Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mob rat Chris Paciello chooses Miami club lifestyle over witness protection program

Chris Paciello has been romantically linked to Madonna (next page) and the actress Sofia Vergara (above).
In 2006, as he neared the final weeks of a six-year stretch for murder and bank robbery, Chris Paciello faced something worse than prison: witness protection.
He had ratted out the upper echelon of the Colombo and Bonanno crime families, so the former nightclub king of Miami was in no position to be walking around under his own name, the threat of a track-suit hit team lurking at every turn.
A deal would mean a new identity and instant cash — as much as $20,000 — to get a car, a job and a place to live, plus $3,000 a month for bills. True, he’d be forced to sell insurance or peddle machine parts in a rural town like Eau Claire or Des Moines. But at least he’d be alive.
For Paciello, a chiseled, swaggering figure who had dated the likes of Madonna, J.Lo, Daisy Fuentes and Sofia Vergara, that was no option. Death was better than Wisconsin.
So this year, Paciello opened a club in Miami, thumbing his nose at the relatives of his victim and taunting the godfathers he helped put away.
You want revenge? I’m right here.
It was 1993, and a 20-year-old Paciello had lined up an easy score.
He and his pal Jimmy Calandra, a member of a gritty team of Brooklyn bank robbers known as the Bath Avenue Crew, were eyeing as much as $1 million in cash.
That’s how much Paciello believed was stashed in the basement safe of Staten Island businessman Sami Shemtov, who lived in a Richmond Valley mansion.
So there they sat parked in a Mercury sedan on a freezing night in February, Chris at the wheel, Jimmy next to him. In back were two other Bath boys: Tommy Reynolds, carrying a .45 automatic, and Michael Yammine, a big kid who could be useful in smashing the safe.
“The idea is the guy answers the door and we take over,” Calandra told The Post. “No one else is supposed to be there.”
As usual, Paciello, son of a bouncer and arm-wrestling champ named George Ludwigsen, would wait outside as the crew grabbed the cash.
“Every score I did with Chris, he sat in the car,” Calandra recalled.
Paciello, a budding gangster nicknamed “The Binger” for bingeing on crime, had pulled a number of bank jobs with Calandra, including one at a Chemical bank at the Staten Island Mall that yielded $300,000.
Calandra’s gang also stole cars, sold pot and coke, robbed drug dealers and peddled high-caliber weapons. They operated under Bonanno acting boss Anthony Spero and were “causing all kinds of problems,” said former NYPD Detective Tommy Dades, part of joint team with the DEA that ultimately busted Paciello.
“People were getting shot left and right over stuff that Jimmy’s crew was doing,” Dades says. “They were notorious — and feared by everybody. They were Spero’s righthand guys.”
Once, after his friend was shot, the Binger asked Calandra for a gun with a silencer.
“I brought it over to him in the hospital where he was with his friend, and he gave me $500,” Calandra said. He never learned what resulted.
Shemtov, an Israeli immigrant, had amassed a small fortune from 99-cent stores, porn shops and an electrical-supply company. He had been divorced but remarried a blond beauty, Judy, 46, and the couple lived in a leafy cul de sac with kids from their prior marriages.
Calandra knocked on the door, and, to his surprise, the wife answered.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
He began to reply . . . and bang!
“I was about to say, ‘We had a disturbance at this address,’ but before I can say anything, I see this woman flying across the room. Tommy Reynolds shot her accidentally. A freak accident. His gun just went off. Hit her right in the head.”
They sprinted back to the car.
“Never even got in the house,” Calandra said. “Chris was frantic.”
As Paciello sped off, fuming, he demanded to know what went wrong. “Tommy said, ‘I don’t know — it just happened.’ ” Later, he mumbled, “I’m going to hell for this.”
The next day, Calandra and another Bonanno associate, Paulie Gulino, drove together to discuss how to deal with the crime. Paciello showed up at the Victory Inn with Lee D’Avanzo, leader of the New Springfield Boys, a Staten Island youth crew with whom he also did crimes.
“Paulie said, ‘Let’s kill ’em both now — two mouths shut,’ ” Calandra recalled.
“I said, ‘No. I’m just going to talk to them.’ We agreed. We said, ‘This is never to be spoken about again.’ ”
But for years, Calandra was tormented by Judy Shemtov’s death. “I went there to rob a safe. I didn’t go there to kill a woman.”
Paciello kept bingeing. According to court documents and recently released FBI files, Paciello was on a fast track to becoming a Mafia honcho.
He ripped off a rental truckload with one ton of pot. There was a kidnapping in 1994 of a Staten Island businessman, and a murder plot in 1997 in which Paciello and Colombo boss Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico schemed to kill a gangster.
He participated in some 30 bank heists in four states.
But the big score was a robbery of the Westminster Bank in Bensonhurst. It netted $1 million — plenty of seed capital for Paciello’s first legit business, a South Beach nightclub known as Risk.
Paciello met Michael Caruso, a New York club promoter and drug dealer who grew up on Staten Island, and the two became partners.
They took over a dive bar owned by Mickey Rourke and run by a Gambino associate, turning it into a Miami version of the Palladium. Risk was a hit.
There was no stopping Paciello, even when his club, invaded by goons, began to fade. One night, it mysteriously burned to the ground. The Binger ditched Caruso and partnered with Ingrid Casares, Madonna’s former lover, on a new venture, using $250,000 in insurance money from the fire to launch Liquid.
Before long, he was the hottest property in South Beach.
Back in Brooklyn, Calandra’s crew was turning on one another.
Gulino crossed Spero, who ordered him whacked. The job went to Paulie’s pals Reynolds and Joey Calco, another Bath Avenue boy. They shot Gulino in the back of the head in his parents’ kitchen, then inherited his $5,000 a week in drug-dealing profits.
Three months after the murder in Staten Island, Calandra got pinched for a bank job. He would do five years. When he got out in 1998, he left his association with the Bonanno family and joined the Lucchese clan.
“Thank God I got away from my friends,” he said. “They took down the whole neighborhood.”
But he couldn’t escape Yammine, the safe basher, who got arrested and turned informant, fingering Calandra and Reynolds for Shemtov’s death. He would have nailed Paciello, too, but never knew his last name.
Calandra, facing life, figured the only way out was to cooperate.
“I flipped and gave up Chris.”
The feds collared Paciello, charging him with murder and other crimes in December 1999 — just as he was preparing to celebrate the opening of a Liquid nightclub in West Palm Beach.
What they didn’t know then was Paciello had secretly put himself in a central position with the mob. Three years earlier, he had flown to New York for a Mafia summit in which the Gambinos, who helped him get his start in Florida, and the Colombos hashed out which family would claim him.
Colombo boss Persico prevailed, and Paciello paid up. Paciello fed that information and more material that helped the FBI nail Persico and Joseph Massino, boss of the Bonannos.
After his arrest, Paciello helped put away 70 top mobsters, according to his lawyer, Ben Brafman, who called Paciello’s level of cooperation “unprecedented.”
The actress Sofia Vergara helped put up his $15 million bail during the trial. Paciello, who was sentenced to six years, blew her kisses in the courtroom.
Despite all the enemies he made, Paciello began doing the math. Was the mob really powerful enough to come after him? Was killing him worth it? And, most importantly, could he live outside the limelight?
“You can’t have no contact with family, and they control who you call, Dades says of witness relocation. “Chris would have been thrown out in a second if he’d been spotted in a nightclub in Miami.”
Paciello still had money hidden away and saw that few of his fellow rats were scared of the five families anymore.
“There’s a lot of people who go into it but leave,” Dades says.
“He’s saying to himself, ‘You know what? I have tons of money. And I ain’t afraid of nobody,’ ” Calandra says. “Today, it’s me, me, me. It’s a different age, a different era.”
After his release, Paciello split for LA, where he sunk money into a high-end pizzeria chain, Cristoni’s, squabbled with his partner as the business failed and got into a string of scrapes, including a knife fight. But just as ever, celebs clung to him, including his old buddy Rourke and “Entourage” star Kevin Connolly.
“He felt the waters out in California for a while,” Dades says. “It shows the arrogance of him. He sees himself as this tough guy. He didn’t think anything was going to happen to him.”
March marked his official return to Miami, where he hosted the grand opening of a swanky Italian restaurant, Bianca, at the oceanfront Delano hotel.
Ingrid Casares showed up for that event, as did Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez and former home-run champ Sammy Sosa. Paciello, 40, is also running a nightclub, FDR, where he holds court in as loud a fashion as ever, at one point wearing a T-shirt that boasted, “The King is Back!”
His only nod to possible danger — two bodyguards.
“Kid’s making big money — it’s like $1,000 just to sit at a table,” says Calandra, who patched things up with his former friend.
Hollywood is calling, as well.
The Paciello story, which inspired an A&E movie in 2007 starring Donnie Wahlberg, could be headed to the big screen. New Line Cinema recently bought the rights to a biopic.
“His life didn’t change,” Dades says. “He always had to look over his shoulder before this — and he still is.”
Sami Shemtov, now 69, lives a few miles north in a beachfront condo in Miami. He would not comment on Paciello’s return.
“I never liked Chris. He’s an arrogant son of a bitch,” Dades says. “I tell you, someone does that to my wife, I’d let time go by, dress in black and take an ice pick to him.”


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