Johnny Williams carried himself through the countryside of Puerto Rico like a wealthy but down-to-earth “gringo” with a generous heart. In the run-up to Christmas, he would organize toy drives for children of the barrio, which earned him the respect of everyone in his neighborhood in the town of Canóvanas.
Those who got to know Williams noticed his aversion to being photographed despite his distinctive bright smile, but no one thought much of it.
His charisma gained him access to high-profile social circles as did his claim that he was the co-founder of an organization called Karma Honey Project, a nonprofit that promoted the protection of bees on the island.
He even forged political ties, leading to an appearance at La Fortaleza, the governor’s official residence, to relocate a pesky hive.
Now it appears his “shyness” hid a dark secret.
He was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service on Feb. 25 and is being held on murder charges.
According to authorities, “Johnny Williams” was the alias used by Conor Vincent D’Monte, who was one of Canada’s most wanted fugitives. The 44-year-old is the alleged perpetrator of a bloody shooting, targeting gang rivals, in front of a Vancouver shopping center in 2009.
The Marshals Service made its move after an intensifying investigation solidified suspicions about “Johnny Williams“ ‘ real identity. Although he had a 9mm by his side, D’Monte did not resist. The arrest came just a week after his visit to the governor’s residence.
“He acted surprised,” Antonio Torres, chief deputy U.S. marshal in Puerto Rico, told The Associated Press.
D’Monte was the alleged leader of one of the most feared gangs in British Columbia — one called the “United Nations.” It is also known as “Global United Nations Syndicate” (GUNS), named after the diverse ethnic backgrounds of its members.
For more than a decade, he avoided detection by the Canadian judicial system, which is now seeking his extradition from Puerto Rico on charges that also include attempted murder, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. It is not clear how long he was in Puerto Rico.
Those who knew D’Monte as a philanthropist were dumbfounded.
Attorney Yaliz Baéz, a friend of “Williams” who says she collaborated with the Karma Honey Project on multiple occasions, told el Nuevo Herald that the work in Puerto Rico may have been “his way of vindicating himself with life.”
While D’Monte appeared to portray himself as someone who could make deals on behalf of Karma Honey Project, Candice Galek, the organization’s president, has claimed he was just a volunteer.
The episode has brought unwanted attention to the nonprofit.
So just who was Williams/D’Monte and what precisely was his connection to Karma Honey Project?
The answers could impact whether the organization hangs on to its nonprofit privileges on the island, Puerto Rico treasury department secretary Francisco Parés Alicea told Telemundo PR.
Karma and bees
Puerto Rico’s bee population was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. To the rescue rode the Karma Honey Project.
Karma Honey, whose motto is “Save a Bee, Save the World,” was created in 2019 by Galek, a Miami businesswoman who in 2017 was featured on a Forbes list of 30 under 30. She started an online boutique for bikinis called Bikini Luxe. On her LinkedIn page, Galek quotes various axioms, such as: “If you are born poor it is not your mistake, but if you die poor it is your mistake.”
Galek, who did not respond to requests for comment from el Nuevo Herald, decided to launch the effort to aid the island’s bees despite not living there.
Following the arrest, Galek sought to disassociate her organization from D’Monte, offering assurances that he had been jettisoned in December of 2021, two months before the marshals grabbed him.
“We found out that he was meeting with people and networking in a way that didn’t align with the organization,” Galek said in an interview with the news outlet En Blanco y Negro con Sandra. She explained that D’Monte’s actions “felt more selfish than beneficial to the community.”
Galek’s version of the events doesn’t comport with what D’Monte conveyed to el Nuevo Herald through Yaliz Baéz, the lawyer friend. She said D’Monte served as a spokesperson for the organization until the early part of this year. The Karma Honey Project website features a TV news report in which Galek and “Williams” are credited with coming up with the idea for Karma Honey Project.
The night before D’Monte’s arrest, a new organization was registered in Puerto Rico under the name of Karma Project PR Inc. The corporation was registered by a man named Karlos M. Villafane-Santiago, but it lists the same physical address in Puerto Rico as Galek’s organization. El Nuevo Herald’s efforts to contact him to ask about the timing and similar nomenclature were unsuccessful.
During the same month that Galek says she fired D’Monte, the Miami woman filed a petition to incorporate still another similarly named entity, Karma Honey Inc., in Florida as a for-profit
Donations from Act 22 beneficiaries
Puerto Rico has a provision called the Act to Promote the Relocation of Investors to Puerto Rico, which does as its name suggests. Adopted in 2012 the provision, also known as Act 22, offers a total exemption from local income taxes to new residents who haven’t lived in Puerto Rico in the previous six years. The rules were recently revised, but the aim remains the same: to lure high-income individuals, including retirees and empty nesters, from outside Puerto Rico.
Karma Honey Project encouraged people on its website to take advantage of Act 22 and donate, either with lump sums or monthly installment payments of $500.
The abandoned school ghost project
There are questions about whether Karma Honey Project’s reach may have been exaggerated. In an update from November 2021, the Karma Honey website says the organization was making a “major push” to raise funds to finance a new project — restoration of an abandoned school in the municipality of Canóvanas, where an education center for bee conservation was envisioned.
The plan featured an organic food store, community gardens and classrooms with courses on agriculture, finance and cryptocurrency. It was described as the organization’s most ambitious undertaking.
“We are looking for donors, volunteers, and companies to help us with this exciting project,” reads the website, explaining that Karma Honey Project would be working hand in hand with students from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute as well as with Id Shaliah, a religious organization, to bring the transformation to life.
Worcester Polytechnic students were all in. A group of them submitted an action plan to the school identifying Id Shaliah and Karma Honey as owners of the building.
Except they weren’t the owners, despite a tweet earlier that year from Canóvanas’ mayor, Lornna Soto, in which she announced the “transfer” of the Manuel Agosto Lebrón school to Id Shaliah and Karma Honey Project “to carry out several important projects.”
After D’Monte’s arrest, Soto did an about-face, saying the school building was not held by Karma Honey Project — either via ownership or lease.
“The proposal did not meet the requirements of the municipality. Therefore, the contract was not granted,” Soto told the newspaper Metro.
Javier Valedón, president of the Id Shaliah, insisted to En Blanco y Negro con Sandra that D’Monte told him “things that didn’t make sense.”
There were “many innocent victims of Johnny Williams,” Valedón said, according to the website. Valedón could not be reached by el Nuevo Herald.
Is this for sale?
Carlos Chaparro, owner of TaínaSoy Apiary and a beekeeper with more than six years experience, said D’Monte came on strong to him, showing up with a real estate agent unannounced to try to get him to sell his property, which was not for sale.
That was three years ago. “He told me that he owned Karma Honey Project and that he wanted to buy my apiary to turn it into a space for his organization,” Chaparro, who grew up in Chicago, told el Nuevo Herald.
The land in question has belonged to his family for generations. Furthermore it was being used by hundreds of local and international volunteers to create an Earthship, a sustainable, hurricane-resistant center.
“I went through gentrification in Chicago and now that I come here to take care of my parents I am seeing the same thing,” Chaparro said.
In the wake of D’Monte’s high-profile arrest, Chaparro now believes that the man “offered money that maybe he didn’t even have.”
Only D’Monte knows for sure. And he remains cloistered behind bars, awaiting extradition at the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison in Guaynabo.
D’Monte had to sell his belongings to pay for the legal team that will represent him in Canada, Yaliz Báez said.