By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
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By Chris Joseph
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Three years after the slaying of Johnnie Irish, law enforcement reports reveal, Christie formed his own organization. Fernandez, Felts, and Carbone became his muscle. At first, they were sloppy.
"The group would do home invasions and burglaries until they started selling protection," a Mob associate named Peter Urban told BSO. "What the group would do is go into a bar and start a big fight. The following day, Christie would go into the bar and try to sell protection."
Christie's gang also did business at a Hollywood floral shop. It was a gambling front for the Colombo crime family. Christie and his crew were in the debt-collection business. The enormous Fernandez sometimes stood sentry outside the floral shop as business was discussed.
Hollywood attorney Allan Tucker remembers the day in the early '80s that he bothered Fernandez at an inopportune time. His law office was next door to the floral shop, and the cars parked out front prevented his secretaries from going to lunch. "I indicated to this guy that people had to leave, that this was their lunch hour," Tucker remembers today.
Fernandez became enraged. He walked toward Tucker and punched him, knocking the attorney to the ground. A few people then walked out of the floral shop, and they all sped away. Tucker never saw Fernandez again.
"Sometime later, that floral business was raided for loan sharking," Tucker says.
Christie and Fernandez were ambitious. Loan sharking was only the beginning of the enterprise.
"Gil Fernandez was involved in the beginning of Miami's drug trade," says Diaz, who as a homicide detective went on to investigate Fernandez. According to Diaz, Fernandez was one of the enforcers behind former South Florida drug kingpin Randy Lanier's drug enterprise. Christie tracked debts, and Fernandez collected them with force.
As cocaine exploded in the early '80s, the crew started dealing. According to a BSO confidential informant, Christie devised a scheme to profit from sellers and buyers. "Christie starts setting up drug deals in order to take down both ends (seizing the drugs being sold and money used to purchase the drugs)," BSO Detective Joe Damiano wrote in a November 1987 report.
Among the first victims was Dickie Robertson, a lower-level cocaine dealer also associated with Lanier.
According to statements that Carbone later gave to the FBI and BSO about the execution of Robertson and his associates, Leahy and Tringali, in the canal by Danger Road, Fernandez, Carbone, and Felts later drove north of U.S. Highway 27, turning right on Sheridan Street. They headed toward the ocean. As the Grand Prix crossed over the Sheridan Street bridge, which spans the Intracoastal Waterway, Fernandez threw his gun in the water.
Driving the Grand Prix, Felts pulled into a gas station on A1A. Christie stood there. He leaned into the car.
"Was it done?" Carbone remembered Christie's asking.
One week later, Fernandez resigned without reason from the Miami-Dade Police Department. Later that year, he won the Mr. Florida Bodybuilding Contest.
Union Correctional Institution is an oppressive place. Fernandez calls it "hell above ground." He says he's seen the worst of man in here: guards beating captives; inmates gang-raping weak prisoners and stabbing others; men masturbating in the yard, then flinging their semen at others.
"This is the worst toilet bowl of all," Fernandez says. "And what goes in a toilet bowl? Crap. A lot of guys here are cold, angry. They're hard. In prison, you're so down and out, you gotta look up to look down."
Most would agree that a brutal murderer like Fernandez deserves nothing less. In fact, he expresses the same opinion, although in the cagey way he has about discussing his crimes. "If I didn't know me now, I would like the man I was [before being saved]," Fernandez says. "Though I'm getting old, the Holy Spirit has made my soul young. It's the Christ in me."
Fernandez says his path to salvation started in an Atlanta hotel room in 1987. On his way to check out, he opened the nightstand drawer. He doesn't know why. He saw a Gideon Bible and picked it up. "I brought it home and put it on my nightstand," he remembers. "It stayed there until 1989."
During this time, Fernandez's wife had been feeling a spiritual calling, he says. She wanted to go to church. She nagged. He resisted. Fernandez had time to worship only his body. In early 1989, he purchased the Apollo Gym from Christie and continued to train himself for bodybuilding contests. But in August of that year, he slipped and fell, breaking his ankle. While in the hospital, he received a call. To this day, he doesn't know who it was from or even if the person had the right number, he says.
"We just called to say we love you, and we're praying for you," the caller said.
Something overcame Fernandez at that moment, he says. "I lay in that hospital bed, and all I could do is cry," he remembers. "Everything I'd done in my life flashed before me. I could see all the foolishness. And at that moment, I wanted to go to church."