Pain & Gain, Part 2

Miami's Sun Gym gang developed a taste for blood and money. The police could have stopped them before they killed somebody. But they didn't.

Du Bois had no idea who those guys were, but the paper trail led straight to the heart of his professional and personal history. The documents attached to the letter -- copies of title and account transfers -- had been witnessed and notarized by John Mese, an old Miami Shores acquaintance. Du Bois called Schiller and told him that he knew John Mese.

"This guy Mese has to be involved in my kidnapping," said Schiller.

"I can't imagine that," Du Bois replied. John Mese?

Jorge Delgado was primed for more adventure after the Schiller escapade
Jorge Delgado was primed for more adventure after the Schiller escapade
Schiller's contact with the Sun Gym left him with an empty feeling that was worse than Hurricane Andrew
Schiller's contact with the Sun Gym left him with an empty feeling that was worse than Hurricane Andrew

He couldn't begin looking into the case until the following week, after the Super Bowl, when he'd wind up his work as the NFL's top security consultant for the Miami extravaganza. He attended the opulent Commissioner's Ball and walked the sidelines during the big game. But Schiller's tale filtered through the festivities. The man's lonely suffering was bizarre and unsettling.

John Mese was the starting point of the Schiller file. Du Bois knew him as an accountant, a former bodybuilder, the owner of Sun Gym, and a promoter of bodybuilding competitions. He'd known Mese and his family for 30 years through the Miami Shores Country Club and the Kiwanis Club. In fact Mese occasionally had used his detective agency. The two men cut similar figures in the intimate Miami Shores community. Both had attended Miami Edison Senior High School. Both were handsome, strong, hard-working, and prosperous. They had pretty wives and wholesome kids. For five years in the Seventies they'd had offices across the street from each other in the Shores' intimate business district.

Du Bois simply could not picture a dark side to him. If anything he thought Mese was a decent, harmless guy whose true passion, bodybuilding, sometimes intruded on his day job. He must have been conned. He couldn't have witnessed Schiller's signatures unless he was present at the warehouse where Schiller had been held captive and tortured. But if he was there, Du Bois wondered, how did he ever get hooked up with those guys? How could he have gotten mixed up in something as cruel and unsavory as the Schiller abduction?

Du Bois called Mese and asked for a meeting, adding cryptically that it might be the most important appointment of his life. "What, Ed, you're going to bring me a new client, like the NFL or the Dolphins?" Mese joked. Du Bois expected to wrap the whole thing up quickly.

The meeting took place on February 2, 1995, at Mese's Miami Shores office. At 57 years old, he was no longer the chiseled muscleman of old. He now resembled a white-haired Norman Rockwell grandfather poised over the Christmas turkey.

Mese didn't know anyone named Marc Schiller. Du Bois handed him Schiller's letter, studying his face as he read. There wasn't much to discern. "Sounds like this guy had a rough time," said Mese.

Did he know Jorge Delgado and Daniel Lugo? To the detective's surprise Mese said yes, Lugo was employed at his gym, and Delgado worked out there. Besides that, they were hard-working businessmen and clients of his. He'd represented both before the IRS.

A silence fell between the men.

"Ed, I still don't figure how I fit into all this," said Mese.

Du Bois handed him a copy of the quit-claim deed to Schiller's house, and Schiller's MetLife change-of-beneficiary form. Mese had notarized both. In all Mese had witnessed and notarized more than two million dollars of Schiller's assets in the past few months.

The accountant's memory suddenly improved. "Actually," he offered, "Lugo and Delgado brought in some Latin guy with a passport for ID." Maybe this was the man Du Bois was asking about.

"Did a woman come with him?" the detective asked. No, Mese said.

Du Bois then pointed to another signature on the deed, that of "Diana Schiller." And he produced a copy of her passport. She'd left the United States on November 18. But her signature appeared on documents dated November 23 and 24.

"John, how did you possibly witness the signature of a woman who was in South America that day?" Du Bois asked. "Was any other woman here impersonating her?"

Mese hesitated. Well, he said, his recollection was vague about the circumstances surrounding Diana Schiller's signature. Perhaps it was signed before he received the papers, or maybe something screwy had happened. He agreed to set up a meeting with Lugo and Delgado to straighten out the matter.

A second meeting was set up for February 13, again at Mese's Miami Shores office. This time Du Bois took precautions. If Lugo and Delgado had committed terrible crimes against Schiller, they were capable of anything. Early in the morning Du Bois rounded the corner past his house and stopped in to see his best friend, Ed O'Donnell, a veteran criminal lawyer. O'Donnell had worked as a major-crimes prosecutor in the State Attorney's Office before switching to private practice. Du Bois told him about the gang, the letter, the documents, his fears. If something happened to him this morning, he wanted the attorney to know the identity of those at the meeting, and the circumstances that took him there.

Du Bois also took care to hire a bodyguard.

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