The FBI stated in a 2018 affidavit that Peralta’s international trafficking network generated millions of dollars, some of which he used to bribe Dominican national police and government officials to avoid arrest, prosecution, and narcotics seizures.
The US Treasury, in designating Peralta a drug kingpin in 2019, said he and “his criminal organization have used violence and corruption in the Dominican Republic to traffic tons of cocaine and opioids into the United States and Europe.”
In August 2019, two months after Ortiz was shot, Peralta’s network was raided by Dominican authorities in coordination with the Drug Enforcement Administration and FBI. Nearly two dozen of Peralta’s alleged associates were rounded up but he eluded arrest and remained at large until he was captured in Cartagena, Colombia, in December 2019.
While Peralta was jailed in Colombia, Davis was completing his investigation. In February 2020, the Globe asked Baerlein to share Davis’s findings, but Baerlein asked to withhold them for Ortiz’s safety until Peralta was in US custody.
Davis, whose firm, The Ed Davis Company, also provides security-related services for the Globe, said this week of Baerlein’s request, “Everything we were turning up was that there was an active hit on David, that someone wanted him eliminated, namely Peralta. Peralta was sitting on millions of dollars in illicit funds that he had access to, and the Colombian jails are notoriously leaky. You can run operations out of a Colombian jail that you can’t run out of a United States prison. We were concerned about it.”
In addition, the alleged hit squad included two members of the Trinitarios, a violent Dominican street gang, who were fugitives from charges in the US. The alleged gunman, Rolfi Ferreira Cruz, was wanted for two armed robberies in Clifton, N.J., in 2017. And Luis Rivas Clase, known as The Surgeon, had been charged with conspiracy to commit homicide in Reading, Pa., in 2018. He was still on the run last year when he was gunned down and killed on a street in the Dominican city of Santiago de los Caballeros.
A motive remains murky
Davis, Boston’s police commissioner from 2006-13, said his investigation developed troubling information from a Trinitarios cell in Lawrence soon after Ortiz was shot.
“It was well known in the gang that they wanted to kill Ortiz,” Davis said.
The relationship between Peralta and the Trinitarios was unclear, Davis said, but the threat was severe enough that he provided security for Ortiz both in Massachusetts and Miami, where Ortiz had homes at the time.
Nearly two years later, in December 2021, Peralta was extradited to Puerto Rico, but not before a reminder of how dangerous he might be. In October, Peralta was accused of participating in the murder of a fellow inmate known as The Rat at La Picota prison in Bogota.
“Yes, the guy was stabbed, that is true,” said Peralta’s lawyer, Perez. “Whether or not it was self-defense is under investigation.”
As for Ortiz, precisely why Peralta may have felt so disrespected that he would order Ortiz slain remains murky. Davis said Dominican law enforcement refused to cooperate with his investigation, and when Davis asked Carmen Ortiz, the former US attorney in Boston, to contact Rodríguez, then the attorney general, on David Ortiz’s behalf, to discuss the case, Rodríguez spurned her request.
Davis said his findings are based mainly on intelligence from US law enforcement sources and Prado’s investigation in the Dominican Republic. Prado, a native Cuban with years of experience in the Dominican Republic, said he gathered information from US government sources in Santo Domingo and deployed former Dominican military and law enforcement officers who were carefully vetted, including with polygraph tests.
Prado said he learned that Peralta’s hold on powerful Dominican officials was pervasive.
“The problem we found was that there were so many people on the take from Peralta that they could not afford for him to start talking under interrogation because they felt he would dime them out,” Prado said. “We were getting information that he would strike out at these government officials if they betrayed him.”
‘We were getting information that he would strike out at these government officials if they betrayed him.’
Ric Prado, the former high-ranking CIA official, on César Peralta's connections with Dominican officials
Davis and Prado allege that Peralta’s motive for the Ortiz shooting likely was a buildup of perceived slights and jealousies. They said they found no evidence that Ortiz engaged in any type of business with Peralta or knew him more than incidentally.
In 2015, Ortiz staged a birthday party at the Aqua Club in Santo Domingo, which Peralta owned and which US authorities later identified as one of Peralta’s alleged money-laundering enterprises. Ortiz said he did not know at the time that Peralta owned the club.
After Ortiz retired in 2016, he increasingly frequented the Santo Domingo night scene. Some of the more upscale popular clubs were owned by Peralta, who often exchanged greetings with Ortiz and on occasion posed for a photo with him, Ortiz said.
But the more Peralta watched Ortiz become the center of attention at his clubs, Prado said, the more jealous he became of Ortiz’s celebrity.
Ortiz and Peralta also lived for a time in the same luxury condominium building in Santo Domingo, the Naco Blue Tower, Ortiz one floor below Peralta. Ortiz moved into the tower before Peralta and said he moved out “because it was too obvious there were a lot of weird-looking people going into the building, and I wasn’t feeling comfortable.”
Ortiz said he once politely complained to Peralta about a loud late-night party, but he did not believe Peralta was offended. Prado, however, said Peralta may have taken it as an insult.
What’s more, Prado said, the building came to be known on the streets as “the Big Papi Tower,” which may have further rankled Peralta. At 5 feet 5 inches, Peralta stands nearly a foot shorter than Ortiz.
“Like other big-time hoods, Peralta’s ego is so big that he could not afford to have his power usurped,” said Prado, who recently authored a memoir, “Black Ops: The Life of a CIA Shadow Warrior.”
Prado said Peralta “was the king of the streets, the king of the clubs, and the biggest shark in the water. If anybody tried to usurp that power, consciously or unconsciously, he would take it personally.”
There was speculation, too, that Ortiz was romantically involved with Peralta’s wife or girlfriend, which Ortiz adamantly denied in the interview.
A purported copy of a bank check appeared online suggesting Ortiz paid $84,500 to buy a woman a new Lexus the day before he was shot. Some media outlets tried to link the woman to Peralta, but Ortiz said through Baerlein the reports were baseless. Baerlein said the check was fake, and though Ortiz did give money to a longtime female friend, it was not enough to buy a new Lexus. Baerlein said Ortiz and the woman occasionally visited a club Peralta owned, but she has denied having any relationship with Peralta.
Still, Prado and Davis said, Peralta could have been angered simply by other women in his circle appearing fond of Ortiz.
“Even if there was no affair, just the fact that one of Peralta’s women was attracted to David or was flirting with him, that could be seen by Peralta as an affront,” Prado said.
Aided by an informant?
Davis and Prado agree with Dominican prosecutors that the hit squad initially was assembled to eliminate Fernández. But they disagree that Gomez was the mastermind. Rather, they believe it was the work of Peralta, who operated under the Gulf Cartel in the hierarchy of the international drug trade.
Prado said he presumed Peralta was thinking, “OK, I’m being told I gotta whack this guy and he happens to be meeting with Ortiz, who has been pissing me off and stealing my sunshine. This is an opportunity for me to get rid of two problems at once.”
Fernández was among more than a half-dozen men seated with Ortiz around front-row tables on the outdoor patio at the Dial Bar in Santo Domingo when the gunman arrived early on a Sunday night.
[ From 2019: ‘I would wake up . . . feeling like I’m going to die.’ David Ortiz speaks after shooting ]
Prado said Peralta may have known Fernández and Ortiz would be together that night because a couple of Ortiz’s friends were informing on him to Peralta.
One alleged member of Peralta’s crew, Natanael “Nato” Castro Cordero, a former Dominican soldier later identified as the head of Peralta’s security, became friendly with Ortiz and appeared in photos with him at several locations. Dominican media reported in 2020 that Cordero was dishonorably discharged from the army because he was using military intelligence to help Peralta transport large sums of money, weapons, and drugs.
Prado did not cite Cordero in particular as possibly informing Peralta about Ortiz. Asked by the Globe about his relationship with Cordero, Ortiz said he met Cordero when Cordero was providing security for musicians at Santo Domingo clubs. Ortiz said Cordero was “always hustling” and eventually also provided security for him.
“If Nato got involved in some other stuff with [Peralta], I don’t know that side of the coin,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz’s tablemates at the Dial Bar also included the reggaeton artist Secreto and television host Jhoel Lopez, who earlier in the day had spent time with Ortiz and his sons, D’Angelo and David Andres, at a go-kart track.
As Ortiz sat before a glass of Scotch, the gunman walked up from behind and fired a single round into his back, sending him sprawling. The bullet also pierced Lopez’s leg. Fernández escaped unscathed, by the grace of a firearm malfunction, Davis said.
Davis commissioned a team at MIT that conducts forensic video analysis to study surveillance footage from the bar. He said a frame-by-frame analysis revealed that after the gunman shot Ortiz, he pointed the Browning Hi-Power 9mm semiautomatic pistol at Fernández’s face and pulled the trigger. But the weapon misfired, a round still lodged in the chamber.
Davis and Prado said the analysis showed the assailant tried a second time to clear the chamber, and when that failed, he fled.
“His intent was obvious,” Prado said: The gunman was trying to shoot both Ortiz and Fernández; there was no mistaken identity.
While the suspects await a long-delayed trial, Ortiz described himself as an innocent victim who has been wrongly suspected of engaging in behavior that invited an attack that caused him immeasurable physical and emotional trauma.
Ortiz travels with security now. He has fully recovered from a fourth surgery last year related to the shooting and is focused on his second career as a Fox Sports personality, a sponsor for a wide range of brands, and a fund-raiser for pediatric cardiology patients in New England and the Dominican Republic.
He said a large scar on his torso serves as a constant reminder of the ordeal. And while Ortiz yearns to know why anyone might want him dead, he said, “The most important thing is, thank God I’m alive.”
Bob Hohler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.