Drug ripoff gone fatally wrong leaves questions from Miami to Canada

Jean Wabafiyebazu
Jean Wabafiyebazu

Even in bullet-scarred Miami, a $4,800 deal over two pounds of marijuana rarely ends in a bloody daytime shootout — particularly one involving teenagers.

But the small-time drug buy went bad in a big way last week, leaving two young men from very different worlds dead, two others wounded and an entire country to the north wondering what went wrong with two Canadian kids in sunny Miami.

Marc and Jean Wabafiyebazu, privileged teenage sons of an admired Canadian diplomat, left private school in frigid Ottawa to follow their mother into the balmy embrace of South Florida. Within weeks, it seems, they had fashioned themselves into gun-toting toughs, with police saying they planned a ripoff of low-level pot peddlers last Monday afternoon.

A small group waited inside a small Coral Way apartment to make the deal, including Joshua Wright, nicknamed “Obama” for his passing resemblance to the president. The 17-year-old was a gregarious teen who had been kicked out of Coral Gables High but had no criminal record.

Only one of the players was even on the radar screen of law enforcement: Anthony Rodriguez, 19, was a suspected marijuana dealer who years ago surfaced as person of interest in a drug-related murder in his Coral Way neighborhood.

Shortly after the brothers arrived, Wright and Jean, both 17, would be dead — shot in a close-quarters exchange. Rodriguez, who fled after being wounded in the arm, landed in jail. And so did 15-year-old Marc, charged with participating in a robbery that ended in two deaths.

Miami detectives must now sort out how these characters — plus at least two other men inside the apartment — came to be fatefully and fatally intertwined.

How did they all meet? Who pitched the deal? Who shot first? Investigators are working to nail down evidence in a case drawing intense media interest in Canada. Miami-Dade prosecutors already are preparing to push forward on felony murder charges.

In Miami, it’s not uncommon for foreign nationals to be drawn into the drug trade. But cases rarely involve widely respected diplomats — or their children.

Jean and Marc are the sons of Roxanne Dubé, who only assumed the role of Canada’s Consul General in Miami a few months ago. A Fulbright scholar, she holds a master’s degree in political science from the University of Ottawa, served as an aide to Canada’s minister of foreign affairs and as Canada’s ambassador to Zimbabwe.

Dubé met her ex-husband, Germano Wabafiyebazu, in Canada, though they divorced several years ago.

Wabafiyebazu — whose families hail from Angola and the Congo — spoke openly and emotionally last week about his shock. In Ottawa, the boys attended a prestigious private French-language school that draws many children of the city’s elite.

“They had everything,” he told Canada’s Globe and Mail.

They followed their mother from Ottawa to to Miami in February. “For them it really was a big move,” Wabafiyebazu told the newspaper. “You see Miami in movies and everything, so to be now going there … they were really enthusiastic.”

Jean enrolled at Gulliver, a prestigious private school in Pinecrest, not far from their home. Marc attended Palmetto High.

On social media, however, they sometimes showed another side. In one photo, Jean is seen holding liquor bottles and Marc is smoking an unidentified substance in another. Detectives are still trying to sort out exactly how the brothers concocted the marijuana deal — and from whom they scored the two pistols seized by police.

One young woman at the crime scene told the National Post that Jean met Wright at Ultra, the wildly popular electronic music festival held last weekend in downtown Miami. The festival is supposed to be for people over the age of 18.

Investigators know this much: On Monday afternoon, Marc and Jean took their mother’s black BMW, complete with diplomatic plates, and drove to the hardscrabble apartments at 3600 SW 17th Ter., where Wright often hung out with his friend, Johan Ruiz, 21.

Marc, Miami police say, told them that they “had the intention of ripping off” the two pounds of marijuana, which they had agreed to buy through a middle man. Marc stayed outside in the car while Jean went inside.

“During the negotiations,” Wright and Jean “became involved in an exchange of gunfire,” according to a police report — and both were mortally wounded.

Sources have told the Miami Herald that after the gunfire broke out, Marc rushed in, grabbed one of his brother’s two pistols and chased Rodriguez, firing as the man ran outside and into his car.

Ruiz, 21, whose role, if any, in the deal police have not yet detailed, was shot in the stomach and rushed to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He is recovering. Neither Wright nor Ruiz had ever been arrested in Florida, records show.

Marc is now charged with felony murder for participating in the armed robbery that led to the two deaths. Rodriguez is charged with a less-serious felony murder count for participating in the drug deal that led to the slayings.

The Canadian’s attorney says he will plead not guilty — and that Marc was only flagging down police when he emerged firing.

South Florida classmates of the Canadian brothers haven’t offered much insight on two teens who are recent arrivals. His father told The Associated Press that Jean struggled with substance abuse, but no one has publicly floated a theory about what may have motivated their criminal aspirations — did they arrive with them, or did it somehow kick in during a short stay in flashy South Florida?

As for Wright, friends held a vigil in front of the apartment where he was shot to death, lighting candles and spelling “Obama” on the pavement with flowers. On social media, they tagged photos “LongLiveObama” and “RIPJoshua Wright.”

“It’s always the good people who get hurt,” one young woman wrote to Wright and Ruiz in a letter left at the memorial scene. “I wish I was there. I would’ve taken those bullets for all you guys. They will get what they deserve. I promise buddy.”

Wright’s background was far more modest than the Wabafiyebazu brothers. His parents hailed from Belize and Nicaragua, and he grew up in Allapattah.

Skipping school led to his expulsion from Gables High, according to his brother. But Wright was working toward his G.E.D. after enrolling in night classes there and at Miami’s The English Center adult school.

Wright loved soccer and had a knack for technology, his brother said. “Everyone’s still hurting,” he told the Miami Herald. “It’s been a big loss.”

Friends said girls were drawn to the slender teen, who enjoyed crime shows like Law and Order, Breaking Bad and Dexter. He attended Coral Gables High but was booted out for unknown reasons. Former classmate Luis Moncada, 16, called him an “amazing guy.”

“He was trying to get into culinary school,” Luis said. “He was a pretty good cook. He liked being a chef. He was a smart kid.”

The Canadian Consul General, in a statement, mourned both slain boys.

“We also want to express our most sincere condolences to the family of Joshua Wright, who have also lost their son and to all of those who have been so tragically affected in this unimaginable circumstance. Your grief is our grief. We can only hope that, in time, we will find common purpose towards diminishing the causes of such violent crimes.”

As for Rodriguez, he was well known by the law. Born and raised in Miami, Rodriguez lived in his family’s home just over a mile away from the shooting scene.

“He is a very violent person,” prosecutor Santiago Aroca told a judge earlier this week in arguing for a high bond. “He goes to do drug dealing with a gun.”

Three times before he was an adult, records show, Rodriguez was arrested for possessing narcotics. Exactly what punishment he received is not a public record.

He again came to the attention of Miami police — this time, to homicide detectives — in August 2013. A suspected “Molly” dealer named Joeyvani Ferguson was shot to death inside his car on the 2900 block of Southwest 19th Street.

“This is how sh-- goes down,” an unidentified gunman said before opening fire, killing Ferguson, according to court documents.

Detectives arrested Rodriguez’s cousin, Anthony Mejia, 20, who is not the suspected shooter. He was identified as the second suspect at the scene who set up the deal. He is awaiting trial on a murder charge. Rodriguez emerged as a person of interest in the crime but was not charged.

More recently, in February, Miami police followed Rodriguez’s Chevy Impala to a Marathon gas station. Officers “smelled a strong odor of marijuana” and noticed a “clear plastic bag containing suspected marijuana.”

Inside the car, they found $4,000 cash in the glove compartment and 24 Xanax bars. In Rodriguez’s pocket, they found another $800 cash. And they found a Glock pistol that had been earlier been stolen from the car of a homeowner on Miami Beach.

But Miami-Dade prosecutors could not prove to whom the drugs belonged — Rodriguez or a cohort in the car. They declined to press charges. Seventeen days after he beat the charge, Rodriguez was shot in the deal that claimed Wright and Jean.

According to police records, Rodriguez was “contacted via telephone” by Wright to bring the two pounds of marijuana. That afternoon, Rodriguez left his pistol in the car when he entered the apartment, according to authorities.

“He left his firearm in the car, he had no intention to do anything,” his attorney, Jose Elortegui, told a judge.

Though shot in the arm, Rodriguez managed to flee, taking the marijuana with him before driving off. He made it to the Marathon gas station — the same one where he had been arrested weeks earlier — before he was arrested a second time.

“He gave a full confession when he was questioned,” prosecutor Aroca told the judge.

Miami Herald staff writers Christina Veiga and Charles Rabin, and Herald writer Katherine Lepri, contributed to this report.

Related stories from Miami Herald