By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In the wake of the conviction of former Peter Gatien aide Steven Lewis on drug charges two weeks ago, speculation persists that Gatien continues to be the target of federal and/or state prosecutors. Will convicted felon Lewis a downtown fixture for 20 years now cooperate with authorities against his erstwhile boss, in an attempt to end what Lewis calls the Canadian club owner's "reign of terror"?
While Lewis would neither confirm nor deny the rumors, one confidential source conjectures that assuming it's not too late Lewis may be trying to cut a deal with authorities in return for a reduced sentence, bartering information he might have about Gatien allegedly cheating on federal taxes. Gatien has already pleaded guilty to state tax charges and will serve a 90-day sentence beginning this September. Forty-six-year-old Lewis found guilty of conspiracy to distribute narcotics, as well as aiding and abetting drug dealers at Gatien's discos faces up to 20 years in a federal lockup, a long stretch for someone used to rubbing elbows with celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio and Prince at the Bleecker Street nightspot Life, where he worked until recently.
There has been talk in the club world about why Lewis known as "Dr. Lewis" for his ability to turn around ailing clubs didn't take a cooperation agreement offered by the government at the beginning of the case and testify against his former boss. If he had, he would have been the federal government's star witness at last year's Gatien trial, where the club owner was found not guilty. "If someone had asked me the right questions back then, I probably would have cooperated," said Lewis after his verdict. Questions might have included the following:
Gatien addressed these issues in a statement released to the Voice Monday: "While I feel sorry for Steve Lewis and I am saddened by . . . his conviction, I recognize how desperate he must be, and how eager he obviously is to try and help himself out of his legal difficulties, even if it means that he has to peddle information which he knows to be totally false . . . These are old allegations that Lewis has made before; nobody believed him then, and nobody in their right mind will believe them now."
Lewis who has toiled for every major club owner in recent memory, including Steve Rubell, Rudolf, and Frank Roccio is immediately recognizable to Manhattan nightcrawlers as the bug-eyed, tuxedo-clad hardass who ruled with an iron fist the velvet ropes at such world-famous clubs as Danceteria and the Palladium. The federal jury convicting Lewis bought the government's argument that, while working the front door at the Tunnel, Lewis allowed dealers access to the club, thus making him a key part of the narcotics cabal at Gatien's hot spots.
"Somebody had to be the scapegoat," said Lewis. "The jury basically concluded there were too many drugs in the clubs and I didn't do enough about it. I think they were good people who listened to all the testimony intently and saw me as a person who was in a position to stop the drugs. Society as a whole is sick of hearing about drugs, drugs, drugs in nightclubs, and it's lashing out."
Lewis was hurt badly by negative publicity surrounding the recent closing of the Tunnel, even though he hadn't worked there for four years. Though he says he has evidence that would have exonerated him had it been presented in court, he isn't bitter: "I just felt it was very difficult to present my position in the current climate." During the trial, Mayor Giuliani appeared on TV branding the Tunnel "an abomination."
Lewis who got his start in the nightclub business when he threw a late '70s birthday bash for Dee Dee Ramone at Max's Kansas City reserves his real animosity for Gatien, who he calls "one of the most evil men I've ever met." According to court documents, when the DEA first contacted him via phone in 1996 and told him there was a warrant out for his arrest, Lewis expressed fears that this was "a setup" by Gatien "to have me killed."
After he left Gatien's employ, Lewis had tried to contact the Manhattan D.A. in an effort to assist the office in its investigation of Gatien, but the potential deal fell through once Lewis was arrested by the Drug Enforcement Agency. He had quit the Tunnel when world-renowned DJ Junior Vasquez moved over from Twilo in 1995. Testimony at the trial suggested Lewis was forced out because Vasquez disliked him personally. A confidential source contends the real reason for his departure was that Lewis objected to the vicious Latin King drug dealers who came from Twilo; previously, Lewis had suffered several "beat-downs" from other drug dealers he refused to let in.