Accidental Hit Man

Sure, Paul Brandreth talks like a wiseguy. But is he a cold-blooded killer?

And Hbaiu and Keneuker contradict each other on the number of shots, the purpose of the meeting with Citranglo, and who wanted him beaten.

Moreover, Brandreth denies pulling the trigger. On the day of the murder, he says, he was laying stepping stones in his father's garden in Weston. (His father cannot corroborate the story because he died in 2005.) A few days later, on January 9 or 10, Brandreth recalls, he received a call from a friend named Eva while he was shopping at the Home Depot. "They found Steve," she allegedly said.

"Hey, where is he?" Brandreth recalls asking.

Paul Brandreth was indicted on drug trafficking and murder charges. He was arrested in Miami Beach in September 2002.
courtesy of Miami-Dade
Paul Brandreth was indicted on drug trafficking and murder charges. He was arrested in Miami Beach in September 2002.

"In the Everglades."

"What the fuck is he doing there?"

"You really don't know, do you?"

The murder, it seems, was all part of doing business. In May 2002, Lehmann ordered Brandreth to Tijuana, where he was to buy 1,350 vials of ketamine for $10 each. They'd be labeled as nutritional supplements, shipped to Miami or New York, and sold for $60 apiece. Lehmann's cover was a legitimate business, a vitamin and health store on South Dixie Highway in Coral Gables called Super Nutrition, federal agents say.

Lehmann had moved to a white stucco mansion with thick foliage and an iron gate on Pine Tree Drive near the LaGorce Country Club in Miami Beach. Brandreth sometimes crashed there. He recalls fondly that they often invited strippers over to get naked in the pool — and kept a pair of clippers handy in case anyone needed a last-minute pubic-hair trim. There were always eight or ten swank rides in the driveway: Corvettes, Range Rovers, Jaguars. "I liked Tom's lifestyle," Brandreth says. "He was out every night with Benz­es, girls. He made a lot of money."

Things got ugly, though, in June, when Hbaiu was arrested in Swatara Township, Pennsylvania, for stealing a camera. Soon, local cops discovered that he had been convicted of federal drug trafficking; he had been indicted in both California and New York after agents found ketamine and guns in his Columbia University dorm room and was on probation. When questioned, he started singing about Citranglo's murder. He would later be sentenced to two years in prison on trafficking and other charges.

Also in June, agents who were wiretapping Lehmann's phone conversations and culling the trash seized a ketamine shipment in Miami. In September, they raided the Pine Tree Drive mansion and found 200 vials of ketamine, eight stolen vehicles worth $450,000, two dozen credit cards, and seven firearms, including two AK-47 assault rifles. Says DEA Special Agent Joe Kilmer: "As the agents continued to investigate, it just started to snowball."

On October 2, 2002, federal prosecutors charged Brandreth, Lehmann, and six others with smuggling, distribution of ketamine, and gun charges. At first, they all pleaded guilty on the drug and gun charges, and Lehmann received a five-year sentence. But in summer 2004, before a judge could decide Brandreth's penalty, Brandreth changed his mind and demanded a trial. The guns, he said, weren't his.

The testimony, which began in October 2004, lasted about two weeks. A highlight was the appearance of an up-and-coming DEA agent named Kevin Bliss. Though Bliss said the guns were in a room in Lehmann's house where Brandreth occasionally stayed, U.S. District Judge Adalberto Jordan chastised the agent for misleading jurors and erasing crime scene photos. Ultimately, though, the jury convicted Brandreth.

The three-month sentencing was even more interesting. Prosecutors claimed Brandreth had intimidated witnesses and even threatened to kill assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Greenberg. One inmate said Brandreth had grumbled about wanting to do away with Agent Bliss. Another claimed Brandreth was a stand-up guy. Still a third, Roberto Casanovas, called Brandreth a blowhard. "Paulie brags about everything, about a cup of soup; he'll brag about a cup of coffee."

In September 2005, Judge Jordan handed down a 20-year prison sentence, and the next day, a state grand jury indicted Brandreth in Citranglo's murder. If convicted, he faces the death penalty.

Had he simply cooperated with police, maybe he wouldn't be facing a lethal injection, Arlene Ellis says. "He's stubborn. I think that's gotten him into quite a bit of trouble. I don't believe that about the murder. I'm shocked that it's gone this far."

"I have a TV in my cell," Brandreth says during a jailhouse interview. He's handsome, broad-shouldered, and muscular. Despite several months in solitary confinement, Brandreth still has creamy skin and neatly slicked-back hair, which is going gray. His eyes are intense, a piercing ice-blue. He wears a red jumpsuit, and his wrists and ankles are shackled.

"I watch shows all night and sleep during the day," he says. Then he ticks off a list of programs: "Prison Break, American Idol, Law & Order, Poker After Dark, Cops at 2 a.m. I also like the cooking show. It's on at 4:30 a.m., and I sit there and starve." He laughs. "I miss real pizza. I also miss my girl's cooking. Lisa. She's Latin, y'know?"

He says he didn't shoot Citranglo. The others who were in the Coral Gables condo that night — Lehmann, Hbaiu, and Keneuker — have tried to frame him. He spends hours every day poring over court documents in an attempt to find inconsistencies in depositions. Citranglo was his friend, Brandreth says, and he was never angry about Citranglo's possible role in his brother's death, as Lehmann theorized. "I'm a drug dealer. I'm not a murderer."

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