Forget Pain & Gain: Ten Other Real-Life Miami Capers That Should Be Made Into Movies
With Michael Bay's big-screen adaptation of Pain & Gain opening atop the box office this weekend, masses of moviegoers discovered what Miamians already knew: Pete Collins' tale of bodybuilders gone bad is one hell of a great yarn.
But the Sun Gym Gang's capers barely scratch the surface of Miami's real-life, made-for-movies madness. The Magic City rolls out of bed, rubs its eyes, and then picks better stories out of its teeth than most cities can manufacture in a decade. Here are ten other true Miami tales that deserve a Hollywood treatment:
Cue the humble beginnings, with a pair of friends dropping out of Miami Beach High School together, and flash to the pair at the top of their game, when they amassed more than $2 billion by smuggling 75-plus pounds of coke to the U.S. at the height of the Cocaine Cowboys era. Just to top it off, once the feds finally moved in, the pair mounted one of the most astounding legal defenses in history to avoid jail time for years. Legal thriller, drug smuggling romp, buddy comedy -- it's all there. The story's so boss the boys at Rakontur are already working up Willy and Sal's tale for Cocaine Cowboys 3.
Led by Albert Gonzalez, a charismatic hacker who called himself "soupnazi" and made his name by cracking NASA's security codes when he was still a teenager, a brilliant squad of wayward Miami computer youths engineered the biggest identity theft in history, and partied away tens of thousands on drugs, strippers and parties. Until it all fell apart into decades-long prison terms, massive fines, and, for one member, a bullet through the head. It's "Rounders" meets "Oceans 11" with a dark ending, and it really happened.
The life story of Miami's most infamous hip-hop producer literally has everything: A banging soundtrack as the Jewish kid from South Florida penned hits for the Roots, Dr. Dre, and Justin Timberlake, the token fall from grace as millions went down a toilet of drugs, cars and Paris Hilton dalliances, and a coke habit so bad "blood would just gush from his nose at any random time." Draft a heavyweight to capture that pathos -- Phillip Seymour Hoffman? -- and the Oscar will drop quicker than the latest Storch comeback.
For two decades, Tony Galeota managed Miami's most infamous strip club, Porky's in Hialeah, where Russian mobsters rubbed elbows with cops and celebrities and gunfire could rip through the parking lot any time of day. Then he got pushed out, tried to take his game to Panama -- and ended up rotting in the world's worst prison, possibly after getting double-crossed by the local mafia. Strippers, mobs, exotic locales? Someone get Paul Greengrass on the horn.
OK, Hollywood, what the hell? Miami basically plated this one on a platter made from melted-down Golden Globe Awards, and yet you still haven't turned the life and death of Gianni Versace into a big-budget thriller/biopic yet? The guy reinvented the fashion industry, made South Beach his personal fiefdom from an opulent palace on Ocean Drive -- and then gets murdered in broad daylight by a twisted spree killer with mysterious motives. What else do you want, spunky talking animal sidekicks?
Mystery, sex, international intrigue, a Bernstein-ian political conspiracy? We got ya covered, Tinsel Town. Ana Alliegro, a self-proclaimed "Republican bad girl" and tight friend -- if you know what we mean -- of then-U.S. Rep. David Rivera gets fingered for managing the campaign of a dummy candidate set up to challenge Rivera's Democratic rival in a primary. When the dominoes start to fall, Alliegro vanishes. Rivera loses his seat, and months later, Alliegro emerges in Grenada, Nicaragua where she's been managing a hair salon and may or may not have fallen off a horse and lost all her memory. Romantic comedy? Political thriller? Who cares?
There may not be a more ready-made script from this year's headlines than the sordid tale of Dr. Glen Tucker, which New Times unraveled last September. Tucker died in a bloody murder suicide after killing his wife in the Florida Keys -- a crime most assumed was a simple case of a sick couple in their eighties going out early rather than fight a debilitating illness. What no one knew, including the couple's neighbors, was Glen Tucker's dark secret: He'd been hiding in the Keys for two decades after faking his death in Wisconsin to escape allegations that -- as one of the state's top plastic surgeons -- he'd repeatedly and maliciously mangled his patients.
Even by South Florida standards, the Los Miami gang of drug bandits carved out a particularly cinematic path to narcotic glory. Just consider the bare details: Local leader Alvaro Tardon worshiped Santeria and hired a Santero to bless their trans-Atlantic drug empire. His brother, Artemio, had been beaten blind, shot through both knees and left to die in the street by a rival. The pair were locked in a bloody war with their former boss, a one-legged man named "The Dwarf," and were tied to at least five murders. Give this thing to the Coen brothers and you'll have a Sunshine noir classic in six months.
The scam's set-up sounds right out of Stephen Soderberg's imagination: A Russian mob sets up a string of entirely fake clubs along Washington Avenue, imports gangs of hot Eastern European B-girls to South Beach, and then sets them loose to lure wealthy, single male travelers to the fake bars. Once inside, the marks are drugged and their credit cards are run for tens of thousands of bucks. It was a perfect plan until they nabbed a famous Philly weatherman, who blew the lid on the deal and set the local leaders -- including a guy who'd run for public office in Sunny Isles Beach -- to prison.
Audiences love a gritty tale of a cop-fallen-from grace, and few have fallen in Dade quite like Adam Tavvs. Back in 2009, the bald-headed cop shot and killed two men in four days under equally questionable circumstances. One was a tourist from Washington who was unarmed and, in one surveillance video, doesn't look particularly threatening; the other was an itinerant homeless man shot multiple times in the back. Tavvs later tested positive for drugs in his system, was suspended -- and promptly got nabbed running a full-scale marijuana grow house in his apartment. Training Day in Dade, anyone?
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