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.

So outraged was Lugo that he called together his cohorts and railed against Schiller and the detective. They were ruining his life. His obsession with Schiller only intensified. One night he showed Sabina a purloined video of a birthday party Schiller had staged for his son, back when the family still lived in Old Cutler Cove. It was a big party, with clowns, cakes, decorations, and presents. "Look at my money!" Lugo complained as the tape played. "Look at that party, how he uses my money!"

By now Du Bois had laid out the gang's proposition to Schiller. But his client wasn't impressed. In fact he thought the offer was no more than a stall tactic while they tried to find him. He had no doubts they'd kill him if they did. On the other hand, he was desperate for cash. And he wanted to go to the cops. What if he could get the money and then go to the police? That way, when the guys were arrested, he wouldn't have to watch them use his money to pay off their lawyers.

Du Bois and Schiller agreed that if they were going to pursue the "payoff," they needed to consult an attorney. Du Bois went back to his friend Ed O'Donnell. The former prosecutor was stunned that Delgado would even ask for such an agreement. "What kind of bozo says to his attorney, 'This Schiller is accusing me of kidnapping him for a month, torturing him, and stealing all his money and property. It's a lie, but I'm going to pay the $1.26 million anyway?'" He wasn't even sure the gang could find a lawyer to draft such a contract, which would cause any attorney to see more red flags than Chairman Mao. More important, O'Donnell said, the "agreement of silence" was unenforceable. Besides, it was a confession Schiller could take straight to the police.

Griga's Intracoastal mansion
Griga's Intracoastal mansion
Griga's car attracted attention  --  too much attention
Griga's car attracted attention -- too much attention

But the Sun Gym gang did find a lawyer: Joel Greenberg, a Plantation attorney in his first year of practice. What Greenberg didn't know was that Lugo, in what the gang considered a stroke of financial genius, had devised a scheme to bamboozle Schiller. He planned to alter the contract to read 1.26 million lire, instead of 1.26 million dollars, thereby reducing the payment to little more than $1200. When Greenberg was let in on the plot, he balked. He'd write the contract, yes, but he wasn't going to get involved with the ridiculous lira gambit. The young attorney did provide Lugo with a contract stripped of dollar signs; if Lugo wanted to add the lire, he could.

The days dragged on and drafts of the contract were faxed between the two camps. Schiller agreed to every new revision, but there was no money coming in. So Du Bois sent Greenberg a letter to warn him that unless the funds were forthcoming, he'd deliver to the Sun Gym gang "a civil RICO complaint so large I'll have to deliver it in a U-Haul." He would pursue the gang as an ongoing criminal enterprise, the type targeted by federal and state racketeering laws.

In mid-March, though, it was the Sun Gym gang that rented a U-Haul, to empty out the Old Cutler Cove house. Through his Miami attorney, Schiller filed a challenge to the deed now held by the Bahamian firm D&J International. With legal threats heating up, the gang knew it was time to get out with what they could.

For the heavy work, Lugo hired a Sun Gym weight lifter who, like Schiller's neighbors, believed the house belonged to Lugo. The bounty he carried out was immense; his load included the 50-inch Mitsubishi television, Persian rugs, bronze sculptures, leather couches, the bedroom furnishings, Cristofle silver, Lalique and Waterford crystal, the dining table, an $8000 buffet, the washer and dryer, a freezer, computers and video games, copiers and a printer, assorted camcorders and smaller TVs, the patio furniture and Jacuzzi, two bicycles, a baby stroller, and the faux Christmas tree and Hallmark ornaments. Even the family photo albums and videos.

They also took Schiller's favorite snakeskin briefcase and his $600 Cartier sunglasses, and Diana's Guccis, and all the kids' clothes. They even removed the light-switch covers. Finally they drove off with Diana's BMW station wagon (the gang enlisted the help of yet another Sun Gym weight lifter, who altered the car's vehicle identification number). It was a brazen haul, totaling more than $150,000, and that didn't include the BMW.

As soon as Schiller won back the title to his house (the gang decided they'd better not respond to his challenge) he sent Du Bois to have a look. The kitchen remained intact; there was even baby food in the refrigerator. Otherwise the place was bare.

It was eerie, this housecleaning job, thought Du Bois, as though Schiller and his family never existed. All the trappings of a lifetime were gone. The Sun Gym gang had wiped out the Schillers far more thoroughly than did Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Back then they'd lost only their windows and doors, and part of their roof.

The detective placed a call to Colombia to deliver the bad news. "What do you mean, Ed, 'cleaned out?'"

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