UPDATE: In 2013, director Michael Bay released an adaptation of this three-part series. That same year, New Times revisited Pain & Gain and tracked down what's become of the Sun Gym Gang two decades later.
Golden Beach millionaire Frank Griga thought he was getting into a lucrative overseas investment deal when he agreed to meet with Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal. He didn't know they actually were a couple of bodybuilding thugs who planned to steal everything he owned. Now Griga is dead, his girlfriend near death. And the Sun Gym gang is in despair. This is the second torture-for-profit kidnapping they've botched. There are bodies to dispose of, evidence to conceal. And too many people are asking questions.
May 24, 1995
It was after 9:00 p.m. when the phone rang. Jorge Delgado had been waiting for the call that would tell him the meeting at Don Shula's Steak House in Miami Lakes was going according to plan, and that two new victims -- Frank Griga and his live-in girlfriend Krisztina Furton -- were being wined and dined and prepped for their final journey. Daniel Lugo was on the line: Did Delgado know how to drive a Lamborghini? Delgado wasn't sure. Well, be ready; we may need your help in the morning.
Pretty soon, he figured, his Sun Gym pals -- Lugo and Doorbal -- and their dinner guests would be ordering from the menu. Later the foursome would drive from the restaurant to Doorbal's nearby townhouse, ostensibly to put final signatures on Griga's investment in the South Asia telecom deal. He wouldn't know it was all bogus until the very last instant, when they'd grab him. Then he and the girl would be bound and gagged and readied for transfer to the warehouse in Hialeah. Once the guys got the couple there, the rest would be easy, just as it should have been with Miami businessman Marc Schiller: Beat and torture them until they signed over everything they owned -- and then, of course, find a way to make their deaths appear accidental.
When Delgado's phone finally rang the next morning, it was Lugo again. But he had awful news. There'd been a struggle at Doorbal's place. Griga was already dead. The girl was unconscious; they had her shot full of Rompun, a horse tranquilizer, to keep her quiet. Things couldn't be worse. Schiller somehow had survived their attempts to murder him and was coming after his assets they'd stolen. God, he hated Schiller! And now they had one corpse, maybe another on the way, and not a dime to show for it.
Delgado raced to the townhouse to help with damage control. The temperature was the first thing he noticed. The place was as cold as a meat locker; it was the air conditioner going full blast. From the entry he watched as Doorbal, bundled like an Eskimo, came downstairs with a woman slung over his shoulder: the girlfriend. Her mouth, wrists, and ankles were bound with duct tape. She was unconscious.
Griga, whose money they'd targeted, lay dead in a bathtub. Well, at least they had the girl. Of course they'd have to kill her, a witness to the murder and all, but she could give them information first. Like the alarm code to the couple's Golden Beach waterfront mansion. Doorbal dropped her at the foot of the stairs and she started to come to. They pulled back the tape from her mouth, but immediately she became hysterical. Where's Frank? I ve got to see Frank! The last thing she'd seen was the blood-splattered bedroom, her lover's smashed skull, and Doorbal strangling him in a headlock.
Lugo ordered another shot of the tranquilizer, and Doorbal injected her in the ankle. Krisztina screamed in pain. They yanked her up into a sitting position and began to press her for answers. What's the security code? What are the numbers? She didn't understand. She needed to see Frank. Look, Frank's fine, they said, she'd see him soon. But first they had to get into the house. Poor Krisztina spoke mainly Magyar, the language of her native Hungary. She knew little English. Dazed and delirious, she was now incoherent in any language. The Rompun made her thirsty, made it hard to talk. She could scarcely breathe. Her heart rate was slow and weak. They made her swallow water; they slapped her to get her focused. In halting, slurred speech, she recited some numbers. Lugo wrote them down on a yellow legal pad.
Again Doorbal pulled out the vial of tranquilizer and the hypodermic, performed some deft mental calculations of Krisztina's body weight, drew the clear fluid into the syringe, jerked up her skirt, and stuck the needle into her thigh. He pressed down on the plunger, and after a short wail she grew quiet again.
Most criminal enterprises, faced with one dead body and another corpse on the way, would close ranks. But Doorbal and Lugo decided to call Sun Gym powerlifter and karate expert John Raimondo, a six-feet-five, 250-pound diesel. Raimondo was a sworn law-enforcement officer, a six-year employee of the Metro-Dade County Corrections Department. But that didn't give them pause. When he wasn't guarding inmates at the county jail, Raimondo liked to brag, he was out committing home invasions. Doorbal and Lugo figured he was perfect: They'd heard he also claimed to be an expert at body disposal.
Raimondo was in his black Ford pickup when the cell call came from Doorbal. He had a problem, he explained, namely two bodies in his apartment. He'd pay well be get rid of them. Raimondo turned to talk it over with his passenger, Santiago Gonzalez, another regular at the gym. The two men kicked around the offer as they drove. Doorbal patiently waited on the line. Raimondo said he'd do it for $50,000. Doorbal conferred with Lugo, then countered with an offer of his own: They didn't have 50 grand but could pay $9000 in cash plus a Presidential Rolex and a $250,000 Lamborghini Diablo.
To Gonzalez the conversation was just too surreal. Push eject on those clowns, he said. Get me out of here. Raimondo dropped him off and proceeded to Doorbal's alone. Griga was still in the tub and Krisztina lay in a heap on the living room. Raimondo leaned over the girl and, in a show of strength for the guys, picked her up with one hand by her slender ankles. He looked like a proud angler displaying his catch. But she wasn't dead yet. She began to moan Frank's name. Raimondo lowered her until her shoulders touched the rug, then he stepped on her head. Shut up, he snarled. Then he dropped her altogether.
You ll have to take care of the girl, he said as he surveyed the crime scene. Once she was dead, he'd be back to do the disposal. He looked at the men on his way out. You know, he added, you guys are amateurs.
Krisztina was writhing again. Doorbal swung the hypodermic into action once more, and she stopped moving. He and Delgado sat down to play video games on the large-screen TV that once had belonged to Marc Schiller. Krisztina lay on the floor next to the black leather couch they'd also appropriated from Schiller's home.
Now that he had the keypad numbers to Griga's front door, Lugo decided to check out the house. If he could just get to Griga's safe and financial records, and into the computer, the mission might not be a total failure. He crossed the street to the apartment he'd rented a few months earlier for his mistress, former stripper Sabina Petrescu. She was waiting anxiously for news, knowing only that something awful had happened last night with the bad Hungarian man and his girlfriend, something that had reduced her CIA agent-boyfriend to drunken tears in the dark. The government-approved plan to capture Griga had failed somehow, but Lugo had made one thing clear: She didn't want to know more. When he came back to the apartment to take her out for a drive, she didn't ask why.
Lugo pulled his Mercedes into Griga's Golden Beach driveway and walked up to the front door. Consulting his notes, he punched in the numbers on the keypad. They didn't work. Krisztina had gotten them wrong! And Chopin, that goddamn dog of theirs, wouldn't stop barking through the window. Lugo punched in more numbers, useless numbers, guesses. Nothing. The dog kept barking in the empty foyer.
Lugo returned to his car and called the townhouse. Wake her up, he ordered Doorbal. Do anything. But get the damn door code. Doorbal checked on Krisztina, then raced back to the phone. Oh, man, Danny, the bitch is cold! The words chilled Sabina as she heard them over the speaker phone.
Lugo was furious. But he had to salvage something from the miserable, misbegotten mission. He grabbed the contents of Griga's mailbox and drove back to Miami Lakes, dropped Sabina at her apartment, then crossed the street to confer with Doorbal and Delgado. The trio waited all afternoon for Raimondo to show, until it became clear they were wasting precious hours. They'd have to take care of the bodies themselves. Doorbal was getting the creeps. He'd set the thermostat as low as it could go, but they could smell Griga's corpse, and it was too late to ditch the bodies that day. They needed a coherent plan; they needed to sleep on it. Delgado offered to return the next morning, and drove home to his wife. Lugo went back to Sabina's. Doorbal fell asleep with two dead guests in the house. The place was way too cold.
On Friday morning, May 26, the plan was set. Jorge Delgado drove to a U-Haul franchise just off the Palmetto Expressway and rented a white Ford van. Lugo and Doorbal, meanwhile, went to the Home Depot in Miami Lakes. Their purchases filled two lumber carts. They bought red plastic cleaning buckets; ten-gallon containers of Ready Road repair tar; floor fans; industrial-strength towels; a 100-foot roll of Hefty bags; propane gas tanks; face goggles and gardening gloves; a black iron security grate, the kind that fits over a window; a fire extinguisher; and an eighteen-inch gas-powered chain saw. The total, which they put on Doorbal's American Express card, came to $666 with tax.
They met Delgado back at the townhouse. Frank Griga, wrapped in a shroud of linen sheets, was stuffed into Mark Schiller's stolen couch, sandwiched under the black leather cushions. They deposited Krisztina Furton in a U-Haul clothing box amid Styrofoam popcorn. Lugo and Doorbal carried the sofa outside and hoisted it into the van. Krisztina's box followed. Then everyone hopped in for the ride to Lugo's leased warehouse in Hialeah. When they pulled inside, Delgado's face lit up at the one welcome sight before him: Frank Griga's sunshine-yellow Lamborghini. It had been the one detail they'd managed to take care of the day before.
They unloaded the corpses onto Hefty bags spread out on the warehouse floor. Krisztina was stiff with rigor mortis, and Lugo used scissors to cut away her red leather miniskirt and vest. They removed Griga's clothes, except for his underwear and the ninja hood that covered the gaping wound on his crushed skull. Lugo sprayed both bodies with Windex, then scrubbed them clean with the heavy-duty towels to remove any fingerprints.
The fans were blowing, the warehouse television was on, everything was just right. But no one could put together the chain saw. They took turns going over the instruction manual, and finally assembled the tool. But when they cranked it up, it seized and stalled. They'd neglected to fill its small reservoir with motor oil! Delgado went out to buy some, as well as snacks at a Subway, but even when he returned with the oil, the chain saw still wouldn't start. Somehow they'd burned out the engine trying to start it.
This was a Gothic episode of Home Improvement. Lugo couldn't be more upset. Frustrated, he shoved the eighteen-inch chain saw back into its packing box. It was time for lunch anyway.
Back at Frank Griga's house, Eszter Toth, the maid, arrived for work that Friday morning and stopped in her tracks on the doorstep. Chopin the dog was barking ferociously. Toth had been in and out of the house hundreds of times, but she suddenly was terrified to enter alone. She walked down the street to ask Judi Bartusz, one of Krisztina's best friends, to accompany her. They punched in the keypad numbers, opened the door, and Bartusz's heart sank. The place was a disaster. Chopin had torn it apart. There was just one island of undisturbed calm: the living-room coffee table upon which rested two glasses. She remembered Frank's new business partners had been sipping drinks the night they'd stopped by to take Frank and Krisztina to dinner.
Bartusz let Chopin out into the yard. Another bad sign: Her friends never would have left the dog unattended. He was like a child to them, and they felt guilty even putting him in a kennel. Whenever they left town, they asked her to watch him.
There still was one possible explanation: Frank had said they might fly to Freeport, and if so they would have left yesterday. Bartusz called Griga's Bahamas condo, but there was no answer. She checked the garage. The Lamborghini was missing. Upstairs in the bedroom, the women found two roundtrip airline tickets. Departure from Miami International Airport at 9:00 a.m. the previous day. Beside the tickets lay two passports, their birth certificates, and U.S. re-entry forms. The couple hadn't boarded any plane, and Bartusz realized that Frank and Krisztina had never come home from their Wednesday business dinner.
She told Toth to feed the dog and go home -- and not to touch the glasses on the coffee table. Then she raced back to her own house to tell her husband Gabor the disturbing news. While he began calling their network of Hungarian friends, she drove toward Miami Lakes, heading to Shula's Steak House, where Frank had said the group was going for dinner. She didn't spot the Lamborghini, but a parking attendant down the block remembered it ("Who could forget that car, lady?") parked right on Main Street late Wednesday. Bartusz drove slowly along Main. The car wasn't there, but she did see a gold Mercedes. She'd seen a gold Mercedes in Frank's driveway Wednesday night. She wrote down the license number and headed back home.
By now Judi and Gabor Bartusz were frantic. Their friends had been missing for more than 24 hours. They finally called the Golden Beach Police Department. Within minutes Chief Stanley Kramer met the Bartuszes in Griga's driveway. Judi punched in the numbers on the front-door keypad, took him inside, and explained the circumstances of their friends' disappearance. The people who lived here were in trouble, the chief said.
Meanwhile Lugo returned to Home Depot with the chain saw and demanded a refund. Then he strode over to the lawn-and-garden department. Taking no chances this time, he bought a fully assembled Remington Power Cutter. This electric chain saw came with a one-year guarantee to "handle all your cutting chores quickly and easily."
Back at the warehouse, he and Doorbal lifted the heavy window security grate over two 55-gallon drums. This iron platform would be Doorbal's surgery table. They'd lay the bodies atop the grate; the drums would catch the blood. Doorbal suited up for the work ahead -- sweatpants, rubber boots, leather gloves, clear goggles -- and plugged in the saw. He pulled the trigger, and the Remington started right up, its chain revolving quickly, snugly around the black blade.
Lugo and Delgado chose not to stay for the grisly dismemberment. They moved to the front of the warehouse while Doorbal went to work on the bodies. For five minutes they heard the whirring drone of the saw as it sliced through flesh and bones. They heard six, maybe seven prolonged cuts, and then silence. The saw spurted again and abruptly quit.
"Come back here, Lugo!" yelled Doorbal. "Come back here and help me out!" He'd been trying to cut through Krisztina's neck when the saw teeth snagged in her long tresses. What a mess! Doorbal finally yanked the saw out of her hair, but now it was jammed and useless.
Lugo scurried to the front office to share the bad news with Delgado. But fuck it, he said, guarantee or no guarantee he wasn't going back to Home Depot. They still had a hatchet to finish the job. He changed into gym clothes, pulled on some gloves, and went back to help Doorbal. For another ten minutes Delgado sat alone and listened to heavy thumping, loud banging, the cracking of bones, and assorted charnel-house noises as his pals chopped two bodies to pieces.
When it was over, Krisztina's legs, ending in bloody stumps, jutted skyward from a 55-gallon drum. Her torso had been shoved in upside down. Griga's headless neck rose from another barrel. Both receptacles contained a mixture of road tar and a splash of muriatic acid to speed decomposition. The electric saw had whirled clumps of blood, gristle, and tissue about the warehouse floor. To complete the tableau, Krisztina's head lay in a red bucket. Griga's head was in another. A third red bucket held four hands and four feet.
Lugo and Doorbal surveyed their handiwork. Something wasn't right. Of course! The fingers, the teeth! Faces! Identification! They removed the heads from the buckets and placed them on a nearby table. Using pliers, they proceeded to extract their victims' teeth. But the roots wouldn't budge. So they brought out the hatchet again. It had a four-inch curved blade.
The bloodied heads were as slippery as rain-slicked coconuts. The men chopped down through the bridge of the nose, then hacked into the eyes, destroying the orbits at midpoint. Once through the bone of the outer eye sockets, they continued hacking down, clear through the jaw. They pulled the faces back from the skulls. This gave them good access to the gums and teeth from any direction.
Next they went after fingerprints, another way for the bodies to be identified. They carefully sliced off the fingers. For the more delicate work of filleting fingerprints from the flesh, they employed a Pakistani hunting knife with a six-inch blade.
At last it was time for a break. Doorbal relaxed on Schiller's sofa until the phone rang. He'd forgotten he had a dinner date. He'd begun seeing Cindy Eldridge again, the pretty blond Boca Raton nurse he'd met a year before. They'd dated steadily, up through the time of the Schiller kidnapping, and even while Doorbal was pursuing that gorgeous stripper Beatriz Weiland, who danced at Solid Gold. When he dumped her for Beatriz, Cindy was devastated. But Beatriz had turned around and left him a month or two back, and he'd called the nurse again. She was thrilled to be resuming the relationship, and so was he. They'd even set a wedding date: on her 32nd birthday, next month.
Delgado had to return the van and offered to give him a lift home. Lugo, at work sealing the lids on the drums, would stay behind and wrap things up at the warehouse. Delgado dropped off Doorbal, returned the van, picked up his Chevy Suburban, and headed back to the warehouse. Pulling off the street to the warehouse, he couldn't believe his eyes: There was Lugo, standing over a burning barrel. He had carried outside a metal drum, placed the iron grate on top, tossed on hands, feet, and various skull portions, splashed some gasoline around, and started a fire. Occasionally he bent down and torched the remains with a jet of propane flames. He might as well have been at a back-yard barbecue! Flames danced from the drum, highlighting his brow. The huge fans in the warehouse doorway drove the netherworld fumes into the hot Miami night.
Christ, anyone could drive down the street! Delgado yelled, and Lugo reluctantly agreed to stop the performance. He doused the flames and rolled the hot barrel on its bottom edge through the warehouse, out the back door, into the rear alley. There he resumed stewing the leavings of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton for another twenty minutes.
Back home Doorbal took a long shower then called Cindy. He was too tired for dinner, he said; he needed a nap, but he'd drive to Boca Raton late that night. Cindy tried to wait up but couldn't. Before she went to bed, though, she wrote a note and left it for him on the kitchen counter. It was just the sort of thing she figured he needed to hear tonight.
Cindy was happier than ever -- this was, after all, the fellow who'd proposed to her the first time just a few weeks after he met her -- but there were things she simply didn't understand about him. Doorbal suffered the same excessive mood swings she'd seen before. He'd been in a strange mood all week, in fact. On Tuesday he had an argument with Lugo and afterward felt so despondent, so shaken that he threatened to kill himself, and her! She knew the two bodybuilders were extremely close, that Doorbal depended on Lugo emotionally, even for basic practicalities such as where he should live. But what could have plunged her lover into a murder-suicide funk? Come on, she'd told him, lighten up, and don't talk like that again.
And sure enough by Wednesday afternoon, Lugo and Doorbal had apparently patched things up. They called her from the Mercedes, laughing and exuberant about a business meeting that night with a rich Hungarian. Doorbal told her it was a huge meeting. But then late Wednesday night he'd called to say the meeting had gone terribly, something about a fight. Cindy was barely awake at the time, but she heard him talk about his visa and being deported back to Trinidad, something about needing an alibi. She hadn't seen him in the two days since.
So she left the note in the kitchen before she turned in. Yes, she'd be ready to say he spent Wednesday with her. And when Doorbal let himself in later, he read the message and smiled. He crawled into bed beside her and thanked her. They cuddled and kissed. Tired from working with chain saws and hatchets, he fell asleep in his bride-to-be's arms.
Cindy awoke on Saturday, ready to spend the day shopping for her wedding dress. She expected Doorbal to accompany her, but to her chagrin he changed his mind. He wasn't even going to stay with her over the weekend. He had to drive back to Miami right away.
"Just because," he muttered, "because I've got to do some things for Danny in Miami."
Cindy was not only irate but suspicious. All that talk about the wedding, and now he was almost indifferent. As soon as she heard his car pulling away, she ran to her own and began to follow him.
It was a busy morning on South Florida roads for the Sun Gym gang and concerned friends of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton. At 7:30 Lloyd Alvarez, a friend of Griga who'd been at the house that Wednesday as the group left for dinner, was driving along NW 138th Street, on the outskirts of Dade County. Coming toward him along that lonely road leading out to the Everglades was a canary-yellow Lamborghini. It was Griga's Lamborghini! Not only that, but it was traveling in a tight, fast-moving convoy, sandwiched between a Chevy Suburban and a gold Mercedes. Just yesterday he'd heard that his friends had disappeared. Alvarez made a quick U-turn.
He speeded up to the trio of cars and pulled to the rear of the caravan, behind the Mercedes, at a stop sign. The Mercedes tried to stall him at the intersection, giving the two lead vehicles time to speed off, but Alvarez swerved wide and gave chase to the Lamborghini. As he passed the Mercedes, he recognized Daniel Lugo; they'd spent a good half-hour talking beepers and Jet Skis in Griga's living room while Frank and Krisztina went upstairs to change for the dinner meeting. Next Alvarez caught up with the Lamborghini. Peering in he saw a huge stranger at the wheel. He didn't recognize the driver of the Chevy Suburban either, and broke off his pursuit.
Meanwhile Cindy spotted Doorbal as he took an exit ramp off the expressway. She followed him into the parking lot of the Miami Lakes Home Depot, the same store where he'd bought his dissection equipment the day before. She pulled up, jumped from her car, and confronted him. Just what was he doing here, she asked, when he'd told her some story about plans with Danny Lugo?
Doorbal decided to level with her. The meeting that had gone wrong Wednesday night, the one that ended in a disagreement? Well, the fight between Lugo and the rich Hungarian businessman -- that fight had taken place in his townhouse. There was still blood on the walls and he had to repaint them fast. He was sure, more than ever, that he was going to be deported. Cindy's heart melted. Didn't he know by now that she would help him, no matter what? While he shopped at Home Depot, she purchased cookies and cleaning rags down the street.
Jorge Delgado and Daniel Lugo already were at Doorbal's Main Street townhouse, along with some maintenance workers from the complex. The workers were studying the floor as though it were a trick essay question on a final exam. This much they understood: A feral cat had wandered in, pissed on the carpet, and gone on a rampage. The mess was so bad, Doorbal had told them, he'd had to cut up several chunks of the carpet and the padding beneath it. The workers, preoccupied with the flooring, didn't notice the fine maroon speckles on the wall. They'd be back in a week, they said.
Cindy did notice the small constellation of blood. With Delgado's help, she began the job of repainting the wall. The color, however, didn't match that of the other three walls, and she wasn't pleased. This would soon be her home, after all. Perhaps Doorbal could go to maintenance and get matching paint. She carried the brushes into the kitchen to wash them down and noticed a foul stench rising from the garbage disposal. She turned to her fiancé and complained about the rotten smell.
Lugo agreed, adding with a laugh: "It smells like dead corpses."
"He's sick," groaned the nurse.
Doorbal, whose bride-to-be had just become an accessory to a capital crime, said nothing.
On Sunday morning Griga's Lamborghini was found three miles west of the Florida Turnpike, just north of Okeechobee Road. The car was abandoned in a desolate, wooded area known to police as a weekend site for Santería rituals. The doors were left open, the windows down, and the key was still in the ignition. A state trooper at the scene found no clues in the nearby brush. Nor had the car been reported stolen. A tow truck was summoned from Opa-locka to haul the vehicle to a police impound facility.
That afternoon Lugo approached another Sun Gym member for recruitment into the gang. "Little Mario" Gray had been badgering him about a job for a couple of weeks, but he'd already turned down one opportunity to earn some quick money. All he'd been asked to do was stand still while Lugo shot him with a pneumatic tranquilizer gun. Lugo had wanted to see exactly how far the steel dart would penetrate into human flesh. It had been test-fired once already, in Doorbal's apartment, and the dart had penetrated all the way through a wall and stuck in the bedroom wall. Lugo offered Gray $500 in cash. Just to shoot him one time! But Gray had refused.
Now Lugo came back with a second offer, this one requiring actual work. It was a simple night job, transporting barrels from Lugo's warehouse. Sure, Gray said, and that night, he drove out to the warehouse. Waiting for him were three drums, welded shut. Together he, Lugo, and Doorbal lifted the barrels into a rented truck. Two of the drums were especially heavy. As Gray lifted one of them, acrid smoke snaked through a tiny opening. The three men drove to a drainage ditch in southwest Miami and heaved the barrels into the murky water. The drums settled next to a submerged refrigerator.
After getting married at the Delray Beach courthouse on Tuesday, May 30, Doorbal and Cindy returned to the Main Street townhouse to find the answering machine filled with messages from Attila Weiland, Beatriz's ex-husband. It was he who'd arranged their introduction to Frank Griga.
Doorbal called him back, full of good news: He and Cindy were now husband and wife. After the courthouse nuptials, the couple enjoyed a romantic lunch at Nick's Italian Fishery overlooking the Atlantic Ocean --
Weiland cut him off. "Adrian! Adrian! Hello? Are you crazy?" he shouted into the phone.
"The police, Adrian! My messages? They've been around ... about Frank and Krisztina!"
"The police are everywhere! They want to talk to you! They consider Frank dead. Frank's sister, Zsuzsanna, she's calling from Hungary and threatening me and you. If you had anything to do with this, please, please say something, Adrian!"
"How the fuck am I supposed to know where those people are?"
"I told the police everything, Adrian! So did Beatriz."
"You know, Attila," said Doorbal in a voice heavy with disappointment, "you're supposed to be my friend. You should hope you stay my friend, Attila."
That afternoon Daniel Lugo stopped by Doorbal's townhouse. Cindy stayed out of their way; they were immersed in serious discussions. All their usual playfulness had vanished. She heard Doorbal say, "You're either going to be arrested or killed!" And she heard Lugo: "If they mention my name to the police, I'm going to have them and their families killed!"
Things were suddenly going very badly. Lloyd Alvarez had seen them on the road. Beatriz was talking to the cops, and so was Attila. And just count the people who'd been at Griga's house as they headed out to dinner that Wednesday: Alvarez, the housekeeper and her child, their neighbor Judi Bartusz, whose husband was Frank's business partner.
Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton had been missing for eight days by the time private investigator Ed Du Bois got a phone call from Capt. Al Harper, the 27-year Metro-Dade Police veteran who had tried to help him with the Marc Schiller kidnapping. It was 8:00 a.m., and Harper had just overheard at roll call that suspects were under surveillance in the possible abduction of the wealthy Hungarian businessman and his girlfriend. The suspects worked at a gym, and their names had a familiar ring. Could they be the same group Du Bois had identified back in April?
Du Bois ran down the facts of the Schiller case, and Harper felt a shot of adrenaline. Du Bois had to talk to the homicide team supervisor, Sgt. Felix Jimenez, he said. They arranged to meet at Du Bois's North Miami office. The private investigator showered, dressed, and headed off to the meeting in high spirits. This was his vindication; the Schiller investigation was coming back to life. If more cops had listened to him sooner, those deranged goons wouldn't have had the chance to strike again.
Jimenez sat riveted as he listened to Du Bois's story of Schiller's kidnapping; how the Sun Gym boys had nabbed Schiller at his franchise delicatessen near the airport, held him chained to a warehouse wall for a month, tortured him until he'd signed over all his assets. How they'd tried to kill him in a fiery crash and run him down twice for good measure. How he'd miraculously survived and was trying to get his life back in order in Colombia.
Du Bois explained how he'd offered the information and documents to Metro police in April, only to be blown off. Jimenez's department had had this information for six weeks and had sat on it. And now there was another abduction to deal with, or something far worse. The sergeant made a call from Du Bois's office to his squad at homicide. Get ready. He was coming in with solid leads. At headquarters a long-distance call was placed to Colombia. Would Marc Schiller please come back and help?
The phone was ringing, and Cindy Eldridge picked it up. Attila Weiland was on the other end, demanding to speak to Doorbal. She passed the phone to her husband and vaguely heard something about "the missing couple" before turning her attention elsewhere. She did notice, however, that Doorbal had been watching an enormous amount of television. And so had Lugo whenever he came by the Miami Lakes townhouse. These two had become regular news junkies, especially if the coverage had anything to do with the missing Hungarian couple.
That Thursday evening, after the late-night television newscast, Cindy asked Doorbal again about the fight with the rich Hungarian businessman. This time Doorbal shared new information with his bride. Yes, someone had died in the fight. But he assured her he'd had nothing to do with it.
At midnight Lugo dropped by. The two men had an important errand to run, they told her. Then they headed to Solid Gold, the North Miami Beach strip club where Lugo had first seen Sabina Petrescu as she danced naked in a cage.
Beatriz Weiland, the beautiful stripper Doorbal had briefly dated and from whose photo album he'd been inspired to target Griga for his riches, was terrified as she stood in the club's private Champagne Room with Lugo and Doorbal. Not so long before, she'd extricated herself from the affair with Doorbal precisely because she thought he was shady, even criminal. Their questions tonight petrified her; it was obvious they knew she'd spoken with the police.
"What did you do with them?" she asked defiantly in spite of her fear.
Ignoring the question, Doorbal pressed: "Did you really talk about me to the police?"
She had to go, Beatriz said, and hurried backstage, where she called lead homicide Det. Sal Garafalo and left a message that Adrian and Danny were at Solid Gold asking questions. Next she called Attila. He said he'd be right there. When she emerged onstage to perform, she glanced around the room. Lugo and Doorbal were gone.
Back at the townhouse Cindy sat in bed, awaiting her husband's return and trying to think things through. She was scared. Really scared. The couple had vanished on Wednesday. Doorbal wanted an alibi for Wednesday. There had been a fight, he'd said. Someone had bled onto the walls and into the carpet. A man had died! Here! And she had painted over the bloodstains!
On Friday, June 2, Marc Schiller returned to Miami. It had been nearly two months since his last visit to police headquarters, when his complaint had been considered so ludicrous that the Strategic Investigations Division wouldn't even take it, had punted it over to robbery, and then sent word to the detectives there that Schiller was going to drop by with an "Academy Award-winning performance."
This time he told his story to Sgt. Felix Jimenez and lead investigator Sal Garafalo. This time no one suggested he was lying, and no one dared him to take a polygraph. He talked about his former partner, Jorge Delgado, to whom he had been forced to grant power of attorney. And Daniel Lugo, whose voice he'd recognized among the men who held him in the warehouse. He gave them the names of the people who'd taken over his house, took control of his bank accounts and offshore assets, stood to benefit from his life insurance: Adrian Doorbal, Daniel Lugo, and Lillian Torres, Lugo's ex-wife. He gave them the name of John Mese, the Miami Shores accountant who'd helped facilitate the transfers. At last Metro-Dade police moved forcefully into action, and officers busied themselves with drawing up search warrants.
Elsewhere in Dade County that morning one other individual came to the same conclusion about the Sun Gym gang. Cindy Eldridge was heading back home to Boca Raton to pick up more belongings for her move into Doorbal's townhouse. But as she drove along the expressway, her suspicions and fears solidified into accusations. Her husband and Danny Lugo were involved in the disappearance of the missing Hungarian couple. One of them had killed the man in a fight! She became so distraught she decided not to go to work. At her apartment she called Doorbal. She had just one question for him.
"Adrian, just tell me, what happened to the girl?"
"Cindy, what are you talking about?"
"I just want to know what happened to the girl."
"I can't talk about it on the phone."
"I have to talk to you in person."
That evening she drove back to Miami Lakes and confronted him about Krisztina Furton. His reply chilled her. "What you don't know," he said, "won't hurt you."
Later that night in the townhouse, Cindy couldn't sleep. She was haunted by the bloodstains and by the violence that had transpired in her new home. Lying beside her, Doorbal slept like a baby.
The next morning at 7:00, Metro-Dade police gathered in a park next to the Miami Lakes police station. The 75 officers included homicide squads, SWAT teams, and hostage negotiators. They were ready to serve search warrants at the homes of Daniel Lugo, Jorge Delgado, and Adrian Doorbal. John Mese, the accountant who owned Sun Gym, was on the list as well. He'd witnessed Marc Schiller's coerced signatures on the transfers of his house and business properties, and the two-million-dollar life-insurance policy that would have gone to Lugo's ex-wife. Ed Du Bois had turned over incriminating documents he'd found in Mese's office, documents that linked Mese financially with the Sun Gym gang's new holdings. That morning Mese was in downtown Miami; his National Physique Committee's Florida Men's State Championship competition was scheduled to take place at the Knight Center.
The house warrants were all served at 8:30. Jorge Delgado and his wife, Linda, who had worked as Schiller's secretary when he first offered her husband a job, laughed aloud as the arrest warrant was read to them. Marc Schiller? His old partner, who'd stolen 200 grand from him in the first place? The Delgados couldn't believe the police were taking his accusations seriously. But under interrogation at police headquarters, Delgado began to talk. Yes, he'd hired Lugo to collect the money Schiller owed him, "but Lugo got carried away." When his lawyer showed up, Delgado declined to speak further.
Cindy awoke that Saturday prepared to end her honeymoon. She had no idea that within minutes it would come screeching to a halt anyway. She was still in her nightgown and sipping coffee when the knock came, and she opened the door to a throng of officers. They moved quickly inside, read her the warrant, then waited at the foot of the stairs as she called for her husband. Adrian Doorbal walked to the landing, his magnificent physique on display. He went to police headquarters voluntarily. Just some questions, he assured his bride.
As he was being driven downtown, officers searched the townhouse for evidence. The items they collected -- furniture, jewelry, electronics, computer equipment and software, bric-a-brac, even subscription magazines -- had come from the Schiller house. One find seemed particularly odd, given his own recent nuptials: Doorbal had kept a photo album of Marc and Diana Schiller on their honeymoon.
At his interrogation Doorbal admitted his participation in the Schiller abduction, then stopped talking. His last comment to detectives: "I'll never see daylight again."
Over at the Knight Center, the contestants already were flexing their oiled muscles onstage. John Mese quietly left the auditorium under police escort and also was taken in for questioning.
No one was home at Sabina's place across the street from Doorbal's. Metro-Dade officers discovered that Lugo already had fled to the Bahamas with Sabina and his parents. But Sabina had left Diana Schiller's BMW in the apartment's assigned parking space. Five days later a multiagency task force flew to the Bahamas. They found Lugo at the Hotel Montague in Nassau and brought him back in handcuffs to Miami on a commercial flight. As the plane rolled to a stop at MIA, Lugo gazed out the window and saw the row of squad cars, police lights flashing, arrayed on the tarmac.
"Is that all for me?" he asked.
"I told you, Lugo," said the detective who sat beside him, "you're in a little bit of trouble in Miami."
Adrian Doorbal sat in his jail cell along with 50 other high-risk inmates and watched Daniel Lugo on television news as he was led, handcuffed, through Metro-Dade police headquarters. The reporter announced that Lugo was prepared to take police to the bodies of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton. "You motherfucker!" he growled to Lugo's image on the screen. "You're the one who started this shit!" If Lugo had kept his mouth shut, he maintained, they could have pulled off the perfect crime.
As the lurid tale played out in the local media, Ed Du Bois became a mere spectator to the grisly findings. He felt some relief that Lugo, Delgado, and Doorbal were in custody, but the institutional cynicism that thwarted a true investigation into Schiller's kidnapping filled him with ire. Why did Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton have to pay such a terrible price? Why hadn't the police taken him seriously? "How does it feel," he scornfully quizzed one investigator, "to have blood on your hands?"
During the evening of June 10, Lugo's second night in jail, his attorney contacted Sergeant Jimenez at the homicide bureau. Lugo was prepared to reveal the hiding place of the bodies if the police would mention his helpfulness to a jury during any potential criminal proceedings. An agreement was drawn up and signed by Lugo, his lawyers, the police, and the State Attorney's Office. It was after midnight when the prisoner took the detectives to southwest Miami and the drainage ditch, where they found three submerged 55-gallon barrels.
The next morning at the Dade County Medical Examiner's Office, the metal drums were opened and the torsos extracted from the tar-and-acid mixture. But the hands, feet, and heads of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton were missing. Detectives were not amused by Lugo's semantics. In their negotiations he had never mentioned the significant facts about the amputations, which denied police positive identification of the victims, short of DNA testing. The prisoner declined to cooperate further.
During the autopsy of the female torso, however, medical examiners discovered breast implants. They recorded manufacturer's information from them and were able to trace the implants to the doctor who'd performed Krisztina's breast-augmentation surgery. (It would be the first time in Dade County that primary identification of a murder victim was developed through breast implants.) It took another month, though, for information to surface about the missing body parts. On July 7 an anonymous male caller said the victims' hands, feet, and heads had been put into buckets, sprinkled with acid, and placed alongside Alligator Alley between the Sawgrass Expressway and the Seminole Indian Reservation. The caller also claimed to know who had transported them there: Adrian Doorbal and a Dade County corrections officer.
During the summer and fall of 1995, police made more arrests. Carl Weekes and Stevenson Pierre, who'd participated in the Schiller abduction, were hauled in. Sun Gym owner John Mese, who'd been released after his initial interrogation, now found himself in police custody. So did Lugo's mistress, Sabina Petrescu. Cindy Eldridge faced charges, too.
The cops went after minor players as well: "Little Mario" Gray, who'd helped dump the barrels in the channel. A Sun Gym member who'd altered the VIN number on Diana Schiller's BMW. A former trainer at the gym who'd been paid to be an "intimidator" during the Schiller kidnapping. These individuals quickly cooperated with prosecutors and received relatively light sentences. Gray hadn't known what was in the barrels, after all, and was an unwitting accessory after the fact. He received a year's probation. Illegal alteration of the VIN number merited the same. The "intimidator" pleaded guilty to armed kidnapping and received a two-year sentence. For her cooperation Sabina, who no longer had any illusions about her lover's CIA employment, faced just one charge: theft of a motor vehicle. Moving up the food chain, prosecutors also struck deals with Weekes and Pierre, who told all they knew about the Schiller affair and were let off with ten-year sentences.
On March 27, 1996, a Dade County grand jury returned a 46-count indictment against the leaders of the Sun Gym gang for conspiracy to commit the murders of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton, and the kidnapping, extortion, and attempted murder of Schiller. "It was all planned, organized, deadly, and mean," said State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle after the indictment became public. The indictment also included RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) charges. The Schiller kidnapping-attempted murder and the double murder were deemed part of a continuing criminal enterprise: "The defendants did the same thing to Schiller as they did to the couple -- except he lived," explained Rundle. "We will use [RICO] to show a pattern of violence conducted by the defendants, who collectively had become a criminal enterprise that targeted unsuspecting wealthy victims."
That day corrections officer and disposal "expert" John Raimondo was placed under arrest. Police suspected it was he who'd taken Griga's Lamborghini out to its final resting place in the Everglades. He later pleaded guilty to one count of kidnapping and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Jorge Delgado was the first of the major defendants to crack. He gave a confession to Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine and, in turn, received just fifteen years for the Schiller crimes, and a concurrent five-year sentence for his role in the Griga-Furton case. It was a sweetheart deal for the state's star witness. Prosecutors were unable to link him to the plot and violence against Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton, only to accessory activities after the fact. But he could testify about what had happened to the couple in Doorbal's townhouse and at the warehouse.
Cindy Eldridge, whose honeymoon had come to such an abrupt end, was the last defendant to enter the prosecutorial fold. She'd been charged as an accessory after the fact for her removal of the bloodstains from her husband's townhouse wall. By November 1997, Doorbal had become romantically involved with a secretary who worked in his lawyer's office, even though he was incarcerated. Cindy filed for divorce. The four-day marriage to Doorbal had never been consummated, she said. Worse, she now realized it had been a complete farce, with the sole purpose of inhibiting her from being able to testify against him. She pleaded guilty to criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, and agreed to reveal all she'd seen and heard.
By now the state had whittled the case down to four defendants: Lugo, Doorbal, Mese, and Raimondo. Because the jail guard wasn't involved in the RICO sequence of crimes, he was severed from the main case.
Jury selection for the trial of Lugo, Doorbal, and Mese began in late January 1998. Two juries eventually were picked, one to listen to the case against Lugo, the second to hear the evidence against Doorbal and Mese. Both trials would take place simultaneously and in the same courtroom before the two juries. It was a complicated situation, Judge Alex Ferrer explained. Lugo and Doorbal had made separate statements at the time of their arrests that implicated both men. But their admissibility was an issue; Lugo's jury might have to leave the room at certain points. Likewise with Doorbal's.
The trial began on February 24, 1998, and for nearly ten weeks the prosecution laid out its case. It was the longest, most expensive criminal trial in Dade County history, and featured more than 1200 pieces of physical evidence and 98 witnesses, including Marc Schiller, who'd been flown up numerous times to help in preparations. His courtroom testimony was crucial. When the prosecution rested, Lugo's and Doorbal's attorneys chose not to present a defense. John Mese's public defender called just one witness. None of the defendants took the stand.
On May 4 of that year, Lugo's jury convicted him of the two murders, as well as sixteen other charges, including racketeering, kidnapping, attempted extortion, theft, attempted murder, armed robbery, burglary, money laundering, and forgery. Doorbal also was found guilty of the two murders, plus thirteen additional charges. On June 1 Doorbal's jury deliberated just fourteen minutes before recommending death. A week later Lugo's panel voted for the death penalty, too. It took them all of eighteen minutes to decide.
John Mese was convicted on 39 felony counts, including two counts of first-degree murder, attempted murder, racketeering, and multiple counts of money laundering, fraudulent notary, and forgery. On the eve of the trial, the prosecution had offered him a plea bargain: nine years in state prison (he'd already served two and a half years in the county jail since his arrest). Mese rejected the deal and on July 21, Judge Ferrer, who overturned the racketeering and murder convictions citing insufficient evidence, sentenced the accountant to 56 years.
When the juries' death-penalty votes came in, prosecutor Gail Levine invited Schiller back to Miami for the final round of arguments before Judge Ferrer, whose duty it would be to make a final determination on the recommendations. Schiller's own attorney advised him that the trip was unnecessary; he'd flown to Miami nearly a dozen times already since June 1995. He'd met with police and prosecutors, provided depositions, sat in on hearings, and offered his testimony at trial. The death sentence was as good as delivered. But Schiller looked at his roundtrip ticket and saw the final step in his long journey of betrayal, humiliation, pain, and survival. He was going to put Lugo and Doorbal on death row.
The death-penalty hearing took place July 8. First on Judge Ferrer's docket was a petition by Adrian Doorbal to marry the secretary he'd been seeing throughout his incarceration. Denied. Doorbal still had $700,000 of Schiller's money in a Smith Barney account, and the judge didn't want any marital claims to impede the transfer of funds.
And at long last it was Schiller's time to stand before his kidnappers, who sat shackled and handcuffed. He spoke eloquently and in agonizing detail of the weeks he'd spent in captivity, handcuffed and blindfolded. He spoke of his family's suffering, and the scars he still held. The kidnapping and torture had ruined him in every way imaginable. He could no longer visit clients. He could no longer trust a soul in this world. His wife, a frail woman to begin with, was now in failing health, a mere 84 pounds. How could human beings commit such heinous crimes? He would never understand, but he knew one thing: Neither man -- not Jorge Delgado either -- deserved to live in society again.
Schiller finished his statement and said quiet farewells to his attorney and the prosecutors with whom he'd worked for the past three years. With one quick glance back at the defendants, he walked out of the courtroom. A victim, a survivor, he had done his duty.
Outside again in the sultry air, Schiller paused on the courthouse steps. In that brief instant he heard the voices. Men were shouting. Commanding him to stop! Puzzled he turned just as they closed in around him. The old panic surged. And for the second time in his life, Schiller was grabbed and taken away.
The news broke over Miami later that day: Marc Schiller was a wanted man. He'd been a target all along, ever since the arrest of the Sun Gym gang, but the feds had patiently waited until he'd done his business in the courthouse, two birds with one stone, as the saying went.
FBI agents arrested Schiller on charges of orchestrating a fraudulent Medicare billing scheme that generated somewhere around $14 million. He now faced up to 25 years in prison, ten years more than his nemesis Delgado had received for kidnapping and murder.
Yet Schiller's thoughts were not with Delgado in the blurred hours that followed. He was thinking about Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine, and all he could think was that she had sold him out. For three years she had used him, forced him to relive every excruciating detail of his confinement: the starvation, the burns and electric shocks, the beatings, the abject terror, the absolute physical and psychological mortification. She had extracted everything she could, and then she had disposed of him. From his perspective her tactics were not so different or any less brutal than those the Sun Gym gang had employed against him. His attorney had been right. He shouldn't have returned to Miami. The death sentences came in, just as predicted. Schiller got the news while he sat in jail.
In fact the State Attorney's Office had been aware of the federal investigation for at least three years. Fourteen months before the trial began, in October 1996, prosecutor Gail Levine had written a memo to her supervisor addressing the fact that federal prosecutors were targeting Schiller, almost to the exclusion of any other potential Medicare fraud defendants. The feds, she wrote, "just seem like they will plead everyone out -- but Schiller. That's the only person they care about....
On July 17, 1998, more than three years after the murders were committed, Judge Ferrer sentenced Lugo and Doorbal. They each received two death sentences for the murders of Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton, and consecutive sentences for all the other crimes for which they had been convicted.
That wasn't the end of Judge Ferrer's involvement, however. In February 1999, after Marc Schiller pleaded guilty to one federal count of false Medicare billing, the judge took the highly unusual step of providing favorable testimony at his sentencing hearing.
Such testimony from a sitting judge is extremely rare. For Ferrer it was unprecedented, but he was moved to do so out of compassion and, to a degree, admiration. Not only had Schiller demonstrated extraordinary courage and endurance in surviving the Sun Gym gang's torture and attempts to kill him, but he later proved to be indispensable in prosecuting the case against his captors. "I know we can consider anything at sentencing," Ferrer said at the hearing. "This case was a very emotional case to sit through. It still bothers me to some extent. And I know that if things were just black and white, they could have computers do our jobs. But there's something intangible about this case that makes me feel like what he went through should be given some credit, because I don't think it could have been worse if he was a prisoner of war."
Ferrer also spoke of Schiller's haunting testimony. "Schiller was obviously emotionally bothered by it," he said. "It's hard to imagine that anybody would not be emotionally distraught about what happened to him. He tried to keep a very cool composure, but ... I think even just relaying it in court was traumatic to the people that were hearing it."
On Wednesday, March 17, 1999, Marc Schiller was sentenced to 46 months in prison, the most lenient sentence available under federal guidelines.
The Sun Gym case is now closed.
Information for this story was drawn from interviews with principal characters, investigative reports, court documents, and trial testimony. This is the last part of a three-part series.
Keep Miami New Times Free... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Miami with no paywalls.