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.