In the true story that inspired Pain & Gain, Daniel Lugo and the Sun Gym gang botched multiple kidnapping plots, accidentally killed several of their extortion targets, and brutally disfigured their victims' corpses in a failed attempt to cover up their crimes.
Released in 2013, the dark comedy Pain & Gain starring Mark Wahlberg tells the story of a bodybuilder named Daniel Lugo and the criminal activities of the Sun Gym Gang.
In the film, a bumbling group of criminals, which included multiple members and employees of the Sun Gym in North Miami, Florida, cook up a plan to get rich by kidnapping and extorting the wealthy. Ultimately, the entire scheme falls apart — but not before two of their victims were killed and millions of dollars were lost.
Bizarrely, it was almost all true.
The real-life Lugo, along with other employees and members of the Sun Gym had been involved in various low-level schemes before, but in 1994, they had set their sights on something much bigger.
These men, however, were no professionals, and along the way, they left a clear trail for investigators. They would abandon multiple kidnapping attempts, fail to stage the accidental death of one victim, and accidentally kill two robbery targets before the group could access their money. But that was just the surface of the strange tale.
This is the true story of Pain & Gain, Daniel Lugo, and the Sun Gym Gang.
The Sun Gym Gang Target Their First Victim
As a manager at the Sun Gym in the mid-1990s, Daniel Lugo soon found himself as something of a ringleader for a group of employees, members, and acquaintances in the gym’s orbit. Later called the Sun Gym Gang, this group had their hand in several criminal enterprises, though none as ambitious as the crimes that would make them famous.
Still, Lugo was unsatisfied with his lot in life.
He was reportedly driven by materialistic desires and a lust for a luxurious lifestyle. Desperate to make that dream a reality, he began developing a kidnapping plot to steal his way to riches.
In this first attempt, Lugo roped in his accomplices Noel Doorbal, Carl Weekes, and Stephenson Pierre, all of whom were members of the Sun Gym.
Together, the men hatched a plan to kidnap and extort a man named Marc Schiller. Schiller was business partners with a regular at the gym, Jorge Delgado. Delgado was familiar with the layout of Schiller’s house and even had access to the security alarm code.
But despite their advantages — being a group of bodybuilders with intimate knowledge of their target — the Sun Gym Gang aborted several attempts to kidnap Schiller.
“It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic … because they made these stupid attempts,” Alex Ferrer, a retired Miami-Dade County judge, told CBS. “They would hide in his yard under blankets like they were some kind of ninja … waiting for him to come out and get the paper at five in the morning and they were gonna kidnap him … only to be surprised that cars were coming down the street and lighting them up with their headlights…”
The gang was persistent, however, and eventually, in November 1994, they succeeded. While waiting to meet with a potential buyer at a restaurant he owned, Schiller was nabbed by three men, stunned with a taser, and shoved into a nearby van.
For weeks, Schiller was beaten and tased by Daniel Lugo and other members of the gang while being held captive at Delgado’s warehouse. Threats against his family convinced him to sign over his assets, which John Mese, the owner of the Sun Gym, notarized.
“They told me, ‘Well if you don’t give us a list of everything you have … we’re gonna bring your wife down here and rape her in front of you,'” Schiller said.
Ultimately, Schiller signed over around $1.2 million in cash and assets.
The gang’s intentions turned deadly when they decided to stage a car crash, hoping to end Schiller’s life so they could steal the $2 million of life insurance he had on him, which was now in Lugo’s ex-wife’s name.
On Dec. 15, Schiller was forced to drink alcohol and then put into the driver’s seat of his own vehicle. The gang then crashed the car into a pole with Schiller inside.
After the collision, Daniel Lugo noticed that Schiller was unconscious but still alive, so he doused the vehicle and the victim in gasoline and set him on fire. However, Schiller managed to escape the burning car. So the gang ran him over a couple of times to finish the job.
Schiller lived through it all and eventually made it to a hospital.
Though Schiller survived, police were reluctant to believe the man after surviving what seemed like a drunk driving accident. He would eventually turn to private investigator Ed Du Bois, who began tracking the activities of Daniel Lugo and his gang.
Daniel Lugo And The Sun Gym Gang’s Next Victims
The Sun Gym Gang’s reign of terror didn’t end with Schiller’s escape. In the meantime, however, they made use of his house, staying there and partying in their lavish, ill-gotten digs.
Soon, however, Schiller’s money began to run out.
They set their sights on Frank Griga, a millionaire who ran a successful business for phone sex lines.
On May 25, 1995, Griga, a 33-year-old entrepreneur, and his girlfriend Krisztina Furton, 23, mysteriously vanished. The Hungarian businessman had crossed paths with the beautiful Furton, who was working as an exotic dancer, while he was out scouting for models for his promotional campaigns.
When Frank Griga’s housekeeper arrived at the home that day, she noticed the couple was nowhere to be found, but their dog was still there, which was a huge red flag.
“Krisztina and Frank would never do that. They would never leave the dog behind,” Ferrer told Oxygen.
The gang’s original plan was to kidnap Griga and hold him captive at the warehouse, just as they had with Schiller. However, Doorbal and Griga got into a fight at Doorbal’s apartment, and Griga was killed before the scheme could take place.
“Doorbal, not knowing his own steroid strength, either broke his neck or suffocated him,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Gail Levine said.
Daniel Lugo then injected Furton with a horse tranquilizer to keep her calm. Then, the gang tortured her for information about Griga’s financial codes, but after a while, Furton went silent. The tranquilizer was too much for her body, and she died of an overdose.
“Doorbal goes and speaks to her and he comes back and says, his exact words were, ‘The bitch is cold.’ They had injected her with enough horse tranquilizer to kill four 1,000-pound horses. And now they’re both dead — Frank Griga and Krisztina Furton,” Ferrer said. “And these two guys don’t have a dime.”
Daniel Lugo’s Bungling Coverup
Daniel Lugo and Adrian Doorbal shoved Griga’s body into a couch they had stolen from Schiller’s home. Furton was packed into a cardboard box, and both victims were taken to Lugo’s warehouse.
Lugo and his accomplices were determined to make the bodies unidentifiable. They purchased a chainsaw to dismember them, but it proved too weak — so they returned it and bought a new one. This new chainsaw wouldn’t pan out either, however, as it quickly became jammed after getting caught in Furton’s hair.
They resorted to hacking the bodies apart with an ax.
The group also cut the skin off their victims’ faces and grilled their hands to destroy their fingerprints. They stuffed the remains into drums and dumped them in the Florida marsh.
It wasn’t long for the crime to catch the attention of the local police — and for the authorities to connect it to Schiller’s account, thanks in part to Du Bois’ investigation.
Police executed search warrants for Lugo, Delgado, Doorbal, and Mese.
Daniel Lugo was apprehended in the Bahamas, where he had escaped, and was brought back to the United States to face the consequences of his actions.
The mastermind finally admitted to his crimes and made a deal with the police. He would reveal where he had dumped the victims’ bodies, and, in exchange, his cooperation would be considered in trial.
Lugo took officers to a murky canal in southwest Miami, where Griga and Furton’s dismembered torsos were sealed within metal drums filled with tar and acid. Their heads, hands, and feet were missing.
Lugo refused to tell law enforcement where the remaining body parts were hidden. Eventually, an anonymous call came into dispatch claiming that the victims’ hands, feet, and heads had been covered in acid, sealed inside buckets, and taken to Alligator Alley, an interstate that runs through the Everglades.
The coroner had to make an identification of Furton using the serial number in her breast implants.
Daniel Lugo’s Death Sentence And Inspiring Pain & Gain
Overall, Daniel Lugo’s role within the Sun Gym Gang was that of a calculating and manipulative leader who used his charm and persuasive skills to involve others in his crime. On Oct. 2, 1996, Lugo pleaded guilty to 46 counts and was sentenced to death.
Doorbal was also convicted for his role in the crimes and was sentenced to death until his sentence was overturned in 2017.
“‘May God have mercy on your soul,'” Ferrer recalled telling Lugo and Doorbal.
Other members of the gang, including Weekes and Pierre, also faced imprisonment for taking part in the extortion and deaths of Griga and Furton. In total, seven members of the gang would go to prison.
Released in 2013 and directed by Michael Bay, the movie Pain & Gain is a darkly comedic crime film based on the true story of Lugo and the Sun Gym gang. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Anthony Mackie as a group of bodybuilders who become involved in a bizarre and twisted criminal scheme in Miami.
“Unfortunately,” a narrator tells the audience in the film’s opening moments, “this is a true story.”