If he could do it over, Dan “Tito” Davis would stick to white crosses.
Those were the speed pills he started selling as a student at Black Hills State College in 1972, eventually transferring to Las Vegas and pulling down as much as $200,000 a week working through the illicit drug network established by the Bandidos motorcycle gang.
The best part: Davis’ white crosses were made of ephedrine rather than amphetamine. They were technically legal.
The mistake he made was getting into cocaine and marijuana.
Davis, a Pierre native who grew up in small-town South Dakota, recounts his rise as a drug kingpin and eventual fugitive in the book he wrote with Peter Conti, “Gringo: My Life on the Edge as an International Fugitive.”
In 1994, having already served time in prison and about to do decades more after a childhood friend framed Davis with two pounds of meth, Davis decided to run. He wasn’t going to do time for a crime he didn’t commit.
He left South Dakota for Denver and then crossed the Mexican border, beginning a 13-year run from federal officials that came to an end in Venezuela when U.S. marshals caught up with him. He was shipped back to the United States, where he served a prison sentence that ended with his release in 2015.
Now living in Key West, Davis visited family and friends in South Dakota following his release from prison, the first time he’d been home since fleeing the country. He plans to visit again this summer.
“It’s a beautiful place in the summertime,” he said. “The Black Hills, I don’t think there’s a more beautiful place in the summer.”
Davis recalls with fondness his time as a boy growing up in South Dakota. It was a simple time. There was one TV channel, and he spent a lot of time hunting and fishing. He wrestled in high school and made good money as a jockey on the horse racing circuit.
Though he grew up in a modest, small-town setting, the acquisition of money became a central pursuit. He borrowed money from his parents to ramp up his white cross business, telling himself that he would pay them back with interest and a mink coat for his mother and Cadillac for his father, even though he knew they didn’t approve of excess.
While in prison, Davis hammered out a manuscript that became the foundation for Conti, who trimmed it by hundreds of pages. The publisher wanted it even leaner at 300 pages. That makes it a fast read. Sometimes too fast. He breezes through chapters of his life that could have used more detail, more meat.
But this is an adventure, a travel memoir, albeit one viewed from the vantage point of the criminal underworld. Which makes it unique.
Today, Davis spends time playing pickleball. He reflects on the decision to transition out of the legal white cross pills for illegal drugs. It was a bad decision. He could have sold the pills in magazines as a health supplement. He would have had a comfortable life.
Instead, he spent a lot of his adult life on the run or in prison.
“It’s not fun,” he said. “You don’t want to be a felon. You don’t want to be a fugitive. You’d be better off driving a UPS truck.”