South Florida

The plumbers responded to phony service calls; one ended up dead, feds say

Jamal Lamar Head
Jamal Lamar Head Miami-Dade Corrections

The setup was simple enough: Call a plumber to a vacant South Florida home, pretend to have some kind of problem with a toilet or sink, then rip him off at gunpoint.

But the scam went terribly awry on a summer day when a plumber was called to an address in Miami Lakes. There, he was forced from his white van into a rented Volkswagen by two men who federal authorities say plotted the robbery.

The plumber, sitting in the back seat of the Volkswagen, soon struggled with the driver. The driver fatally shot the plumber in the head and chest before crashing into a tree. The other man was following them in the plumber’s van.

Now, Jamal Lamar Head, 33, the alleged shooter, and Keon Travy Glanton, 32, the alleged accomplice, have been charged with robbery, kidnapping and killing Hernandez in a potential death penalty case in Miami federal court. The plumber, Lester Hernandez, 37, died on July 12, 2018.

Head’s lawyer, Eric Cohen, with the Miami Federal Public Defender’s Office, declined to comment. Cohen has experience in death penalty cases, including representing the shooter who killed five people and wounded six others at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017. Esteban Santiago pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, avoiding the death penalty.

Glanton’s defense attorney, Michael Entin, did not return a call for comment.

According to an indictment, Head was involved in three robbery schemes targeting plumbers at three South Florida residences — Miami Gardens, Riviera Beach and Miami Lakes — between July 9 and July 12 of last year. Glanton participated in the Riviera Beach and Miami Lakes robberies, the indictment says.

Murder cases typically end up in state court. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged the case as a Hobbs Act armed robbery — one that affects commerce — along with multiple other violent crimes. While a few of the charges against Head and Glanton carry life imprisonment or death, it is ultimately up to the U.S. attorney general to decide whether to pursue the death penalty.

Both men, who have criminal histories in the state system, were ordered detained before trial. A third defendant, Christopher Grant Proby, has been charged with participating in one of the robberies, in Riviera Beach. He is in state custody.

According to the indictment and other court records, the first robbery happened on July 9, 2018, when a woman identifying herself as “Michele” called a plumbing company to send someone over to a Miami Gardens home because her toilet was leaking. When the plumber arrived, he noticed the home had a for sale sign and appeared vacant.

The woman met the plumber outside the front door, and she asked him to follow her to the rear of the house. While she walked back to the front, Head approached the plumber with a 9mm pistol in his hand, according to a criminal complaint filed in a separate case by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office. Head told the plumber to hand over his wallet and phone, and that if he moved too fast, he would “blow his head off.”

Head then asked him if he had a certain piece of plumbing equipment, which cost thousands of dollars, and grabbed the tool from his truck, the complaint says. The plumber then walked away, got into his truck and drove to the Miami Gardens Police Department to report the crime.

On July 11, Head joined Glanton and Proby in another plumbing robbery, this time in Riviera Beach. The target was a Roto-Rooter worker, who was called to a vacant home to repair a plumbing problem. Instead, the plumber was struck by Head and fell to the ground, according to federal court records. The three men took the plumber’s wallet along with an expensive piece of plumbing equipment.

The following day, Glanton contacted a third plumbing company and scheduled a service call at a vacant home in Miami Lakes. When the plumber, Hernandez, arrived in his van, he was confronted by Glanton and Head, according to court records. They forced him into the rear of the Volkswagen that Head had rented the previous day. Head drove the car away, and Glanton followed in the plumber’s van.

“The victim and Head struggled in the car before Head shot the victim in the head and the chest, causing the victim’s death,” Federal Magistrate Judge Lauren Louis found in her detention order for Head and Glanton issued Monday. “Head then crashed the rental car [into a tree] and was apparently injured in the crash.” The incident happened at Northwest 89th Avenue near Northwest 146th Street.

Cellphone records show that Head and Glanton had a 14-minute call after the crash. Video surveillance of the Miami Lakes neighborhood showed Head’s rented Volkswagen was in the area before the robbery, and also captured images of him running south from where the car crashed and getting into the victim’s van.

Glanton drove the plumber’s van south, where the vehicle was burned, the judge wrote, basing her findings on evidence from federal prosecutor Daniel Cervantes.

Head’s blood was recovered from the airbag of the Volkswagen, and a search of a nearby storm drain led to the recovery of a pistol. Investigators confirmed it was the weapon used in the murder of the plumber, according to court records.