The longest’s a humdinger

August 6, 2009 will go down as one of the longest days in my life as a journalist. We were dealing with two rumors all day. One was the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office was once again pushing to get an arrest warrant for Henry Cab Tice, the used car dealer who I had reported over a week ago as a person of interest in the murders of Bud and Melanie Billings and whether they were contract hits (The Daily Beast and IN Buzz). The second rumor was that Cab Tice had returned from Colombia, South America and was back in the area (The Daily Beast).

Rumors of an imminent arrest of Cab Tice have floated around since I first reported that those being questioned by investigators were telling law enforcement that the double homicide was actually murder-for-hire and that Patrick Gonzalez, Jr had been paid between $20,000-$50,000 for the killings. However, the arrest never materialized, leaving me and others believing that there was a political battle being waged between the State Attorney’s Office and the ECSO over Tice and the contract killing theory. After all, the robbery-gone-wrong angle was straight-forward and even Joe Pesci’s character from “My Cousin Vinny,” Vincent Gambini, could prosecute the case as it stood without any conspiracy plots.

All Wednesday, I received phone calls that Tice was coming back Thursday. WEAR’s Dan Thomas also reported it in his Cab Tice piece on Tuesday. Why was Tice returning? We had heard from several sources that Tice had fled to Colombia where he reportedly has a new wife. The big question for many about Tice and his business dealings with Bud Billings and others is where is all the money that he reportedly owes Billings ($150K-$300K), former business partner Wayne Peterson ($50K-$150K) and others, including his ex-wife.

By all accounts, Tice is nearly penniless and has no visible assets. Friends say that he doesn’t do drugs or gamble—although he does like Tequila, but not excessively to the tune of $1M. Could Tice have stashed money away in Colombia? No one knows.

When Tice came late yesterday afternoon to the offices of the ECSO, I fully believe that he didn’t think that he would be arrested. Tice, the consummate used car salesman, was there—I believe—to find out what the ECSO had on him and to “play” Sheriff Morgan. It didn’t work. Over nearly three hours of questioning, Tice told investigators of his connections with the Mexican mafia, from whom Tice said that he had borrowed $50K. It’s unclear whether it was a one-time loan or some kind of revolving credit plan. When the Tice interview was over, Cab was arrested for grand theft—for the cars that he sold off his Hispanic-American Auto Sales lot without paying off his creditor, Worldco Financial Services—a company owned by the Billings family.

The Mexican mafia connection to this case is one that I first heard within days of the killings, but I could never pin it down. There have been so many false leads in this investigation that I couldn’t determine whether the Mexican mafia theory was just another urban legend. The funny thing is that I heard more about the Mexican mafia in relationship with Patrick Gonzalez, Jr. and Pam Wiggins than Tice. However, I never could solidly tie it all down….and despite what the other media may think about my investigative work and my sources, I’ve been very careful in verifying the information that I have reported on this case.

Gulf Breeze – where Gonzalez and Wiggins live- had a recent federal case that many locals believed was tied to the Mexican mafia or the Mexican gang MS 13. In December 2007, Cancun’s Mexican Grill was raided by local, state and federal authorities–the charges were drug and human trafficking. Twenty-five people were arrested in the raids, 15 of whom were deported. Owner Rogelio Galvan-Chavez was sentenced to life in prison April 30, 2008 for operating a drug ring from his business and violating immigration laws (DOJ press release).

I am working on an article for The Daily Beast and will have more later. Stay tuned.