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
They juiced harder than Mark McGwire, pumped iron faster than a Lamborghini Diablo's pistons, and made it rain on more strippers than Juicy J at King of Diamonds. To finance their voracious appetites, they became experts in the dark arts of kidnapping, torture, extortion, and murder.
One of their victims survived a month of sleep deprivation, Taser jolts, lighter burns, and even the coup de grâce: three days of waterboarding with sleeping pills and booze before being strapped into a blazing car. Two other victims weren't so lucky, ending up murdered and chopped to pieces with chainsaws, their body parts tossed into the Everglades.
They were the Sun Gym Gang, and even by Magic City standards, their macabre exploits were difficult to stomach. Yet their incredible story almost went untold. Crime reporter Pete Collins couldn't find any takers for his book about the bloody spree until he pitched the tale to our sister paper Miami New Times, which ran it in three installments between December 1999 and January 2000. "Pain & Gain" turned into one of the most widely read yarns in the paper's 26-year history.
The tale of the Sun Gym Gang documented one of the most brutal acts of violence in Miami history. It was the longest, most expensive case ever tried by the State Attorney's Office. More than 22 search warrants were issued. One hundred-plus witnesses were called to the stand. And 10,000 pieces of evidence were presented. The jury was sworn in on February 20, 1998, and didn't begin deliberations until four months later. It was a tome so diabolically cinematic that it's about to become the first New Times piece to grace the silver screen. Blockbuster director Michael Bay, who lives in Miami, read the series and decided to transform it into a pitch-dark comedy. His adaptation, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, hits theaters April 26.
Before Pain & Gain hits cinemas across the country, New Times tracked down the characters who made the true story so unforgettable. Here is what's become of them two decades after the Sun Gym Gang's infamous bloodbath.
Trailer for Michael Bay's Pain & Gain:
Name: Daniel Lugo
Played by: Mark Wahlberg
Key description in the original story: "They were incredibly strong, with muscles developed to almost monstrous proportions. Lugo had a broad forehead, brilliant smile, and dark-stubbled jaw. He possessed tremendous charm and a great deal of money: a million already from an old Medicare fraud scheme and now all of [Marc] Schiller's assets."
Real-life role: Sun Gym Gang mastermind
A New York native with a smooth tongue and a disarming smile, Lugo was fresh from serving a 15-month federal prison stint for fraud when he landed at Sun Gym in 1992. He'd earned his prison time by snookering $71,200 from people who believed he could get loans from a Hong Kong bank. The bank never existed, and Lugo ran off with the cash.
At Sun Gym, a hard-core bodybuilder joint just north of Miami Lakes, Lugo quickly worked his way up to manager. He also recruited a gang of none-too-bright gym rats — led by a sadistic Trinidadian named Adrian Doorbal — to pull off a pair of brazen heists: abducting Schiller, a wealthy businessman, and six months later, kidnapping Frank Griga, a phone-sex-line millionaire, and his girlfriend, Krisztina Furton.
"Lugo was a smart-ass criminal," opines Ed Du Bois, the private investigator who helped take down the gang. "He was the brains. He wasn't some brute street guy."
Yet Lugo's plans were far from perfect. The Sun Gym Gang did manage to abduct Schiller and then tortured him for nearly a month in a Hialeah warehouse. They stole his $1.26 million offshore bank account and his $300,000 Old Cutler Road house and even changed his life insurance to benefit the gang. However, Schiller survived their torture and the bumbling, brutal, final attempt on his life.
That didn't stop the Sun Gym Gang from trying again with Griga and his girlfriend, snatching the pair during a business meeting. This time, everything went wrong. When Griga fought back, Doorbal bashed in his head. Furton was lethally dosed with horse tranquilizers. Lugo bought chainsaws and hatchets and helped Doorbal dismember the couple, chopping off their hands and feet, peeling back their faces, and ripping their teeth from their skulls to make identification impossible.
When Metro-Dade homicide detectives finally got warrants for Lugo, Doorbal, and their minions in June 1995, the mastermind fled to the Bahamas with his stripper mistress and his parents. His Caribbean escape didn't last long. On June 9, a multiagency task force flew to Nassau, arrested Lugo, and brought him back to Miami. The following day, Lugo agreed to take investigators to the bodies if cops would mention his cooperation in court. But Lugo had one more trick up his sleeve. He led them only to the bodies — not to the hands, feet, or heads.
He was convicted of racketeering, first-degree murder, kidnapping, extortion, arson, burglary, robbery, grand theft, and forgery on June 2, 1998.
Current status: On death row for the murders of Griga and Furton
Lugo has been in prison since August 1998. These days, he's living at the Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, a small town in north-central Florida, where he's been desperately trying to avoid execution, filing a series of appeals starting in September 1998. (The state Supreme Court shot that one down six years later.) In October 2004, Lugo asked for a new trial, claiming that one of the jurors failed to disclose he'd been a victim of violent crime and that his attorneys failed to find character witnesses. The palooka even alleged the Bahamian Police violated the Vienna Convention.