Accidental Hit Man
Tom Lehmann and a few buddies had been partying for nearly a week without sleep. They had started the binge long before the new year — a lot of meth, a bit of coke, some hits of X, a couple of snorts of ketamine, and, of course, a steady supply of joints and strippers. It included a December 31 bash at Opium Garden in South Beach, then an afterparty downtown at Club Space.
Now, on January 4, 2002, it was time to get to work.
A guy named Steve Citranglo owed Lehmann money — $80,000, to be exact — for a shipment of ketamine, the PCP-like horse tranquilizer that makes people hallucinate and trip for hours. Citranglo had accepted the drugs long ago. His payment was way overdue.
The man needed an incentive, Lehmann thought. His meth-addled plan: Invite Citranglo to his Coral Gables condo and beat him. This would serve a dual purpose. Citranglo would also be discouraged from taking over the $10,000-per-week ketamine-dealing business.
Although he was a tan, six-foot, 228-pound guy pumped up on steroids and human growth hormone, Lehmann alone might not be able to pound Citranglo. So he invited along two others: Ahed Hbaiu, a 21-year-old Columbia University student and drug dealer who was trying to collect $60,000 from Citranglo, and a Michigan kid named Kevin Keneuker.
Lehmann also asked his buddy Paul Brandreth to come over. Brandreth was one of Lehmann's foot soldiers in the drug trade, a big lug who liked to brag about his bar-fighting and New York Mafia connections. He stood six feet tall, weighed 240 pounds, and sported a tattoo that read "Death Before Dishonor" on his back. Between his size and his steely blue-eyed gaze, he'd be helpful in the beatdown, Lehmann thought.
Shortly before noon, everything and everyone was in place at Lehmann's two-bedroom condo on Majorca Avenue in Coral Gables.
But seconds after the first punch was thrown, something went wrong. One of the guys had brought a gun, and Citranglo ended up wrapped in a tarp with a bullet hole — maybe several — in his body.
Once everyone realized Citranglo was dead, they rolled his body under a coffee table and covered it with a red Christmas tablecloth. "We shit our pants for a half an hour waiting to see if the police showed up or if anyone came knocking on our door," Lehmann would later say.
Someone did knock. It was a guy named Brandon who wanted to buy two eight balls of coke. While the buyer waited, Lehmann tidily readjusted the red tablecloth so the corpse was invisible. "You couldn't really see it, in my opinion," Lehmann recalls. "And then again, I'm using crystal meth, so what works in a normal mind is not working in my mind at that point."
After Brandon left, they all agreed to dump Citranglo in the Everglades. As they loaded the body into the back of a black Mercedes SUV, Lehmann was angry and scared. He remembers standing in the parking lot and saying out loud: "You fuckin' killed him."
Eventually, Lehmann, Brandreth, Hbaiu, and Keneuker would be charged with first-degree murder. Their testimony in court papers reveals clues to South Florida's biggest Mob murder, the background of a bust that crippled South Beach's club-drug world, and teases of information about the persistent wise-guy culture that many people think disappeared from these parts long ago.
Paul Brandreth was born May 29, 1968, in Parkchester, a hardscrabble neighborhood in the eastern Bronx. The area is best-known for its sprawling baseball fields and giant, fortress-like, red brick high-rises that once housed some 42,000 people. His family was a typical blue-collar Bronx pastiche: Dad was a New York City cop, mom a nurse. Brandreth's brother, Keith, was born in 1973, and the two were inseparable. Both boys were handsome. They looked and talked alike. Paul was more hyper; he was a blond, blue-eyed bruiser who loved rough sports.
Addiction and anger ran deep in the family. Brandreth's father beat everyone in the house, and both parents were drunks. When Paul reached tenth grade, he excelled at football and lacrosse and also took on some of his parents' habits. He began drinking, fighting, and doing drugs. He remembers visiting his friend Brian's house one day; the boy's mom sold coke. She offered him a line. "That was it," Brandreth recalls. "From there, downhill."
These days, Brandreth is 39 years old and a prisoner in the Miami-Dade County lockup. He often speaks about his life as a descent — like when he describes his first arrest, a burglary, two weeks before his senior prom and graduation: "From there, downhill." Or when, at 18, he tried his first crack rock: "From there, downhill."
According to Brandreth, his life has moved in only one direction. He was arrested in 1990 for selling coke in New York City, which led to a six-month stint in an NYC jail. Sometimes, he had sex with men in exchange for drugs or money.
Three years and several parole violations later, he was again arrested for peddling cocaine. This time, he was sent to the state lockup in Elmira. Man, you're going with the big boys now, Brandreth recalls thinking. "I had always hoped to do better, y'know."
In 1995, Brandreth was released after serving two and a half years. He recalls that his brother Keith, who was 22 at the time, picked him up in a Lexus. "Bro, forget about cocaine," Keith said. "There's this new shit; it's called X, Ecstasy." That night, Keith gave Paul his first hit of X and took him to the China Club, an A-list joint on West 47th Street with an awesome view of Times Square. There, Paul spotted a hot girl with curly blond hair. She was wearing a tight denim minidress and Timberland boots. Her name was Effie Katanakis. She was Greek and knew Keith. She sat on Paul's lap and later took him home. "It was a love/hate relationship," he says.
They stayed together for five years, and Katanakis came close to taming the Bronx boy. She got him a job in construction, secured him a union card, and gave him a place to live. He was like a father to her two young children — they all went to Disney and the mountains; they seemed like a normal family. "He was my best friend, my everything," Katanakis says. "We were each other's life."
But then Brandreth returned to strip clubs and the crack pipe. "He'd get his paycheck, and he'd disappear," Katanakis says. She always forgave him. Maybe it was because he was so handsome, or perhaps she sympathized with his rough life.
In 1999, Keith moved to South Florida. "His brother told him how beautiful life was down there," Katanakis explains. That was enough for Paul; he left her and New York behind. He was 31 years old then, but with his wide eyes and peaches-and-cream skin, he looked five years younger. Katanakis, heartbroken and tired of his games, let him go. Still, she says, "Paulie shoulda stayed home, where he belonged."
Brandreth immediately hooked up with a girl in Miami named Lisa, a petite Brazilian-Ecuadorian beauty with long, curly locks. He did sweet things such as bring home armfuls of flowers that would fill her condo, Lisa recalls. Like Katanakis, she tried to get him to lead a quiet life. It didn't work. He disappeared for days in a drug-induced fog. He knew not only all the club bouncers and bartenders but also the meter maids who patrolled the streets in front of Club Space near downtown Miami and what was then Crobar in South Beach.
Lisa, a cosmetologist, wasn't much of a clubgoer, but she stuck by her man. "He needed a lot of love," she says. "He needed to learn about family."
Soon, Brandreth says, he began selling ketamine to "gay guys and club kids." His main supplier was a dude named Tom Lehmann. He admired Lehmann, who was a little younger. The drug dealer lived in a nice Coral Gables condo, drove new SUVs, dated hot strippers, and always had a wad of cash.
But in spring 2001, Brandreth says, Lehmann's ketamine connection dried up. So did the money. Then one day in late March, he was summoned to a meeting with a friend of one of Lehmann's acquaintances, Anthony "Little Tony" Ferrari. "Someone was in the wrong place at the wrong time," Ferrari told Brandreth. "He needs to disappear."
About a month before that phone call, on February 6, 2001, a black BMW sedan purred along Miami Road near downtown Fort Lauderdale. The driver, Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis — founder of Miami Subs and SunCruz Casinos — slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting a truck that had swerved into his lane. Suddenly, a black Ford Mustang pulled up, and someone pumped several bullets into Boulis' car. The truck and Mustang sped away. Three slugs pierced Boulis' body; he died instantly.
Three men were later charged in the killing. One of them was the guy who called Brandreth that March day. Brandreth says Little Tony Ferrari offered him $30,000 to off another of the accused killers, James "Pudgy" Fiorillo.
"I'm trying to go legit," Brandreth says he responded.
"Fuck that," Ferrari said. "You're in my crew now."
Brandreth claims he agreed to go along with the plan — but only because he wanted to soak Ferrari for the cash. He never intended to kill Fiorillo. He didn't even have a gun. Ferrari gave him a $1,000 down payment, enough for rent.
Brandreth says he went to New York a couple of times. Once, he met Anthony "Big Tony" Moscatiello, the third man charged in the Boulis murder, who suggested that Brandreth kill Fiorillo with a bad batch of cocaine.
After that meeting, Brandreth says, he was taken to a hotel and told to await word on the hit. He was also informed he would share a room with Fiorillo, which seemed odd. Two days passed with no word, no cash, and no instructions. Exasperated, Brandreth flew back to Miami. That was it.
Now, he describes Ferrari as an amateur gangster, incapable of killing Boulis. "He doesn't seem to be a tough guy," Brandreth says.
Is it true? It's difficult to say. Would the gangsters really have ordered him to share a hotel room with the intended victim? Why would he have gone to the hotel if he didn't have a gun? And why would he have stayed two days? Finally, wouldn't the accused killers have taken revenge on Brandreth for skipping out?
H. Dohn Williams, Fiorillo's Fort Lauderdale attorney, believes that Brandreth has a tie to the Boulis case. But he says it's much more direct. The Bronx thug drove the truck that cut in front of the Miami Subs founder before the shooting, he claims. He offers no evidence other than his client's word. "[Brandreth] was driving that blocking vehicle," Williams asserts. Although the lawyer says the truth will come out at trial, Brandreth has not been charged in the Boulis homicide.
Brandreth's lawyer, Michael Walsh, acknowledges that his client drove the truck. But, he says, the accused killers handed over the keys several months after the Boulis slaying, possibly to frame Brandreth. "He didn't know that was the car involved in the Boulis murder," Walsh says.
In the months that followed, Brandreth says, he did the usual: dealt drugs, partied on the Beach, and hung out at strip joints; Gold Rush, a club on NE 11th Street, was his favorite. He says he had two girlfriends at the time, a stripper named Natalie and his steady, Lisa.
"He was always nice, great around the house," gushes Arlene Ellis, Natalie's mother. "He's had a hard life... I think that's why he took to us so much. He just wanted a family."
Adds Lisa: "Paulie has a big heart. If you didn't have anything to eat, he would give you his food."
Brandreth's brother died of an OxyContin overdose in New York on September 8, 2001. "Keith was all I had in the whole world," Brandreth says. The funeral, he recalls, was on Long Island the morning of September 11, and he watched smoke rise from the Twin Towers.
Lisa was at his side. So was a buddy of Brandreth's: a brown-haired, brown-eyed drug dealer named Steve Citranglo.
"Why, Paulie, why?" implored Citranglo, who was on his knees in a hallway of Thomas Lehmann's Coral Gables condo. It was around noon January 4, 2002, and Citranglo had been punched, kicked, zapped with a stun gun, and clubbed with a baton.
Lehmann, who would later recount details of the murder in a court deposition, was headed toward the injured drug dealer, ready to throw a few punches, when he spotted Brandreth pulling a black .38-caliber pistol from his waistband.
"This is for my brother, because you are a fuckin' rat," Lehmann remembers Brandreth saying.
"Fuck you and your bro," Citranglo yelled back.
That's when Lehmann heard the shot. "There was no plan to kill him," Lehmann explains. "Paul flipped out."
And so did everyone else. Ahed Hbaiu began to cry. Kevin Keneuker headed for the apartment's second-floor balcony and thought about jumping.
Lehmann left through the front door and walked down the stairs. He says he returned to find blood everywhere. "We tried to clean the best we could with what we had," he says in the deposition. "I had some kind of bleach-like shit, but it was for kitchen dishes and everything."
The four wrapped the body in a sleeping bag, a tarp, and some duct tape. At one point that afternoon, Lehmann went out and bought everyone sneakers. "We sat around waiting for it to get dark," he recalls. "Paul tells everyone to shut the fuck up, relax, it's going to be OK... When it comes down to it — excuse my language — Kevin, Eddie, and I were too big of a pussy to beat up Steve unless Paul came into the picture."
Around 5 p.m., just as night fell, Lehmann and Brandreth carried the wrapped-up body to the parking lot. "You fuckin' killed him," Lehmann hissed. What he didn't realize was that a neighbor named Lisbet Colon was walking her dog nearby — and she thought she saw two guys carrying what looked like a body down the stairs.
They wrangled the corpse into the back of Lehmann's SUV. Lehmann and Brandreth got in and took off. Hbaiu and Keneuker followed in Lehmann's other car, a Jaguar. They headed west on Calle Ocho toward the Everglades. At one point, Lehmann recalls, a cop stopped Hbaiu and Keneuker for a faulty brake light and ticketed them.
Then they stopped at a gas station, perhaps Dade Corners, on Krome Avenue. Lehmann wanted to dump the corpse in a garbage can. "I got a body in the back seat of my car, and I'm ready to piss myself, to tell you the truth," Lehmann recalls.
Instead, the men drove a mile west, past the Miccosukee casino. Soon, they turned right onto a dirt road.
It was a cool, dark evening, and a half-moon was rising as they slid the body into the inky water. Brandreth said the alligators would eat the body. "I was hoping he was right," Lehmann says in the deposition. "I'm from New Jersey. I don't know about this place. To me, I think alligators are everywhere in the Everglades, just walking around."
Lehmann would later conjecture that Brandreth killed Citranglo for giving his brother Keith a lethal dose of drugs. Citranglo had even dealt drugs at Keith's funeral, Lehmann says in the deposition.
But, as with the story of the Boulis killing, there are problems with Lehmann's version of events. He claims Brandreth shot Citranglo four times in the back and the blood splattered everywhere. But the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Citranglo was shot only once, at close range in the chest — which would mean there was likely little bleeding.
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.
"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."
Brandreth also says he had nothing to do with the Boulis killing. "I never heard of Gus until later," he explains.
Indeed, only one of Brandreth's six arrests before the murder charge involved violence: a 2002 bar fight in Key West. So, is he a killer or simply an unlucky drug dealer? Was he set up? Did Lehmann, Hbaiu, and Keneuker coordinate their stories to receive lesser sentences?
The three were initially charged with first-degree murder, but they all copped a plea deal at the end of 2007. Keneuker pleaded to second-degree murder and received a six-year prison sentence. Hbaiu got five years. (He has already been released.) Lehmann, ringleader of the drug-dealing network, is serving a six-year federal sentence on the trafficking charges. He has yet to be sentenced in the murder case.
"Everyone down here is a rat," Brandreth sighs. "To be honest with you, I wish I had never come down to Florida."
Brandreth's tough-talking lawyer, Michael Walsh, adds there's no physical evidence linking his client to the crime. But he's worried about Lisbet Colon, the dog walker who allegedly saw two men carry a body out of Lehmann's apartment.
Prosecutor Michael Von Zamft is confident he will win a conviction despite his star witnesses' contradictory accounts of the details. "[There are] different versions of events," he says. "[But] the core of what they are all saying is the same."
Brandreth's behavior will work against him. He has refused to cooperate with police — "I don't talk to cops," he says — and he recently called Von Zamft a "cocksucker" in open court.
While awaiting his trial, which is scheduled for April, he does triceps dips, pushups, and sit-ups a couple of days a week in a small caged area in the prison yard. In his cell, he reads the Bible. "Jeremiah 29:11," he says. "It's stopped me from going crazy and shit.
"For I know, the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Says his lawyer, Walsh: "One thing Paul's not good at is lying. No whiny, no bitchy, little-boy attitude."
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.