Miami-Dade County

Friend or fraud? Miami cop became beneficiary of elderly man’s estate after call for help

A photo of David Bruce Garrett, taken from his Facebook page.
A photo of David Bruce Garrett, taken from his Facebook page.

During the last few months of David Garrett’s life, as he went from frail shut-in to dying patient, police Officer Johnny Fonseca was there when he was most vulnerable.

The Miami cop found the Air Force veteran stranded and soiled inside his Coconut Grove home when his electric wheelchair died. And when Garrett, single and childless, was living out his last few weeks in a hospital and nursing center, it was Fonseca he tapped to help make healthcare decisions and draft a will.

But was Fonseca a Good Samaritan, or a predator with a badge?

A little more than a year after Fonseca handled Garrett’s final affairs before the 93-year-old died of a heart attack, the beat cop is in trouble. He’s accused of taking advantage of a dying man and forging his signature on legal documents that made him sole heir to Garrett’s million-dollar estate.

Officer Fonseca should be charged with committing elderly fraud.

Gloria Roa Bodin, representative of David Garrett’s estate

“When a police officer, a trusted public servant, participates in such a crime the officer should be held to the highest standards, and having failed to do so be subject to the severest punishment,” Gloria Roa Bodin, a personal representative of Garrett’s estate, wrote in a November complaint that sparked an investigation by Miami’s police Civilian Investigative Panel.

Fonseca first met Garrett in October 2015 after the elderly man called 911 to report that he suspected someone was siphoning money from his accounts. Fonseca, a patrol officer, was dispatched to his house on Irvington Avenue, a dead-end street in South Coconut Grove.

Fonseca said Garrett showed him a financial statement detailing a portfolio of about 20 stocks worth around $1 million, and told him it looked like money was bleeding from his accounts. Fonseca said it sounded suspicious, but there wasn’t any real evidence to file a police report.

Instead, Fonseca started coming around in his police cruiser, stopping by the house and knocking on neighbors’ doors to inquire about Garrett. He also went out to Dinner Key to walk around on Garrett’s sailboat, Pegasus.

I’ve been there for him.

Officer Johnny Fonseca, from a May 27, 2016, deposition

The next month — after Garrett was admitted and discharged from a nursing home after suffering a broken hip — Fonseca found Garrett inside his house, stuck in his broken-down electric wheelchair. He called paramedics, who took the man to Mercy Hospital.

In a May deposition, Fonseca, who entered the Navy in 2005, said he took a shine to Garrett after learning he was a veteran. He continued to visit him in the hospital, and even called his brother the day he was admitted. Fonseca, currently on military leave from the Miami police force, did not respond to a voice mail and text message.

“He said that he was appreciative of me. I’ve been there for him,” Fonseca said in his deposition.

He also said he worried that Roa Bodin and her brother-in-law, Garrett’s financial adviser Amory Bodin, were trying to manipulate the elderly man.

But, as Miami New Times first reported, medical records suggest the opposite may be true.

Nurses caring for Garrett documented dementia, impaired judgment and confusion during his stay at the hospital and after his transfer to a nursing home. They also said he was unable to sign his own name during the days before he died.

Amory Bodin said it wouldn’t be shocking if Garrett claimed he was stealing from him, since Garrett frequently misplaced items, or confused old bank and financial statements for current ones in his old age. But Bodin said Garrett had fairly regular visitors at home and in the hospital, none of whom remembered Fonseca.

And yet, during that time, Garrett gave Fonseca the power to make healthcare choices for him, and according to Fonseca, asked him to draft a will. On Dec. 9, despite his documented struggles with a pen, Garrett’s signature executed a new will and testament that Fonseca had printed directly off the internet, denouncing a previous will and making Fonseca the sole executor of his estate.

“The last thing that guy ever would have done was to sign over his money to someone he had just met,” Amory Bodin said.

The last thing that guy ever would have done was to sign over his money to someone he had just met.

Amory Bodin, David Garrett’s financial manager

In a complaint to Miami’s Civilian Investigative Panel, Roa Bodin accused Fonseca of creating a digital copy of Garrett’s signature from other paperwork lying around his house and forging it on the will. After Garrett died in late December 2015, Fonseca filed the will with Miami-Dade County’s Probate Court.

Fonseca, though, had second thoughts. He quickly changed course and signed a document relinquishing his claim to Garrett’s assets and turning over responsibility for the will to Garrett’s estranged brother, Benjamin. In his deposition, Fonseca acknowledged that in discussions leading up to that decision, Benjamin Garrett’s Vero Beach attorney, Lawrence Leonard, asked him if he wanted to be compensated in exchange for backing away from the will.

Leonard did not return a call Friday afternoon to his law office. Roa Bodin declined to comment when reached by phone, noting that the probate case of Garrett’s estate had been settled and she was no longer pursuing her Civilian Investigative Panel complaint against Fonseca.

But the panel, created by Miami’s voters to ensure civilian oversight over its police force, is resolving the complaint anyway. An investigator said Fonseca violated procedural guidelines when he failed to report Garrett’s initial concerns of theft and appeared to be guilty of misconduct when he drafted Garrett’s will.

Miami police did not respond to a message seeking comment left Friday on a media relations hotline.