By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
Brian Krebs was $2 short.
Last call was nearing on April 17, and the girls behind the bar at Fishtales just wanted 38-year-old Krebs to pay up and leave. He had $6. He owed $8.
Krebs argued with the bar staff until they finally told him to get out. He left Fishtales — the beachside dive where Fort Lauderdale's bikers and blues musicians go to bullshit and booze — in a huff. He went back to his nearby rental in Galt Ocean Mile and changed clothes: from a T-shirt to a taupe sports coat. He filled his pockets with knives.
Krebs came back to Fishtales around 3:30 a.m. By that time, only a few regulars lingered. They were finishing up pool games, throwing back the last of their beers, unplugging amps, and taking down drum kits.
Krebs stepped up to the bar once again and started yelling. Nobody paid attention except one man — Jimmy Pagano. He decided to check on the girls. Pagano, a drummer whose band had played a jam set at Fishtales that night, walked over to Krebs. Pagano was a big man — tallish, with a barrel-shaped belly and a frame that matched. But Pagano was not an imposing figure. His toothy, wide smile betrayed a playful friendliness, not menace.
He didn't think twice about approaching Krebs, and by all accounts, he had no reason to worry. Pagano was a popular, beloved figure in the bar and music scene — the kind of man nobody would want to hurt. He hosted the ProJam music events on Tuesdays at Fishtales and Thursdays at Cagney's Saloon in Davie.
And if you ask any of the sun-soaked barflies who call Fishtales home, they'll tell you that the dark, smoky haunt — rough as it might seem to outsiders and snowbirds — is actually quite safe. Truth is, cops are rarely called to Fishtales. "It's not like a kids' place," says Joey "The Jew" Weiner, a regular. "Everybody knows each other there."
But Krebs was a stranger. He had a muscular build and a preppy air, seemingly too strait-laced to hang out at Fishtales. And for many years, he was that: a popular jock. Krebs went to school with American Pie screenwriter Adam Herz and is the real-life inspiration for the skirt-chasing, f-bomb-dropping Stifler character.
"Tell you what," Pagano said to Krebs, "I'll pay your tab if you get the hell out of here. Just go."
Krebs did not appreciate Pagano's offer. Their conversation grew more heated. Some of the other customers grew concerned. They put down their beers and put their bar games on hold. Weiner, who had been hanging out by the pool table in the back, walked up to the bar. He grabbed Krebs' arm.
"Calm down," Weiner said. Krebs turned and punched him in the shoulder, Weiner recalls. Somebody shoved Krebs. He pulled a knife out of his pocket.
Krebs charged at Weiner, grazing his fingers and chest. Another man, Jonny Eirhart, stepped in to break up the fight. Krebs stumbled back. That's when he drove the blade into Pagano's neck, multiple witnesses say.
"Help me," Pagano said as he collapsed to the floor. Blood squirted everywhere. He died almost instantly.
But Krebs wasn't done. He brought as many as four steak knives with him when he returned to Fishtales. And from the account of several people there that night, he soon tried to use them on anyone nearby.
What witnesses can't say: whether the bloodshed that left one man dead, five severely injured, and Krebs himself near death was premeditated or just the breaking point of a man with a history of violence and drug abuse. Krebs had a rap sheet that included several violent crimes, but despite warning signs that he was headed for a meltdown, judges continued to let him walk away without jail time.
Krebs has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and in a brief jailhouse interview with New Times, he hinted that the incident can't be painted in terms of black and white. "I wish I could tell you my side of the story," Krebs said from Broward County's main jail. "But my former lawyer said that I can't."
Prosecutors will now try to convince a jury that Krebs is guilty of murdering Pagano and attacking four others that balmy April evening. As Krebs awaits trial, South Florida's music community is still reeling from the loss of one of its most loved promoters.
One night eight years ago, a man and a woman were strolling down the Old South thoroughfare of Georgia Avenue in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
They didn't know they were being tailed. They didn't know they were about to be part of a long line of Brian Krebs' victims.
Georgia Avenue is lined with stately, plantation-style buildings — those vaguely Greek constructs popular below the Mason-Dixon Line. There's a Parthenon-like courthouse, carved out of shadowy, gray marble from the state's own quarries. Statues of Confederate and Cherokee generals dot a neatly manicured flower garden. This isn't the type of place where you'd expect to be attacked and mugged — at least, not until September 7, 2003.
"Give me all your money," Krebs yelled. He ran up behind the couple and hooked his arm around Jeffrey Clayton's neck, putting him in a chokehold, according to court documents.
Clayton struggled against Krebs' muscular arms. Krebs, however, had that stubborn strength of a drunkard. He'd been ordered to leave a nearby restaurant earlier for drinking too much and getting too rowdy. Krebs refused. He started spitting on the bar. Right after the owners locked Krebs out, he jumped Clayton.
"I have no money," Clayton pleaded. Krebs tightened his grip. Grissel Garcia looked on helplessly.
Clayton kept wrestling against Krebs' bulk, a built-up stockiness left over from Krebs' days on his high school's football team. Somehow, though, Clayton twisted free, and Krebs, now as scared as he was drunk, ducked into the bushes.
A few minutes later, two cops found Krebs hiding out in a side lot. Krebs saw them and tried to break into a nearby building. An officer told Krebs to freeze. Krebs charged them. He closed his fist and started swinging. The officers struggled to handcuff him. Krebs grabbed for one of the officers' batons. They pushed him to the ground. All the way down, he threw punches and kicks.
The officers fought back. Krebs had to be hospitalized before being taken to jail. When he was strapped to the ambulance's stretcher, he tried to break loose and continued to kick. At the hospital, one of Krebs' kicks landed on a nurse's face.
Police charged Krebs with three counts of assault, resisting arrest, public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and vandalism. He pleaded guilty in 2004 and got probation.
People who knew Krebs weren't surprised by this kind of behavior. They always thought he was headed for something bad. In high school, in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, Krebs reportedly started throwing booze, pot, and porn-filled parties as early as seventh grade. Those who knew Krebs declined to be named, for concerns over personal safety.
One of his schoolmates, whose sister dated Krebs long-term, said that Krebs would treat her sweetly when the couple was alone but would be rude when they were in front of other people. One time, this schoolmate said, Krebs smacked the girl and made a lewd comment about her — in front of him. "My dad pushed him off the porch once," the schoolmate said. "And I beat the crap out of him."
Krebs, the schoolmate said, tried to be polite to the girl's father but still couldn't get on the family's good side. "He had that insecurity — if you weren't an athlete or something, he might call you a fag or something like that," he said. "It was very common for him to use that kind of language like 'Hey, fuckface,' that kind of thing."
Acquaintances say that Krebs' alcohol abuse began catching up with him as early as his sophomore year of high school. Krebs reportedly showed up to school drunk and would often get into fights. One time, they say, Krebs was so intoxicated that he urinated in the school library's water fountain.
For a time, though, it did seem as if Krebs could keep his wild ways in check. He attended college in Tennessee after graduating high school in 1991. According to his LinkedIn profile, he graduated with a master's in pharmacology counseling from the University of Michigan. Krebs got a job as a pharmaceutical rep in Illinois. A search of local court records from that time showed no filings or judgments against him.
The most chilling event of Krebs' criminal past took place on May 22, 2005, since it most eerily resembles the recent incident at Fishtales. According to a police complaint, Krebs was leaving Voodoo Lounge, a bar in Chattanooga's main entertainment district, after getting into a fight. He called a female friend who had been at the bar, asking whether she had his cell phone.
"I told him we would call him when he was sober in the morning," she wrote in a police affidavit. The woman and her roommate returned to their apartment and were sitting on the steps. They noticed a cab drop someone off at the building. Krebs came up the back steps and walked in front of them. He asked about his cell phone. "I told him I didn't know," she said. "Maybe a friend that was with us had it."
Krebs pulled out a knife. He put the blade against the woman's throat. Then he slid the knife against her roommate's neck. "Give me a good reason why I shouldn't kill the both of you right now," Krebs reportedly said.
The woman ran down the hall. She beat on her neighbor's door for help. Nobody answered. She dialed 911 on her cell phone. Her roommate darted away from Krebs and tried to get into their apartment. The woman and her roommate struggled with the keys as Krebs walked down the hall toward them.
"I'm going to be back to kill you and your daughter too, bitch," he reportedly said about her 15-month-old.
Just as Krebs neared them, the roommates got into the apartment. Once inside, they locked the door and waited for police. Krebs was later arrested. Again, he got probation.
A year later, on December 21, Krebs was driving a rented, red Pontiac. He didn't have a driver's license — court records indicate that it had previously been revoked for DUI. Krebs ran a red light, and police stopped him. He got a 30-day jail sentence and was ordered to get therapy.
Krebs violated his probation a year later when he tested positive for speed. He didn't show up to his next drug screening. His probation officer tried calling Krebs repeatedly, but he didn't answer. He also never showed up for his court-ordered therapy. Yet it does not appear that Krebs was penalized for violating probation.
In 2009, Krebs landed yet another assault conviction. This time, Krebs began the night of May 12 drinking at a bar called Taco Mac on Market Street — the main drag of Chattanooga's nightlife district. Court documents indicate that Krebs made nasty comments to customers before trying to pick a fight with a man. Things came to a head when Krebs slammed a martini glass against the bar. The manager asked Krebs to leave. Krebs punched him in the face. Krebs left the bar and calmly tried to hail a cab as if nothing had happened.
Two nearby police officers saw Krebs getting chased by a man. They moved in quickly. The cops tried to slip handcuffs around Krebs' left hand as Krebs was easing into the cab. Just as in 2003, Krebs took a swing at one of the cops, hitting him in the face. Even after a third cop arrived, police were forced to use pepper spray to wrestle Krebs to the ground. Krebs wound up with a cut over his left eye and a bloody nose. En route to the hospital — where Krebs got three stitches — he tried to beat the paramedics. "I'm going to kick your ass when I get out," he told the officer who arrested him.
In March 2010, Krebs pleaded guilty to assault charges. He got probation again. He was ordered again to get mental help, attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and stay away from Taco Mac.
Krebs appears to have moved to Florida right after one of these assault incidents. In June 2009, Krebs applied to live in the Ocean Riviera building at Galt Ocean Mile. A private investigator, however, did a background check on Krebs and told management about Krebs' extensive criminal history. He was denied access to the building. He moved instead into a one-bedroom apartment in the Galt Ocean Club.
Roscoe Peterson was in the bathroom of a Broward bar, naked from the waist up.
It was around 7 p.m., on a jam night several years ago, back when Peterson first became guitarist for Jimmy Pagano's band, Untamed. For weeks — months, maybe — Pagano had been on Roscoe about his clothing. Roscoe had fallen on hard times and would come to gigs in the only shirts he owned — faded buttoned-downs and T-shirts. Pagano would tease him. "He did it in a nice way because I'm not the worst guitar player in the world, and he knew that, and he wanted me to be in the band."
That night, while Peterson was busy lugging around amps, plugging wires into soundboards, and making sure the rest of the stage was ready for the band, Pagano approached. He shoved a lump of clothing in Peterson's face. Pagano kept walking toward the stage. His only words as he handed Peterson several $100 shirts: "Hey, these don't fit me."
Peterson went into the bathroom and tried them on. He had the same build as Pagano.
"Jimmy, I know these shirts fit you," Peterson said as he left the bathroom.
"Take my word for it," Pagano replied, "they don't."
For the thousands who knew Pagano, this kind of gesture was his way of life. Pagano, whom many credit with creating open jam nights in South Florida, wasn't merely a driving force in the area music scene. He was the go-to guy for a musician's every need and is said to have worked tirelessly to play and promote established and up-and-coming acts.
That started almost as soon as Pagano moved here from upstate New York. Pagano had spent his childhood in Mount Kisco, a sleepy hamlet of some 10,000 that's surrounded by a green hill or two. There, Pagano began down a path that would lead him to become a renowned performer and fixture in South Florida culture. Always a rough-and-tumble, wise-assed kid, Pagano was the boy whose house was the de-facto hangout, and he was always dragging neighborhood schoolmates home to play or raid the fridge.
Pagano was always on the move, said his mother, Vivian. And he was always trying to be like his grandpa, who was a drummer in a marching band. He had tried the trumpet first, but it didn't jibe with his personality. The trumpet didn't let his body get behind the music, shimmy and shake with rhythm, like he wanted. Pagano left the trumpet for percussion, starting off with his elementary school's band, then continuing with middle- and high-school bands as he grew older. At 14, Jimmy branched into the business and production sides of music too: He quickly memorized the ins and outs of sound engineering and almost immediately began selling his behind-the-scenes services to professional musicians.
Meanwhile, Pagano's uncle, who led his hometown orchestra, also mentored Jimmy. His talent showed early: Jimmy was stuck working the private party scene only because he was too young to play the nightclub and bar circuit.
In 1979, when he was 25, Jimmy Pagano moved to Fort Lauderdale. He would occasionally indulge in the Sunshine State's relaxing amenities — Jimmy swapped competitive snow skiing for scuba-diving and motorcycles — but became engrossed in work immediately after his relocation.
The results quickly showed. Before Pagano's arrival, promoters and club owners would often pay musicians in beer and work was feast or famine. Competing bars were either flush with acts on the same night or the city's scene was silent for weeks on end. Acoustics were very often lousy. Managers would complain to bands about poor turnout, and bands would complain to managers about poor marketing.
Pagano had a way of balancing talent and business. An affable schmoozer, Pagano could talk through any conflict. He organized concerts and festivals so that work was evenly dispersed and made sure that every musician got a crack at making money playing. At Cagneys in Davie, owner Mark Birolli met Pagano some three years ago and hired him shortly after to save the club's jam nights. Attendance had dropped off, and the mood was souring. Birolli took on Pagano to revive the atmosphere and rescue the once-dying Thursday-night institution.
Pagano quickly swept in as the jam nights' anchor, Birolli said. He would drum, operate the sound equipment, emcee, and work the crowd between sets. He would go up to every person at the bar and ask whether they were comfortable. He would also ask the shy ranks of musician hopefuls whether they wanted a shot on stage. His affable air, Birolli said, coaxed many young performers out of their shells: Pagano kept on them to make sure they signed up for an open-mic slot.
Pagano also had an extensive network. He could pick any place in Broward or Palm Beach County on a map, drive there, get out of the car, and instantly see someone he knew on a first-name basis, Peterson said. Word that he would make an appearance as a drummer or manager quickly spread throughout South Florida's music community. People would go to a venue just to see or hang out with Pagano. So almost as soon as he started at Cagney's, the Thursday Jam Nights were once again packed.
Those who knew Pagano insist that he never acted like a straight-up, square businessman, despite his dogged dedication to the work. He was fair to a fault. One time, Peterson recalls, a club owner said to the group: "Well, there's nobody here. Why don't you guys go home early?" — a trick that lets management pay a band far less than originally agreed upon, Peterson said. This club owner handed some cash to the bartender, then disappeared into a back office. By that time, the band had already played most of its set.
"Guys, don't go anywhere," Pagano said. Peterson recalls that he slipped into the backroom and told the owner: "I'm going to work for free so that you can pay them and so that you don't look bad."
Part of Pagano's popularity was that he was so encouraging. "He was the guy to give it to you straight but in a way that wasn't cruel," said Jay Cummings, of the band Self Induced. "He gave not-so-good musicians the true desire to want to be better."
On April 17, the night that Pagano was stabbed, Peterson and Pagano finished the gig at Fishtales and stood outside by the band's trailer. "Just go home — don't stay after hours," Peterson told Jimmy.
Pagano laughed it off and decided to go into the bar. Peterson never liked to stick around after gigs. He drove off, heading north on A1A. By the time he reached the stoplight, Peterson got a call from one of the Fishtales employees.
"You've got to come back," the bar back said. "Something's happened."
On April 9, glass rained from the ninth floor of a Galt Ocean Mile condo tower. Shards came down quickly from Brian Krebs' unit, nearly hitting a woman who was swimming in the pool below.
Krebs threw a lamp through the window and trashed the rest of his rental, shattering the toilet with a hammer and ramming a 12-inch butcher knife into the wall. He'd also smashed a glass-topped table in his living room. "Glass was in every room," according to a police report.
When the building's security guards saw the glass shower on closed-circuit television, they rushed to Krebs' unit. As they ascended the tower in one elevator, Krebs, wearing a gray sweatshirt and backpack, disappeared down another elevator. He then slipped through the back exit of the building, onto the beach. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department arrived shortly afterward. Officers waited hours for Krebs' return. They didn't put out a warrant for Krebs' arrest — just a be-on-the-lookout warning to officers that he might be unstable and dangerous.
Pio Ieraci, Galt Ocean Club Association president, decided that Krebs was a danger to the residents and told security to bar him from the building. Krebs showed up April 15 with his landlord, Luis Desousa. They handed Ieraci a cease-and-desist letter from lawyer Eric J. Coleman demanding that the condo allow Krebs access to his apartment. The letter argued that Krebs needed to get his medication and clean clothes and should not be prevented from doing so because of a "misunderstanding."
"There was nothing that we could do once the owner let him back into his apartment," Ieraci said.
It was two days later that Krebs would return to this apartment to stuff his pockets with knives.
After witnesses say that Krebs stabbed Pagano, another man jumped onto Krebs' back. He was trying to bring Krebs to the ground but fell off. Guy DiBona stepped over and punched Krebs in the face. Krebs tripped, backward. He slipped in the growing pool of Pagano's blood, falling onto a knife as he slammed into the ground.
Krebs took another knife out of his pocket and stabbed DiBona's thigh, witnesses say. A customer, Eirhart, and another man, John Rossi, rushed over to subdue Krebs. DiBona, meanwhile, was slipping between consciousness and unconsciousness. Krebs hit Rossi in the lungs. Two other men came over. They picked up a chair. They slammed it into the back of Krebs' head. His feet stepped forward and back, forward and back, uncertainly. Krebs' knees gave out, and Krebs finally stopped, hitting the floor again. Eirhart slammed his foot against Krebs' chest to keep him on the ground. Eirhart, who got stabbed in the back, put bar rags on his wound to slow the bleeding. The bartenders tied towels around DiBona's leg as a makeshift tourniquet.
The handful of remaining patrons jumped on Krebs, leaving him with two black eyes, a swollen jaw, and a cut on his cheek. He had to be hospitalized before being booked into jail.
Witnesses say Pagano died holding his throat, before anyone could try to revive him.
Shortly after Pagano's death, acquaintances and friends organized a Facebook group that now boasts hundreds of comments from people. A benefit at America's Backyard on June 5 attracted nearly 1,000 people. Donations went to the Dan Marino Foundation, for a music scholarship fund named after Pagano.
Meanwhile, two months in lockup appear to have been rough on Krebs. On June 20, he was hauled in front of Circuit Judge Barbara McCarthy's court to be assigned a new lawyer. Before his arrest, the in-the-flesh Stifler was clean-shaven, bordering somewhere between muscular and meaty, weighing 200-some pounds and teetering just below six feet. Now, he's gaunt and pale. He's got a thick beard. He's lost his golfer's tan. His cheeks are sunken.
And on May 13, Krebs had picked a fight with another inmate, who Krebs alleges "cursed at him," according to a Broward Sheriff's Office spokeswoman. Krebs was put on lockdown for 20 days, during which he lost all privileges, including personal phone calls.
In an interview with corrections officers that followed, Krebs said he got into the jail fight because his medication "made him angry." Krebs didn't mean to do anything wrong. He was just "having a bad day."