Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Brutal Crimes of the Sun Gym Gang

 Originally published 04/24/2013.

Daniel Lugo mugshot and prison photo.

Daniel Lugo mugshot and prison photo.

In October 1994, Daniel Lugo proposed to Noel Doorbal, Carl Weekes, and Stephenson Pierre that they kidnap Marc Schiller. All those meeting knew each other through the Sun Gym. Lugo claimed Schiller had stolen from him and gym member Jorge Delgado. The group agreed to kidnap Schiller.

In 1991, Delgado’s wife, Linda, worked in Schiller’s accounting office. She begged Schiller to help Delgado. Schiller offered him a job. Delgado and Schiller became friends, eventually starting a mortgage company together.

Frequent guests at Schiller’s home, the Delgados got to know Schiller’s wife, Diana, and children David and Stephanie. Schiller trusted Delgado with Schiller’s home security code.

Author and Sun Gym gang victim

Author and Sun Gym gang victim

Delgado introduced Lugo to Schiller. Schiller disliked Lugo. In Schiller’s memoirs, Pain and Gain – The Untold True Story, he recalls that Lugo once talked “of frauds he had committed and started making comments insinuating that we should do something similar.” Schiller told Delgado he did not want their relations continuing unless Delgado split from Lugo. Delgado refused. Schiller pulled out of the mortgage business. Schiller wrote, “I decided to take a ten-thousand-dollar loss and give a little extra to him so that he would not harbor ill feelings.” This strategy was to prove a dramatic failure.

On November 15, 1994, Doorbal, Weekes, and Mario Sanchez, whom the first two men had recruited, grabbed Schiller as he walked to his car. “What do you want?” Schiller asked.

“You,” someone replied.

They hustled him into a van. Schiller’s ankles were shackled, he was handcuffed, and duct tape was wound around his head.

Someone asked, “How come you’re allowed to have so much money while we have so little?” As Pete Collins reported in the Miami New Times, Schiller “was in no mood” to debate “theories of American capitalism. He kept silent.”

Jorge Delgado

Jorge Delgado

The van stopped at Delgado’s rented warehouse. Schiller was bound to a chair. Someone asked if he wanted water. His throat parched, Schiller answered, “Yes.” Someone threw water in his face – then laughed.

Captors buzzed him with tasers, slugged him, and burned him with his lighter. He was left alone, bound and in a box. His bladder filled and there was no way to get to a restroom. Schiller writes, “I urinated as I lay there on the box, soaking my pants in the process and adding to the misery I already felt.”

A captor, whose voice Schiller recognized as Lugo’s, threatened to bring Schiller’s wife and children to the warehouse. His captors ordered him to call his wife and tell her to take the kids with her to her native Colombia.

She did.

When his captors demanded he confirm his house alarm code and the locations of his money, he realized Delgado was involved. A captor demanded he sign over assets. Schiller repeatedly signed papers he could not see. The documents were notarized by Sun Gym owner John Mese.

Schiller had been captive three weeks when the gang decided to murder Schiller by faking a drunk driving crash. On December 15, 1994, they forced Schiller to drink. Lugo drove Schiller’s car into a utility pole. Gang members shoved Schiller into the driver’s seat, poured gasoline over the car and set it ablaze.

After the group backed away and got into another car, Schiller cheated the fate laid out for him; he got up and ran from of the burning vehicle.

They ran him over – twice. Convinced Schiller was dead, they sped from the scene.

Schiller, however, survived and was rushed to Jackson Memorial Hospital where doctors operated to remove his spleen. When Schiller regained consciousness, a surgeon said he had been in an accident. Schiller replied he had been kidnapped and tortured. As Collins notes, Schiller’s “credibility was undermined because he’d entered the hospital as a suspected DUI case.”

Schiller called lawyer Gene Rosen. After hearing Schiller’s story, Rosen advised Schiller to contact private investigator Ed Du Bois. On December 16, 1994, Schiller called Du Bois, who asked Schiller to write down everything he remembered and send relevant documents.

Schiller called his sister. He was taken to Staten Island University Hospital. On Christmas Eve 1994, he moved into his sister’s Long Island home.

In January 1995, the gang moved into Marc Schiller’s house that had been signed over to a Bahamian company Lugo set up called D&J International. The gang had amassed about $2.1 million in cash, real estate, credit card charges, and goods. Lugo told neighbors he and his roommates were U.S. security officers.

Still using crutches, Schiller flew to Colombia to join his wife and children. Du Bois received Schiller’s written account of his captivity and copies of documents he had been forced to sign.

A name on those documents startled Du Bois who was acquainted with notary John Mese.

Du Bois met with Mese and showed him Schiller’s letter. “Sounds like this guy had a rough time,” Mese commented. Du Bois asked if Mese knew Delgado and Lugo. Mese said he did. Du Bois showed him copies of documents that he had notarized that had transferred Schiller’s assets. Du Bois claimed he could not recall the circumstances under which he notarized them. He agreed to set up a meeting with Lugo and Delgado.

That meeting took place on February 13, 1995. Du Bois came with bodyguard Ed Seibert. Delgado, but not Lugo, came to Mese’s office. Delgado said, “This is all over a business deal.”

Du Bois asked incredulously, “Is it customary in your business deals to kidnap someone, keep them hostage for a month, beat them, torture them, try to kill them, and blow them up?”

“I’m not going to comment,” Delgado replied.

A third meeting took place. Delgado said, “We’re going to give you Schiller’s money back, the one million dollars.” There was a condition: Schiller must sign a document stating he would never tell the story to anyone again – including police. Du Bois said he would discuss it with Schiller.

Schiller was destitute but reluctant to let his torturers get off scot-free. He also feared they were dangerous to others. Schiller and Du Bois discussed the offer with an attorney, who said that such an agreement of silence would be legally unenforceable – and would amount to a confession. Schiller and Du Bois decided to play along.

The Sun Gym gang found lawyer Joel Greenberg, who drew up a contract. Collins reports, “The days dragged on and drafts of the contract were faxed between the two camps. Schiller agreed to every new revision, but there was no money coming in.”

Schiller filed a challenge to the deed D&J International held to his house. The Sun Gym gang cleared everything they could out of the house, leaving it empty. The goods were taken to the warehouse in which Schiller had been held captive.

Du Bois realized that the offer to return Schiller’s money was a stalling tactic. It was well past time to go to the police.

Du Bois contacted Metro-Dade homicide Captain Al Harper who contacted Strategic Investigations Division (SID). SID Sergeant Gary Porterfield informed Du Bois and Schiller that the case had been referred to the robbery bureau. Du Bois was horrified because he believed the case needed more than that bureau could provide.

Porterfield escorted Schiller and Du Bois to that bureau. Du Bois saw a cop smirking and softly clapping. Du Bois asked a secretary about this. She answered, “SID called over here this morning and said we should expect an Academy Award-winning performance and story from Mr. Schiller today.”

Sergeant Jim Maier and Detective Iris Deegan interviewed Schiller. He pleaded, “Follow up on Du Bois’s leads. These are dangerous people. Other people could be harmed.” Later, he asked, “Do you think I’m making this whole thing up?”

Deegan answered, “Yeah, we think you’re making it up.”

Nevertheless, Deegan investigated. Collins writes, “Deegan paid a visit to Schiller’s home in Old Cutler Cove. The house appeared abandoned; indeed the Sun Gym gang had emptied it weeks before. When Deegan interviewed Schiller’s neighbors, they identified Lugo from a police photo line-up. Yes, he was a G-man, they said, Yes, they’d accepted UPS deliveries for him, packages addressed to Marc Schiller. Yes, they recalled, Schiller and his family had disappeared sometime before the previous Thanksgiving.”

No arrests were made.

Noel Doorbal mugshot and prison photo.

Noel Doorbal mugshot and prison photo.

Doorbal learned of phone-sex-line millionaire Frank Griga and his girlfriend, Krisztina Furton. Doorbal proposed to Lugo that this couple be kidnapped and Griga’s money stolen.

The couple accepted Doorbal’s invitation to come to his apartment, ostensibly to sign for an investment. Lugo was also there.

Doorbal tried to subdue Griga, triggering a vicious fistfight. Furton screamed. Lugo grabbed her and injected her with the horse tranquilizer Rompun.

Doorbal put Griga in a headlock. Griga lost consciousness. Lugo and Doorbal planned to haul Griga off to the warehouse and threaten him into signing over his money. Much to their chagrin, they realized before they could do it that Griga was dying .

They interrogated Furton for the code to enter Griga’s home. She answered and fell silent.

Another conspirator, corrections officer John Raimondo, arrived.

Frank Griga and girlfriend Krisztina Furton

Frank Griga and girlfriend Krisztina Furton

Lugo drove to Griga’s home and attempted to get inside with the code Furton had given him. It did not work. Lugo called Doorbal who said Furton was dead. Lugo returned to Doorbal’s apartment where he asked Delgado to return the next morning with a truck.

The next morning, the group loaded two corpses into the truck. They drove to the warehouse. Using a hatchet and chainsaw, Lugo and Doorbal dismembered the bodies.

On May 28, 1995, Lugo, Doorbal and a third man, who did not know that torsos and limbs were in the metal drums, took them to a remote area in Dade County. Another drum containing heads, hands, and feet was deposited in the Everglades. Lugo then traveled to The Bahamas. Police arrested him there in June 1995. Doorbal, Raimondo, and Mese were also arrested.

Lugo was convicted of many crimes including two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Doorbal was convicted of two first-degree murders and sentenced to death. Mese was convicted of multiple counts including conspiracy to commit racketeering and sentenced to 30 years imprisonment. Raimondo was convicted of crimes including attempted extortion and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Delgado testified for the state; in exchange, his crimes were plea-bargained down to 15 years for the murders of Griga and Furton and five years for Schiller’s attempted murder.

As Schiller left the courthouse after testifying against his torturers, federal agents arrested him for Medicare fraud. On March 17, 1999, Schiller pleaded guilty to one count of fraud. He was sentenced to 46 months imprisonment. Released in 2001, Schiller claims he was innocent but pleaded guilty because he “had no fight” left.

Actor Mark Wahlberg to play Daniel Lugo, right. Photo: © Glenn Francis, www.PacificProDigital.com/Police Photo

The movie Pain & Gain, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson, opens April 26, 2013. Its form as an action-comedy has angered some. Frank Griga’s sister derides the film’s sympathetic depiction of the gang as ambitious bunglers as “ridiculous.” Instead of separate characters for Schiller and Griga, a composite victim named “Victor Kershaw” is depicted. He is first seen surrounded by bikini-clad beauties. Schiller asserts he was a “homebody” with little in common with Kershaw although Griga, who made his fortune in the phone-sex business, may have resembled the womanizing Kershaw.

While there may be comic aspects to the bungling of the Sun Gym Gang, their heinous crimes of kidnapping, torture, and murder are anything but humorous.

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