Supposedly the gym had 571 members, but the books were wrong. Sun Gym was hemorrhaging clients, who were taking their paunches to the newly opened Gold's Gym complex in Miami Lakes. Gold's didn't push a cult of the perfect physique; fitness training there was, by comparison, a casual outlet for exercise and social interaction.
Miami accountant John Mese had opened Sun Gym just seven years before, in January 1987. He'd started serious bodybuilding at Texas A&M, where he earned an accounting degree. In 1962, while in the air force, he was stationed in England and, with a 60-inch chest and 19 1/2-inch biceps, won the title of Mr. United Kingdom. The next year he was accepted as a Mr. America contestant, but the air force denied him leave to compete. Now he promoted bodybuilding competitions. When professional bodybuilders came to Miami to compete, most trained at Sun Gym.
But while Mese was a prominent accountant -- he'd been president of Mese & Associates in Miami Shores since 1970, and occasionally taught accounting theory at two local universities -- no one could say he was astute when it came to hiring his gym employees. One Sun Gym manager, according to lore, had left for vacation and was arrested in Louisiana with massive amounts of cocaine and amphetamines in his car. Another manager, an ex-cop, quit working at Sun Gym then performed the ultimate reverse sting when he led three drug dealers out to the Everglades and executed them. Mese claimed that other employees stole from the gym. One quit, swearing that Mese had swindled him.
The gym's core clientele -- obsessed with developing muscle size, definition, and density -- was problematic as well, described by observers as "cops and bad guys." One Miami police officer ventured that he could "meet my monthly quota of felony arrests in one night at the Sun Gym" by running background checks on the denizens pumping iron all around him.
By 1992 Mese was about to ditch the enterprise. His bright hopes for Sun Gym had imploded. It was about time, his friends and family thought. He'd already lost one partner and many clients at his accounting firm because of the inordinate attention he gave the gym, and the time he spent coordinating bodybuilding contests during the tax season. The gym had been nothing but a drain, another bad investment. His dream that it would become an internationally renowned muscle mecca was all but dead.
Then Daniel Lugo turned up on his doorstep, looking for work. The 30-year-old New York native had moved to Hialeah about four years earlier, along with his wife, Lillian, and their four adopted children, all of whom were Lillian's relations, left to her custody after several family tragedies. He and Lillian were no longer together, though they remained close friends. He'd since remarried.
Lugo was full of ideas for the gym. Like a rainmaker in the wilderness, he promised Mese he could help deliver a virtual torrent of members and cash. They'd work together and build an empire: a Sun Gym clothing line, Sun Gym vitamins, a Sun Gym juice bar, a Sun Gym karate team. But best of all, Lugo said, he was developing computer software that would render obsolete all previous methods of gym management. For Mese, whose accounting firm also owned a computer company, this was perfect. Lugo's software would strengthen the gym's ability to monitor membership payments and accounts receivable.
So persuasive was Lugo that Mese was happy to overlook his past. The new hire had just served a fifteen-month sentence at the Eglin Air Force Base Federal Correctional Institute, a minimum-security prison camp in Florida's Panhandle, and was beginning a three-year federal probation period full of "special terms," which included paying $70,000 in restitution to his victims. In addition he couldn't establish any lines of credit or incur credit charges without the permission of his probation officer.
Lugo's crime had been to prey on individuals in desperate need of cash. His victims, unable to obtain conventional loans, had placed ads in the Miami Herald seeking venture capital. Lugo masqueraded as David Lowenstein, an agent representing financiers connected with a fictitious Hong Kong bank that had millions to lend to American small-business owners and entrepreneurs. Employing an advance-fee payment scheme, he collected up-front from eager applicants, supposedly to purchase Lloyd's of London insurance to ensure repayment of the loans. He ultimately collected $71,200 in fees but failed to deliver any loans.
In May 1990, FBI agents had arrested Lugo at Scandinavian Health and Racquet Club in Kendall, where he worked as a salesman, making $600 per month. When the feds made him declare his worth, Lugo estimated that he made another $1200 per month in commissions. He pleaded guilty to fraud in January 1991, in Miami's U.S. District Court. As a requirement of his plea agreement, he also admitted to similar criminal activity in Oklahoma. (His victims' losses there totaled $230,000.) In his Acceptance of Responsibility statement to the court, Lugo wrote, "I hereby acknowledge my guilt and I know what I did was wrong. There is no substitute for hard work and I am a hard worker.... It will never happen again for I have learned not to use intelligence for wrong actions to justify the good end." But on that solemn occasion, he lied one more time, insisting to the court that he was a Fordham University graduate with a computer science degree (in fact he'd attended Fordham but left before graduating).
Despite that background John Mese hired him to manage, and revive, Sun Gym. And for a time it looked as though Lugo would do just that. The six-feet-two, 230-pounder certainly had the physique and the dynamic personality to attract new clients. Although he began as a personal trainer, he soon was promoted to general manager. And by the summer of 1994, Lugo had become the absolute centerpiece, the star in the Sun Gym universe. On the books, at least, business looked good.
Lugo's best buddy at the gym was Noel "Adrian" Doorbal. The two had met a few years before through a girl Lugo was working with at the time, Lucretia Goodridge. Doorbal, a cousin of Goodridge, recently had arrived from Trinidad and was living at her house while he got a feel for life in the States. A tenth-grade dropout, he worked as a fry-cook at Fiesta Taco in Kendall, riding a bicycle to and from work. Over time the two men took jobs as personal trainers in a series of Miami gyms. They were also constant, serious workout partners. After Lugo was released from Eglin and divorced from Lillian Torres, he married Goodridge. With her cousin added to the mix, he got a two-for-one deal: a spouse and a best friend, for better or worse.
Lugo soon hired Doorbal to work part time at Sun Gym. And Lugo did even more for his friend: He made him very rich. By January 1994 the 22-year-old Doorbal, whose visa had long since expired, was able to invest a million dollars in a Merrill Lynch mutual fund account. Truly amazing for the young, part-time personal trainer with just two clients, neither of them named Madonna or Stallone.
How did he get so rich? Almost immediately after Lugo was released from Eglin and hired by Mese, he met a weight lifter at Sun Gym who had an affinity for white-collar crime and also was fresh out of jail. Together they established ten phony medical companies, then rented dozens of mailboxes, many at the Lakes Postal Center in Miami Lakes. They bought names, Social Security numbers, birth dates, and other information about legitimate Medicare recipients for ten dollars apiece, and mailed fraudulent bills to the government for nonexistent medical services.
Lugo kept the lion's portion of their take, which was fine with his partner (he later told investigators he'd begun to fear for his life after hearing Lugo boast about hiring a hit man to kill a partner who'd crossed him). When they parted ways, Lugo deposited the ill-gotten gains into the mutual fund account under Doorbal's name; he was mindful of his probation, and he still owed his victims $71,200 in restitution.
During that summer of 1994, Carl Weekes decided to leave New York to straighten out his life. Miami was perhaps an odd destination for someone trying to steer clear of drugs and crime, like going to Las Vegas to kick a gambling habit.
Originally from Barbados, Weekes had been just one year in the Marine Corps when he threatened his sergeant's life. He was discharged in lieu of a court martial and returned home to Brooklyn, working intermittently and living off relatives. He committed house burglaries, as well as armed robberies of drug dealers, and became addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine.
When he was 30 years old, he suffered a seizure, entered rehab, got clean, and found Christianity. But he was still on welfare and his girlfriend was pregnant with their third child. She had a cousin in Miami, she said, a Haitian immigrant named Stevenson Pierre. Perhaps he could help Weekes start over. Weekes figured he might as well try. He'd save some money, then bring his family down to join him. He left New York on his 31st birthday.
Pierre didn't especially like Weekes, whom he'd met several times at family gatherings. He thought Weekes was spoiled and impulsive, a braggart and a brat. But family was family, so he offered room and board, and the promise of a job at the gym where he was employed.
Pierre, who had once worked as a credit analyst and skip tracer for American Express in New York City, was on the Sun Gym payroll. Daniel Lugo had hired him in February 1994 to create a collection agency for overdue membership payments. The plan ended abruptly two months later, when the 26-year-old Pierre announced it would take more than a hundred grand to become incorporated, licensed, and bonded. He stayed on staff, however, as back-office manager in the weight room, supervising the personal trainers and exhorting the weight lifters to get bigger, stronger: no pain, no gain. But Pierre, who clocked in at five feet five and just 130 pounds, hardly cut an inspirational figure at Sun Gym. Before long he was little more than a desk clerk.
In September 1994, when Weekes arrived in Miami, Pierre took him to the gym and introduced him to Adrian Doorbal and Daniel Lugo, whose celebrity status among fellow employees increased with word of his financial genius. But like Pierre, Weekes was a lightweight. He weighed only 140. Sorry, said Lugo, he had no openings. At least not at the moment. Rumors were afloat that the gym was for sale, and Lugo was under a hiring freeze. But he hinted nonetheless that something might open up. So Weekes lived with Pierre and the latter's seven-year-old son, and waited. He yo-yoed between Miami and New York, collecting public-assistance checks and food stamps.
Then things got worse for Weekes: The gym laid off his host. Pierre took a job in Little Haiti at his father's dry-cleaning shop, but Weekes still moped around the house, hoping to hear from Lugo and growing more desperate. He could do this in New York and be with his family. He wanted to work.
In mid-October 1994, Lugo called Weekes. He had an offer, he said. Come to my office for the particulars. Lugo's "office" was a room he maintained at the Miami Lakes branch of the accounting firm headed by Sun Gym's owner, John Mese. When Weekes arrived for the meeting with Lugo and Doorbal, Stevenson Pierre was there as well.
Lugo asked the two men if they were interested in making $100,000 for two days' work. He'd recently discovered that a bad man, "a scumbag" named Marc Schiller, had stolen not only $100,000 from him, but an additional $200,000 from a gym member named Jorge Delgado. It was probably not true, but Lugo laid it on thick anyway. They intended to get it back, and more, he went on. Pierre knew the 31-year-old Delgado from the gym, and had heard that he and Lugo were buddies. He knew Lugo had the keys to Delgado's warehouse in Hialeah. Called Speed Racer's, the warehouse was used as a storage facility and distribution center for Delgado's various business interests. Pierre had once helped transport some Sun Gym exercise equipment there.
Schiller needed to be "taken down," said Lugo, and in his lexicon, that meant they should snatch the scumbag, take him to a secluded spot, beat him, make him confess to stealing the money, and force him to return it, plus take his house and anything else he owned. Then maybe -- probably -- kill him.
Well, Pierre thought, that's a little severe. Why didn't Delgado and Lugo just talk to Schiller? As for Weekes, he knew at once that this was exactly the kind of action he'd come to Miami to avoid. But when Lugo sidled up to him, slung his side-of-beef arm around the smaller man's coat-hanger shoulders, and promised that once the Schiller business was behind them, he'd personally impart some of his financial genius, any resistance crumbled.
They met again a few days later at Lugo's office, and this time Jorge Delgado was present. He'd okayed the plan to abduct and, if necessary, kill Schiller. Now he was ready to provide information about their relationship, the man's private life, his daily routine.
In 1991 Delgado had to quit his job as a car salesman. His wife, Linda, who worked for Schiller in his M.S.S. Accounting Services office in West Dade, cried as she described to her boss the couple's perilous finances. A sympathetic Schiller offered the Havana-born Delgado a job and brought him in as a gofer. But soon he had a title: marketing representative. As time passed the men became best friends and partners in several business ventures (Schiller staked Delgado's investment money), including a nutritional-supplements company and a new accounting firm. All in all Delgado had profited immensely from the relationship. A few years earlier, he and his wife were living with her parents. Now he had a nice house north of Miami Lakes. Linda didn't have to work anymore. They were planning to start a family.
Delgado knew Schiller's family well: his wife Diana and their two young children, David and Stephanie. In fact Schiller so trusted Delgado that he gave him the security code to his home. Delgado knew the layout of the house and where the safe was located. He knew Schiller left his pistol and valuable documents locked in the safe. More important, he knew where Schiller banked, and the exact locations and dollar amounts of offshore accounts Schiller created for investors. He'd even gone with Schiller to the Cayman Islands, where his boss set up the accounts.
Then, late in 1992, Delgado met Daniel Lugo at Sun Gym. He used him as a personal trainer during workouts, and Lugo became a compelling force in his life away from the weights as well, sort of a strong, popular older brother. Delgado tried to bring Lugo into business with Schiller, but Schiller thought Lugo was coarse and creepy. When they had their falling-out, it was over Delgado's preoccupation with Lugo. Schiller said: Him or me. Delgado picked Lugo. Schiller warned him: That guy's going to get you into a lot of trouble somewhere down the line.
Now, in the fall of 1994, Delgado's wife had a baby on the way. What kind of scumbag, Lugo asked, would take food out of a baby's mouth? So forget the measly $200,000 Schiller has "stolen" from Delgado. They were going after everything Schiller owned: his $300,000 house and all its furnishings; the million dollars he'd invested offshore; more than $100,000 in his personal bank account; his cars; his investment in La Gorce Palace, a luxury condominium being built on Miami Beach; his Schlotzsky's Deli franchise near Miami International Airport; even his credit cards.
The Sun Gym gang hurried over to The Spy Shop on Biscayne Boulevard, owned by John Demeter, a born-again Christian. Beneath large banners reading "Jesus Saves" and "God Is Love," they examined merchandise designed to shock, incapacitate, imprison, and eavesdrop on their fellow man. Pretending to be a security crew for a rock band, the gang bought shock-inducing taser guns, stainless-steel handcuffs, and small Motorola walkie-talkies featuring privacy-enhancing point-to-point communication settings, just like the cops use.
Lugo rented a burgundy Ford Astrovan from which they could watch Schiller's movements, tail him, then grab him. And when they had him, they would use the van to carry him to Delgado's Speed Racer's warehouse. Weekes and Pierre agreed to ride in the back of the van on these scouting expeditions; two black men circling Schiller's upscale Old Cutler Cove neighborhood in South Dade surely would get pulled over.
But despite the new hardware and high spirits, the gang's first attempts to kidnap Schiller failed. To be kind, they were not smart plans -- not in their conception, especially not in their execution. For Halloween they planned to don ninja outfits and trick-or-treat in Schiller's neighborhood. They'd knock on his door and nab him when he answered. But instead they opted to spend the night at a strip club. They thought of another scheme: kidnapping him as he drove along the Palmetto Expressway during rush hour. But as they tried to catch up to his car, Schiller took an unexpected exit ramp.
The most complicated tactical operation took place early one November morning, right in Schiller's front yard. Although he lived in a gated community, access to the home was simple: A perimeter road next to a canal allowed anyone entry. Schiller's house was the closest to this road.
Adrian Doorbal, Stevenson Pierre, and Carl Weekes waited for Schiller to open his door and walk outside to pick up the morning paper. The three men were dressed all in black and wore gloves and military camouflage makeup. (Weekes remembered this application technique from his Marine Corps training.) They crawled across the lawn and huddled under movers' blankets in a chilly predawn rain, preparing to storm the house and hold the family hostage. But a passing car spooked them, and they radioed the now-familiar "mission abort" message to Lugo, who was in a nearby park with the van. The group ran all the way back to the vehicle.
When morale was down after yet another failed abduction (there had been six by now) Lugo would take the crew to the Solid Gold Club on 163rd Street, Miami's premier strip palace, and hand his colleagues money for the dancers. He would buy the guys drinks and tried to buoy their confidence. If the gang pulled off this Schiller caper, he'd say, these voluptuous naked centerfold fantasies could be theirs!
At 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, November 14, the Sun Gym gang made its seventh abduction attempt. Lugo sat in his Toyota Camry, blocking Schiller in his 4Runner in an alleyway next to his Schlotzsky's Deli franchise. Parked around a corner, the Astrovan -- with Doorbal, Weekes, and Pierre -- was to close in, blocking Schiller from behind. They would pluck him from the 4Runner, subdue him, and kidnap him. But while Schiller blasted his horn for an agonizing minute at the heavily tinted Camry, the guys in the van radioed that they couldn't start their vehicle. Mission aborted! Again!
When the gang regrouped at the Miami Lakes business office he shared with John Mese, Lugo was livid. This was it, he told them; the scheme was off. He'd had it with their bungling. No more cocktails and naked babes for these losers. He had his Medicare scheme to rely on. If the rest of them wanted a merry Christmas, they'd have to snag Schiller.
Adrian Doorbal and Carl Weekes responded to Lugo's challenge like football players who've been reamed by the coach at halftime. In fact they'd already decided Pierre wasn't sufficiently gung-ho for the assignment. So after the three left Lugo's office, they dropped off Pierre at his house, essentially benching him for the game. They now pinned their hopes on another player: Mario Sanchez, "Big Mario," a former Sun Gym weight-lifting instructor and licensed Florida private eye. The detective business had soured, and Sanchez, at six feet four and 270 pounds, now worked as a bouncer at Hooligan's Pub & Oyster Bar in Miami Lakes. He appeared to be in a financial jam, driving his Volkswagen Jetta on a doughnut spare tire. But he still possessed several assets, notably, a concealed-weapon permit and a .357-Magnum revolver.
Later that day Doorbal approached Sanchez in the gym and asked him outside to talk. They climbed into the van with Weekes, and Doorbal laid out his offer: He needed an "intimidator" because he planned to collect money from a drug dealer who welshed on a debt. Sanchez would earn $1000 in one afternoon.
"What is this, a big drug dealer we're collecting money from, Adrian?" asked Sanchez. He knew that approaching a dealer with a "money claim" wasn't the safest way to spend an afternoon. "I don't want to go collect from any guy in the Colombian cartel. I don't want to wind up dead, my picture on the front page of the Miami Herald with flies and maggots in my mouth."
Following that meeting Doorbal and Weekes unexpectedly showed up at Sanchez's apartment. He was still reluctant to participate: Are you positive you aren't going to hurt this guy? But Doorbal assured him he could pick up a quick grand for doing what he did nightly at Hooligan's -- merely "looking big and mean" -- and maintained they just wanted to settle a legitimate debt.
Sanchez agreed. The holidays were coming and he wanted to give his son a nice Christmas present.
That same afternoon Marc Schiller was waiting at Schlotzsky's to meet with a prospective buyer of the franchise delicatessen. Despite its location near the airport, the eatery attracted little evening business, and he'd already had to lay off several employees.
Schiller's problems were fairly normal: coping with a broken swimming-pool pump; trying to sell his failing deli; wrapping up his CPA work early so the family could travel to Colombia to join his in-laws for Hanukkah. He was anxious that day to get home to his wife and the kids. Freakish, late-season Tropical Storm Gordon was beginning to surge over Miami. Still he waited for the buyer. Doorbal, Weekes, and Sanchez drove to Schlotzsky's and parked in the back lot.
It was just past 4:00 p.m. when Schiller gave up hope that his buyer would show. He walked across the parking lot under a leaden sky to his 4Runner, and just as he opened the door, the three men grabbed him and began to stun him with tasers. Each zap carried 120,000 volts. He tried to hold on to the steering wheel but was violently yanked away. "Take my watch, my money ... my car!" he yelled, thinking this was a robbery or a carjacking.
Nothing. Just more shocks and punches.
"What the fuck do you guys want?"
"You," Schiller heard as they dragged him toward the van. He struggled, he screamed at them, at any possible passersby. They forced him over to the van and heaved him inside. Someone jammed a gun barrel to his temple and told him to keep his eyes shut, or he'd be dead. They drove off and eased into heavy rush-hour traffic at a relaxed speed.
With his head pressed to the floorboard, Schiller felt two of the strangers shackle his ankles, then handcuff his wrists behind his back. The hot, blurred moments of his abduction were the last sights Schiller could remember as they savagely wound duct tape around his head, over his eyes and ears. After this, time and space became conjecture. Someone pulled off his Presidential Rolex, took the wallet from his back pocket, ripped off his Star of David necklace. "We've got ourselves a genuine matzo ball!" one of his captors announced.
They laughed and taunted him as they hit and kicked him. Someone kept asking him, "Why are you taking food out of a baby's mouth? How come you're allowed to have so much money while we have so little?" But Schiller -- hyperventilating, his face smashed against the floor in this sudden, brutal reversal of fortune -- was in no mood to debate the evils of anti-Semitism or theories of American capitalism. He kept silent. A mover's blanket was thrown over him. Systematic doses of electricity seared into his right heel.
As he neared unconsciousness, Schiller realized the van had come to a stop. A voice in the front of the vehicle spoke into a cell phone: "The Eagle has landed." Schiller didn't know it then, but he was at Delgado's warehouse. The Eagle would soon undergo his first interrogation.
Marc Schiller was born in Buenos Aires but left Argentina with his family when he was four and grew up in New York City. After obtaining a business degree from the University of Wisconsin, he took a series of accounting jobs before becoming a comptroller for a U.S.-owned oil pipeline company in Bogotá, where he met and married Diana.
In 1989 his boss had been kidnapped and held for ransom by the Army of National Liberation (ELN), a guerrilla group that regularly attacks foreign-owned oil pipelines and foreign employees in Colombia. Negotiations between the ELN and the company's attorneys dragged on (the settlement took months to reach) and U.S. employees of the company were ordered back to the States.
Schiller and his wife moved to Miami. They began raising children. He set up a successful CPA practice and dabbled in other businesses: the franchise deli and the nutritional-supplements company.
Now he learned quickly what being a prisoner of Lugo was like. For two hours he felt the electric lash of the taser guns, the explosions of punches, the pistol-whippings. The men took his Sharper Image all-weather lighter and burned him on his arms and chest. They played Russian roulette against his temple. Gagged and blindfolded, chained to a warehouse wall, he found it ironic that he'd moved his family to the United States to avoid the very thing that was happening.
The Sun Gym gang wasted no time that evening. They retrieved Schiller's car from the deli parking lot and drove it into the warehouse. Jamming a pistol to his ear, they presented him with a number of "scripts" and forced him to begin rehearsals, then to make calls over the warehouse telephone. That night he called his wife: Get the kids, get out of the house, don't call anyone -- especially the police! -- and go to your family in Colombia.
A terrified Diana obeyed; she took her children back to Colombia. At least the family was safe. Schiller's captors had threatened to bring Diana to the warehouse and rape her. But the relief was double-edged: Now these men had access to his empty house.
Schiller's calls to business associates over the next few days were different. Here the scripts called for a fantastic story: He'd fallen in love with a hot young Cuban named Lillian Torres. She drove him crazy, so loco he was going to convert his assets to cash and ride off into the sunset with her. Also in that time his captors began making dozens of requests for his autograph. Still blindfolded -- the duct tape cut so tightly into his head that blood seeped from the bridge of his nose -- he couldn't see the documents he signed. To him each seemed a death sentence.
As he contemplated his fate between signatures, Schiller slowly began to comprehend the genesis of his kidnapping. He recognized Lugo's distinctive voice, which had reminded him of Mike Tyson's lisp with a New York accent. And he knew only Delgado could be the source of information his captors already knew and were merely asking him to confirm: the house alarm codes, the money locations.
Schiller deduced he was being held by at least four men who guarded him in shifts. Lugo had limited daytime hours because he had to be seen at the gym, in case his parole officer checked up on him. The others referred to Lugo as Boss or Batman. Robin (Adrian Doorbal) was the late-afternoon/early evening baby sitter.
Schiller's favorites -- such was his lot to be rating captors -- were Sparrow (Carl Weekes) and Napoleon (Stevenson Pierre, who had rejoined the gang after Lugo and Doorbal threatened his son's life), who handled the graveyard shift. Whatever kindness he received -- a cigarette, a hamburger, a drink of water -- came from them. In fact Sparrow, the most loquacious of the group, had performed an act of supreme mercy. When Schiller complained of the excruciating pain where the duct tape gouged him, Sparrow had gingerly inserted a thin sanitary napkin between the tape and the messy bridge of his nose. Schiller was grateful, but the placement of the feminine hygiene product brought big laughs from Batman and Robin.
The only other female touch in the grim warehouse involved the curious visits of Lucretia Goodridge, Lugo's current wife. She now was pregnant with their second child and suspicious of her husband's long absences. Goodridge was a devout Buddhist, so involved in local Buddhism circles that jazz musicians George Tandy and Nestor Torres, fellow practitioners of the faith, attended her 1992 wedding. To silence her Lugo drove her to the warehouse to show her just how he'd been spending his long hours away from home. He showed her his prisoner -- chained, blindfolded, emaciated, filthy. Perhaps the scene left her terrified. Perhaps she thought the captive had some bad karma. Whatever the reason, Goodridge kept her silence after that.
Instead of the quick-strike, two-day abduction the Sun Gym gang had hoped for, it took weeks to convert Schiller's assets, weeks of torture and sight-deprivation. The big score eluded them until his accounts from Switzerland and the Cayman Islands finally were routed into his Miami bank account. Then they freed his right hand again, and he signed over $1.26 million.
On December 10, as the last money transfer was completed, Lugo, Doorbal, and Delgado reached a decision: It was time for Schiller to die. Pierre and Weekes tried to dissuade the others, but to no avail. There was, after all, his two-million-dollar MetLife insurance policy, and one of his signatures had designated Lugo's ex-wife Lillian Torres as the new beneficiary. They'd get him flaming drunk over the course of several days and send him out in his 4Runner to a fatal crash.
They tried vodka, tequila, and a chocolate liqueur. It all made Schiller retch, but what choice did he have except to keep guzzling? He couldn't stand the thought of more torture.
Sparrow tried to encourage him: This was the only exit from his shackles, he said, the only way he'd ever see his family again. Boss had a pal in Customs at Miami International Airport who would spirit Schiller on an airplane for Colombia, but Schiller must be so blitzed he'd never be able to ID the man.
Schiller desperately wanted to be able to see again. He could no longer picture his wife or his children. He had tried. Nothing.
In his despair he also knew the airplane story was bullshit. One of his last scripted calls had been to Gene Rosen, his attorney. He'd had to tell Rosen he'd granted power of attorney to Jorge Delgado for the purposes of negotiating the sale of the deli. And Delgado had gone to Rosen's office to get the paperwork. There was no way now, Schiller knew, he'd get out of this alive. But the gang went ahead with the pretense: They put in a final call to Colombia. He was to tell his wife he'd wrapped things up and would be joining the family in a few days. Diana unexpectedly put five-year-old David on the phone. The boy wanted to know when his father was coming home. He missed his daddy. Hearing his son's voice devastated Schiller. Soon, he told him, knowing he was telling a lie.
On December 14, 1994, the last full day of his captivity, Lugo ordered Schiller to wash down sleeping pills in the river of alcohol that streamed into his stomach. When he resisted, his captors stuck the pharmaceutical olives into a giant Schiller martini. They wanted his transformation from teetotaler and family man to suicidal flameout who'd ruined everything in a midlife crisis, to be complete. In just one month he'd lost family, business, his house, and investments -- all over a hot young babe.
In the very early morning of December 15, Schiller sat chained on a chair. He knew he was about to be killed. Once again he got inebriated on command. He grew dizzy and toppled to the warehouse floor. Barely conscious, he heard laughter. Then ... nothing. Boss unchained him, picked him up, and threw him against a wall.
At 2:30 that morning, after three days of forced drinking, an unconscious Schiller was tossed into the passenger seat of his 4Runner. Lugo drove while Weekes and Doorbal followed in the Camry. They'd picked a crash site in the warehouse/retail district three blocks south of Schlotzsky's. When they reached the spot, they strapped Schiller into the driver's seat. Lugo moved to the passenger side, stomped on the gas pedal, and steered the vehicle toward a concrete utility pole. Just before the collision, he jumped out. When they ran up to inspect the wreckage, they found Schiller in the driver's seat, alive but still unconscious.
Lugo splashed gasoline over him, then around the interior of the 4Runner, and lit a blaze with the Sharper Image lighter. Once the fire got going, the portable barbecue propane tank they'd added for good measure would explode. But as they were pulling away in the Camry -- incredible! -- they saw Schiller open the door and climb out of the 4Runner.
Carl Weekes was still driving the Camry. "Get him! Get him!" yelled Lugo and Doorbal between bouts of laughter. But the staggering, reeling Schiller was no easy target to hit. Weekes missed at first, and the pursuit became a slow, grim pas de deux between the car and the lurching victim. Weekes finally nailed him with the front grille. Schiller bounced onto the hood and flew off. Weekes began to drive away, but Lugo and Doorbal yelled, "No! No! Go back! Run him over! Run him over!" Weekes turned the car around and ran him over. Do it again, they screamed, but Weekes saw the approaching headlights of another car. He hit the gas and they sped off. Schiller lay on the ground as the 4Runner was engulfed in flames.
Later that afternoon Lugo summoned Delgado to the warehouse and told him they'd killed Schiller in the staged crash. There'd been just one hitch, he said: They had to run Schiller over -- twice. The news irritated Delgado. They'd had numerous discussions about the best way to kill Schiller, and this wasn't his choice. He'd argued that they should kill Schiller first, put him behind the wheel of his car, and dump the car somewhere. (Taking up that theory, Doorbal had volunteered to strangle him. The best way to do it, he would say, was to drive your thumbs into the Adam's apple.) But Lugo favored a staged crash because the body would be discovered quickly. He wanted the millions in insurance money right away. If you dumped the car in a canal, it might take days or even weeks longer to find the body.
To allay Delgado's concerns, Lugo showed him the damaged Camry. He pointed out the dents in the hood and the left front fender. "Don't you think this kind of damage would have killed somebody?" he asked.
"No," said Delgado.
December 16, 1994.
Miami private investigator Ed Du Bois, the National Football League's investigator and security consultant in South Florida, sat in his office reviewing security procedures for the upcoming Super Bowl XXIX. Du Bois coordinated with law-enforcement agencies to provide safety for the dignitaries, politicians, and celebrities who would attend the festivities.
Du Bois headed Investigators, Inc., the oldest detective agency in Florida. It was a family business; his father, a former FBI agent, started the firm in 1955, and Du Bois had begun his own investigative career in 1960 as a high school intern there. He graduated from Florida State University in 1966, then enlisted in the air force.
During the week of his graduation from fighter-pilot training in 1968, just as Du Bois was about to start a tour in Vietnam, his father suffered a cranial aneurysm and died. Du Bois returned home and took over the agency, which he ran as an upscale, high-tech firm. Now age 51, he'd been married to his college sweetheart for 28 years; they had three children, all living at home.
Du Bois supervised hundreds of cases each year, and his firm maintained a close relationship with federal and local law enforcement. He frequently was retained as an outside contractor by police departments and state prosecutors. In Dade County, he'd worked for State Attorneys Richard Gerstein and Janet Reno. Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the current head prosecutor, had hired him, too.
On this morning he received a call from Miami attorney Gene Rosen. The lawyer was giving him a heads-up; he'd advised a hospitalized client, a man who had "a wild story," to call the investigator. The guy needed help with a problem. When Rosen's client phoned later that morning, he sounded drugged, thick-tongued, yet edgy with fright and desperation. His sordid story was a jarring contrast to the spectacle Du Bois was coordinating for the NFL.
Marc Schiller told Du Bois he was a local businessman, currently a patient at Jackson Memorial Hospital, recovering from an operation to remove his spleen and repair a shattered pelvis and ruptured bladder. When he'd come out of anesthesia, his surgeon told him he'd had an accident. But Schiller, whose credibility was undermined because he'd entered the hospital as a suspected DUI case, insisted he'd been kidnapped and tortured for a month. Whatever landed him in the hospital, he couldn't be sure, but he was certain his captors had tried to kill him and would come after him again. He begged for protection.
Du Bois thought Schiller sounded like a screwball. (He had some experience with potential clients making outrageous claims, such as the man who had complained about painful jolts of electricity surging through his body, administered by evil beings from outer space. Du Bois effected a quick cure. He pressed "electrical grounding tabs" -- thumbtacks -- into the heels of the man's shoes. The miracle devices worked.) But if Schiller's story were true, even if only partly true, it probably was a drug-related abduction, Du Bois reasoned. And he didn't want to get caught up in a doper payback scheme. On the other hand, drug dealers never settled matters through civil attorneys like Gene Rosen. And he said Schiller was legitimate. More curious, there'd been no ransom demand. And Schiller was alive. All were highly unusual factors.
So Du Bois gave Schiller his best advice: Scram. Anyone can walk into a hospital, he said. It would cost $60 per hour for an armed bodyguard, and if Schiller was telling the truth and this gang was determined to kill him, they'd also try to kill any hired protectors. Du Bois didn't want to sacrifice any of his guys based on a phone conversation. Schiller could take his complaints to the police, he added. But he should talk with his doctor, leave the hospital as quickly as possible, and hide in a safe place -- any place but Miami -- while he recuperated. Du Bois even offered to drive him to the airport, but Schiller didn't call him back.
Meanwhile that day the Sun Gym gang was anxiously scanning news reports on the slim chance the Miami media would cover a run-of-the-mill, single-fatality car crash. Nothing, not even an obituary. Could this guy be alive? How could he be alive? They'd run him over twice. They called the morgue. Nothing. Then they began calling area hospitals.
Schiller had been admitted with no ID and listed as a John Doe. When he regained consciousness after the operation, he told the staff his name. Finally the gang learned he was at JMH in critical but stable condition. Now they devised various plans to kill him at the hospital. Doorbal again volunteered to strangle him, while the others staged a diversionary fistfight in the hallway. They also talked of silencers, of sneaking up the stairwell and killing everyone in Schiller's room. The consensus was that suffocating Schiller with his pillow was the best idea. In the end they decided to wing it; whatever method worked was fine.
They visited the hospital but got lost in the maze of corridors while looking for intensive care. And what if a cop was stationed by his door? They needed a fresh plan. Later that day Lugo bought hospital garb at a uniform supply store. The next morning, as they prepared to suit up and return to JMH, they called to check on Schiller's condition. He was no longer a patient. Sorry, they were informed, no forwarding address.
Luckily Schiller had listened to Du Bois. He contacted his sister in New York, who hired an air ambulance. On the morning of December 17, Schiller checked out of the hospital against the advice of his attending doctors. At $6000 for a one-way flight, the trip was costly, but well worth it. Leaving the hospital saved his life.
Information for this story was drawn from interviews with principal characters, investigative reports, court documents, and trial testimony. Next week: Marc Schiller comes back for revenge, a private investigator gets nowhere with the cops, and the Sun Gym gang leaders set up love nests while they target more victims.