EXCLUSIVE: Alex Ferrer is a retired judge and lawyer from Florida who began cutting his chops as a cop at age 19, well before he was legally able to purchase his own firearm. (He had to have his mother do it for him.)
At one point in his career, Ferrer oversaw the 1998 trial of the Sun Gym Gang, a group who spent their days pumping iron and their nights carrying out gruesome and grisly tortures and murders — all for capital gain.
The case is now being re-visited for Oxygen’s upcoming two-night special, “Florida Man Murders.”
“As you know, Florida just attracts the strangest people for some reason. So over the years, I spent nine out of my 10 years as a circuit court judge on the criminal court bench in Miami,” Ferrer told Fox News.
“I presided over many, many bizarre cases and many homicides. And this case that is being depicted on Oxygen in ‘Florida Man Murders’ on Jan. 9 is by far the strangest and most impactful case on everybody that I’ve ever been involved with. It was bizarre from the beginning.”
Ferrer is recognized for his long-running reality television series “Judge Alex,” which premiered in September 2005 and ran until May 2014.
But before the Cuban-American became a familiar face on TV, he was on the bench listening to months of testimony in the murder trials of Daniel Lugo, Adrian Doorbal and John Carl Mese — three friends from the Sun Gym in Miami.
WARNING: GRAPHIC DETAILS BELOW
They were convicted of torturing and killing Frank Griga, a 33-year-old Hungarian immigrant and businessman who built his fortune by operating a 1-900 phone sex empire, and Griga’s girlfriend Krisztina Furton, a 23-year-old exotic dancer at Solid Gold in Miami.
Furton’s torso remains were identified only by the serial numbers on her breast implants. It was the first time in Florida’s history a body was identified in this manner.
However, the story of the ragtag Sun Gym Gang — which inspired the 2013 Michael Bay film “Pain & Gain” that starred Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris and Rebel Wilson — doesn’t start with the murders and dismemberment of Griga and Furton in 1995.
“I happened to have handled the case from the very beginning to the very end – which is very unusual because before a case ever gets started, the police officers are coming in for search warrants before anybody is arrested,” Ferrer recalled of the events that unfolded from the historical case. “And it just so happened, I was the emergency duty judge and I was signing all the search warrants that particular week because for two weeks a year, you’re assigned as an emergency duty judge and I was in that week.”
Ferrer said he knew from the jump that the case involving the Sun Gym cohort — in which another member, Jorge Delgado, would eventually flip on 32-year-old Lugo and 24-year-old Doorbal, allegedly fearing for his safety — would one day become a Hollywood production.
“I was signing all the search warrants on this case and then the case gets blind-filed to any of the 20-some odd judges or so and it landed in my division,” Ferrer continued. “So I handled it from the very, very beginning until the sentencing. And right from the go, I knew this case was going to be a movie or a book because it had everything. This case had violence, insanity in some respects, sex, dark humor. It was just bizarre right from the beginning.”
Griga and Furton weren’t even the Sun Gym Gang’s first victims. That dubious honor went to Marcelo Schiller, the owner of a Schlotsky’s Deli franchise who Delgado introduced to Lugo.
According to prosecutors, Delgado was privy to Schiller’s offshore bank accounts and portfolio of numerous exuberant homes. Prosecutors said Delgado was able to get Mese, who at the time was the 56-year-old owner of Sun Gym, onboard in a coup to kidnap Schiller and get him to sign over his life’s possessions through several methods of torture.
The group succeeded in their attempt to relieve Schiller of his riches but through a “comedy of errors,” Schiller managed to escape. Then weeks later, Schiller brought his ordeal to the attention of the police which led to the start of the downfall of the gang who didn’t think Schiller would go to the cops seeing as Schiller had been running a Medicare billing scheme and feared prosecution.
Despite Schiller’s testimony in the Griga and Furton murder trials — which lasted over four months and became the longest in Florida history — according to Ferrer, Schiller would later be arrested by federal agents on fraud charges outside the courtroom mere seconds after providing his damning witness testament against his captors.
“If you know the story, these are guys in the gym who are approached by a friend from the gym who feels he’s been ripped off in a business deal and says, ‘Hey, I got taken by this guy in a business deal.’ And they go, ‘If this guy [Schiller] is involved in some illegal activity, we’ll shake him down and get your $ 100,000 back.’ And it just spirals from there,” Ferrer explained.
“It’s a comedy of errors – their attempts to kidnap him because they were going to take Schiller to a warehouse, terrorize him and get him to sign over this money and they felt he wouldn’t go to the cops,” Ferrer continued, noting that he disagreed with the victims’ portrayals in the movie. “Their attempts to kidnap him are like the Keystone Cops are trying to kidnap this guy. That’s why I said it’s a dark comedy.”
“The subject is so dark and people die so you don’t want to laugh. But literally, there were times during the trial when the lawyers would come sidebar and I leaned over and look at them and say, ‘You got to be f–king kidding me’ and the lawyers would even laugh and go, ‘I don’t know what to tell you, Judge,’ because of the crazy things that were happening in this trial.”
In their multiple botched attempts to kidnap Schiller, the gang missed on various occasions, Ferrer detailed to Fox News.
“They dressed like ninjas. They all dressed in black and had face makeup and they had headsets like they were some kind of SWAT team so they could communicate with a guy in the van so that when they grabbed him, he could pull up and they could throw him in the car,” he recalled of the details divulged in court.
“And then they realized that every time a car comes on the street, the headlights were lighting them up and they start running through people’s backyards yelling into the headset, ‘Abort, abort!’ like they’re a SEAL team, you know,” Ferrer pressed through laughter.
“And another time, they were going to ram their car into Schiller in order to get him to stop and pretend like it was an accident. They were going to crash into his car because they knew where he drove. So they were waiting there and when he got out of the car, they were going to then throw him in a van and drive him to the warehouse and somebody would take his car there.
“Well, they’re sitting there and the car, and as [Schiller] is driving by they had the car turned off and they go to turn it on and it won’t start and he just drives right by them and these guys are punching the steering wheel and screaming.”
The judge reiterated his sentiment that the actions by the Sun Gym Gang in their attempts to abduct Schiller were “just a comedy of errors by a couple of meatheads and their friends who almost got away with it.”
“They almost literally got away with murder and then it just spirals out of control,” said Ferrer. “I mean, they take the guy for everything he has. They torture him, burning him with lighters, pistol-whipping him, shoving gun barrels in his mouth – just everything you can imagine. He was treated worse than a World War II prisoner.”
“And then eventually, against all odds, this guy escapes,” added Ferrer. “They tried to kill him. They fail at killing him. They try to run him over. That doesn’t kill him – and he gets away. And they start looking for their next victims.”
They found their next victims in 1995 when they came across a photograph of Griga’s yellow Lamborghini.
The Sun Gym Gang would fumble their attempt at extorting Griga when he ended up dying before they could extract the security codes from him.
They then turned their attention to Furton. However, according to prosecutors, Furton had been pumped so full of tranquilizers that her chest muscles paralyzed her lungs and she would die of an overdose.
The gang would be further mired by other mishaps in their attempts to dispose of the bodies of the couple – even returning a bloody chain saw to Home Depot after its motor burned when the group forgot to add motor oil for its operation and Doorbal tried to saw Furton’s head off.
“That chain saw got jammed in Krisztina’s hair,” lead prosecutor Gail Levine told the jury in the trial, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “So they used the next tool of trade: the axe. Whap! Whap! Whap!”
Other mishaps also included attempting to grill the body parts of Griga and Furton.
In the end, the Sun Gym Gang stuffed the torsos of Grida and Furton into 55-gallon drums and attempted to burn them. Other remnants were thrown into buckets and tossed into a drainage ditch in South Miami-Dade County and off Interstate 75 in Broward County.
For their roles in the grisly murders, Lugo and Doorbal were both convicted and each were handed two death sentences, and Mese was sentenced to 56 years in prison. He died in 2004 of a stroke.
Meanwhile, Delgado pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 13 years in prison. He was released in November 2002. As for Schiller, he ended up serving two years in federal prison for medical billing fraud.
Following the release of “Pain & Gain,” Schiller sued Paramount Pictures in 2014 for his depiction as corrupt, “unlikeable, sleazy.”
“They chose to portray me as a bad person and my assailants as nice guys who were just bumbling fools,’’ Schiller told the New York Post at the time.
Paramount paid out a confidential sum to Schiller and the matter was settled in 2016, the Hollywood Reporter said at the time.
The family of Griga also took umbrage with the film’s depiction of the convicted killers and told the Miami Herald in 2013 that portraying the gang as a crew of misfits looking to get ahead is “ridiculous.”
“It’s horrible what happened to them,” Griga’s sister, Zsuzsanna, said at the time. “I don’t want the American public to be sympathetic to the killers.”
Griga did not immediately respond to Fox News’ request for comment on the upcoming special, while Schiller and survivors of Furton could not be reached.
“Florida Man Murders” premieres with a two-night special on Jan. 9 and begins with the “Musclehead Murders” at 7 p.m. ET on Oxygen.