Movie News & Reviews

‘Pain & Gain,’ a movie based on South Florida murders, is a painful reminder to victims’ families

Their dark schemes, hatched amid steroids and dumbbells, strip clubs and exotic women, ended in spasms of shocking violence.

A millionaire businessman stripped of his fortune, tortured for weeks and left for dead in a burning car wreck. And a wealthy Hungarian couple murdered, their bodies hacked up and scattered in drums and buckets across South Florida.

The bizarre and bloody saga of the Miami Lakes Sun Gym crew was always the stuff of Hollywood drama — and 15 years after Daniel Lugo and Adrian Noel Doorbal were sent to Death Row, their story will be rekindled in the upcoming film Pain & Gain.

Prosecutors, former detectives and the sister of one of the victims, however, are concerned that the movie — the tagline: “Their American Dream is Bigger than Yours” — will portray the killers in a sympathetic light, and play down the brutality of the murders.

“I think it’s ridiculous. It’s horrible what happened to them,” said Zsuzsanna Griga, the sister of Frank Griga, murdered along with his girlfriend, Krisztina Furton. “I don’t want the American public to be sympathetic to the killers.”

‘A mockery’

Said Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle: “What Hollywood is going to do Hollywood is going to do. My thoughts are with the victims. To trivialize this horrible tale of torture and death makes a mockery out of their lives and the justice system.”

Billed as an action-comedy, Pain & Gain opens in April and stars Mark Wahlberg as Lugo, Anthony Mackie as Doorbal and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as Paul Doyle, an apparent fictional composite character based on several members of the murderous crew.

The director: Michael Bay, of Transformers and Armageddon fame.

The “true story” trailer certainly strikes a dark comedic tone. It features a fiery explosion, barreling cars, SWAT police jumping out of an armored vehicle and Wahlberg’s Lugo character agonizing about his dead-end life as a fitness trainer.

There was nothing light-hearted about the crimes they committed.

Over a series of meetings in 1994, Lugo, Doorbal and Jorge Delgado, who pounded weights together at the Sun Gym and frequented strip clubs, hatched a plan to kidnap and extort Marc Schiller, owner of West Miami-Dade Schlotzsky’s deli.

Schiller had once employed Delgado as a business assistant. Also in on the plan: John Carl Mese, the gym’s owner, a former bodybuilder and Miami Shores accountant.

Their attempts to kidnap Schiller were certainly bumbling — once, they laid across blankets on Schiller’s lawn, waiting to whisk him away, but got spooked by a barking dog.

Finally, they kidnapped Schiller outside his deli.

During a month in captivity at a warehouse, they tortured him, sometimes with lighters, until he signed over his posh South Miami house, a $2 million life insurance policy and $1.2 million in investments.

Forced by his kidnappers, Schiller also ordered his wife and children to go to Colombia.

Staged crash

The gang moved into Schiller’s house, drained his bank accounts and finally plied him with liquor and staged a 3 a.m. crash into a tree, also running him over.

But Schiller survived.

He did not notify police right away, however. He called his lawyer, who recommended private investigator Ed Du Bois III (played by Ed Harris in the movie). They went to work trying to negotiate the return of $1.26 million.

Ultimately, four months after Schiller left captivity, Du Bois — who has a cameo in the movie — notified skeptical Miami-Dade police. The investigation went nowhere.

The Sun Gym crew’s next target: Frank Griga, 33, a Hungarian immigrant who had earned his fortune in the 900-phone sex business. A lover of fast cars and boats, he lived in Golden Beach with his 23-year-old girlfriend.

On the pretense of proposing a business deal, Lugo and Doorbal lured the couple to Miami Lakes.

“My brother. He didn’t know how to say no,” said Zsuzsanna Griga, who talked to her brother every day by telephone from Hungary.

“He was a very nice guy, a very simple guy who helped everyone.”

Inside Doorbal’s apartment, the kidnapping went horribly awry. Griga fought back and was beaten to death. Furton was drugged, fatally, with horse tranquilizers.

The bodies were whisked away to the same warehouse where Schiller had been held captive.

A trip was made to Home Depot to buy dust masks, rags, a chain saw and a hatchet. The bodies were dismembered. Eventually, their body parts were found in drums and buckets discarded along rural highways in Dade and Broward.

By then, with Griga and Furton reported missing, Miami-Dade homicide detectives had zeroed in on the group and had made arrests, including Lugo, who had fled to the Bahamas.

Charged with murder, racketeering, kidnapping and a slew of other charges, the 12-week trial in 1998 featured more than 10,000 exhibits. Prosecutor Gail Levine, in her closing argument, said the plot “was like a bad movie.”

“How could something like this occur in our society?” she asked jurors, gesturing to Lugo and Doorbal. “And how could there be evil people like these men?”

Jurors in 1998 convicted Lugo, Doorbal and Mese, who later died in prison. Delgado pleaded guilty to being an accessory and received 15 years in prison.

Others involved in the kidnappings and murders pleaded guilty in the case.

Schiller, who testified in the trial against his attackers, was arrested afterward for Medicare fraud. He later pleaded guilty and was released from prison in 2001.

Renewed interest

The South Florida-filmed movie, which received $4.2 million in state tax breaks, has created renewed interest in the real-life case.

ABC News recently chronicled the story on the documentary-show Revenge For Real.

Long free from prison, Schiller has recently penned a first-person book, Pain & Gain: The Untold True Story.

Bay’s movie is based on “Pain & Gain,” a series of Miami New Times articles, by Pete Collins, published in 1999. He is soon releasing his book on the case.

“It’s sad because we’ve dealt with the families, years of prosecutions and appeals,” said retired Miami-Dade homicide Sgt. Felix Jimenez. “But at the same time, it’s Hollywood. What do you expect? I recognize it’s Hollywood and they’re entitled to poetic license. Nothing we can do about it.”