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The 'Sun Gym Gang' Of Miami 'Meatheads' Murdered A Wealthy Couple In A Botched Theft
The so-called Sun Gym Gang first kidnapped and tortured a wealthy man into signing over all his assets to them before they set their sights on Frank Griga and his girlfriend, Krisztina Furton.
Frank Griga was a Hungarian immigrant like many who moved to the United States seeking the American dream. After relocating to Miami and finding wild success running a phone sex hotline, he seemed to achieve what so many came to America looking for: He had a beautiful, loving wife and enjoyed immense wealth. But in May 1995, the dream ended.
That was when Griga’s yellow Lamborghini was found abandoned in the Everglades by a state trooper. After the officer traced the car back to Griga, who was then 33, they learned he and his girlfriend, 23-year-old Krisztina Furton, had been reported missing three days earlier. Their housekeeper had entered their home to find no sign of the couple — but their dog was there, all alone. The couple had been planning a trip to the Bahamas but weren't supposed to leave quite yet. Even stranger, their plane tickets were still in the house.
"Krisztina and Frank would never do that. They would never leave the dog behind," Alex Ferrer, a retired Miami-Dade County judge, told producers of Oxygen's new series "Florida Man Murders."
The housekeeper then contacted the couple's neighborhood friend, Judi Bartusz, who quickly came over and agreed that something wasn't right. After she was unable to contact Griga or Furton, Bartusz filed a missing persons report and told police she had last seen them the night before. She had been walking her dog when she saw the couple heading out to dinner with two unidentified men.
Police were initially unconcerned, but after the Lamborghini was found abandoned they realized something serious could have happened to the couple.
In Hungary, Griga became enamored with the idea of the glitzy, glamorous South Florida lifestyle. His phone sex hotline business picked up steam in the 90s and ended up making millions. Furton, also a Hungarian immigrant, had worked at one of Griga's favorite local strip clubs, Solid Gold. The two had been dating for three years.
"Krisztina and Frank were a perfect couple. They fit together like a hand and a glove," Peter Davidson, author of "Homicide Miami: The Millionaire Killers," told producers.
Investigators looked into friends and acquaintances, but no real red flags were apparent. They did interview Griga's ex-girlfriend, Beatriz, who was also a stripper at Solid Gold, which Griga and Furton still frequented. She insisted she had noticed nothing out of the ordinary, though.
A search of the house and the car yielded no clues. All they had to go on was Bartusz's description of the two men with whom the couple was going to dinner that night.
“She described him as a dark-skinned, chiseled Adonis with long black hair. He was a very good-looking man," Francisco Alvarado, an investigative journalist, explained to producers.
This detail was enough to trigger homicide captain Al Harper's memory: His acquaintance, a private investigator named Ed Du Bois, had recently told him a story about an outlandish case he was researching. A wealthy businessman, Marc Schiller, claimed he had been kidnapped and tortured for over a month in a Miami Lakes warehouse.
His assailants kept him blindfolded and shackled, he’d said, depriving him of food, beating him, and burning him with cigarettes. They forced him to sign papers turning over all his assets to them.
“He was tortured and treated worse than any prisoner of war," Ferrer told producers.
Afterward, he said the assailants tried to kill Schiller by staging a car accident. They got him absolutely drunk, crashed his car into a pole, set his body in the front seat, and lit the vehicle on fire.
Somehow, Schiller was able to escape, and he immediately contacted Du Bois. He was afraid to go to the police because his kidnappers, who he said referred to themselves as the Sun Gym Gang, threatened to expose his own shady business dealings if he went to authorities.
Du Bois' first clue was that the documents giving away Schiller's funds had been notarized by a CPA named John Mese — who owned the Sun Gym. When Du Bois went to talk with Mese at his business, the man insisted he simply had a lucrative business deal with Schiller, But the investigator noticed an essential piece of evidence while placed in a room to wait for Mese: A trash can in the room that was overflowing with paper. Du Bois stole the papers, which turned out to be incriminating evidence that exposed a network of 11 men involved in the kidnapping plot.
“These morons had taken documents that were evidence of their crime and threw it away in the garbage can in the conference room where they put the investigator," Ferrer told producers.
However, when Du Bois took this evidence to the police, the story was dismissed. They thought the whole thing sounded fishy — like Schiller was a drug dealer trying to get rid of a rival, according to "Florida Man Murders." But the homicide captain on Griga and Furton's case realizes the possible similarities.
Du Bois handed over the names and information to the investigators, who headed out to look for the suspects. The ringleader seemed to be Daniel "Danny" Lugo, a 32-year-old bodybuilder and convicted felon who had defrauded elderly people out of millions in a twisted insurance scheme.
Lugo had been hired by Mese as manager of Sun Gym. Another person of interest was Adrian Doorbal, a 28-year-old Trinidadian immigrant who worked as a trainer at the gym, as well as Jorge Delgado, a man who was trained by Doorbal and worked for Schiller, giving the men the inspiration for the plot.
More evidence soon arose that signaled police were on the right track. After visiting Solid Gold and speaking with Beatriz again, she finally cracked and revealed she was dating Doorbal and had introduced him to Griga. Even more damningly, Bartusz identified Lugo and Doorbal as the men she had seen going to dinner with Griga and Furton.
Delgado and Doorbal were quickly found, and in Doorbal's apartment they found a plethora of evidence connected to both the Schiller kidnapping and the Griga and Furton case: bloodstains, Griga's business card, and the red leather outfit Bartusz had described Furton wearing on the night she disappeared.
After being interrogated, Doorbal admitted to kidnapping Schiller and murdering Griga and Furton. He explained how they lured the couple in with the fake business pitch at the restaurant, knowing it was closed. When they arrived at the restaurant, they suggested heading to Doorbal's nearby townhouse instead. Once in the apartment, Doorbal tried to subdue Griga, but he fought back. Doorbal ended up choking Griga and hitting him on the head, killing him.
Furton, meanwhile, tried to join the melee, but Lugo beat her and tried to pacify her with a horse tranquilizer.
With Griga dead, they had no way of extorting his assets from him. The gang then tried to get bank info from Furton, but she was completely out of it — and soon died.
“They gave her enough horse tranquilizers to kill four 1000-pound horses,” Ferrer told producers.
The whole scheme was completely botched. Lugo called in someone to help them clean up the mess: John Raimondo, a Florida Department of Corrections officer who worked out at Sun Gym. Under Raimondo's guidance, they decided to cut the bodies up to dispose of them. They first tried to use a chainsaw to cut off Furton's head — but her hair got tangled in the blades.
In a stunningly ill-conceived move, they actually decided to return the chainsaw to the store.
From there, they cut up the bodies with hatchets, put them in 50-gallon drums, and threw them into the Everglades. Raimondo disposed of the car.
The bodies were eventually found in a canal, chopped into pieces. Authorities were only able to identify Furton because of a breast implant's serial number and Griga because of a tooth.
In total, 11 people were arrested and charged in connection with the plot.
"I know people have said it was 'roid rage, these people were probably on steroids and it led to that. But OK, what about all the other people who just went along with it? What about the people at the gym doing curl-ups next to them, and they said, 'Hey, you wanna babysit some guy we have kidnapped in a warehouse?' — and they did?" Ferrer said.
Lugo and Dorbal were found guilty and sentenced to death in 1998. Mese was sentenced to 30 years in prison, while Raimondo was sentenced to eight years.
The Sun Gym Gang's horrific activities and outlandish missteps — like dressing as ninjas with spy vision gear during an early Schiller kidnapping attempt — inspired the 2013 Michael Bay film "Pain and Gain," starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
"In no way am I justifying these horrible events," Raimondo, who was released early in 2002, told the Miami New Times when the movie came out. "What happened was terrible. However, the movie, the books, and articles are very inaccurate."
He did express his remorse, saying, "I wish I hadn't been involved. It put my whole family through hell. I can only imagine what the victims' families are going through. I'm very sorry for those people. They don't deserve to relive what happened."