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Gatien vehemently denies he tried to have Lewis murdered. And a confidential insider who knows both men well said: "I do not believe that Gatien tried to have him killed. Steve occasionally suffers from paranoia and flights of fancy." But a colleague of Lewis's, who requested anonymity, confirms there were "indirect threats" made against Lewis by Gatien associates.
The prosecution's main witness, former party promoter and drug peddler Baby Joe Uzzardi, hired by Lewis in spring 1994, testified that in the summer of 1995 Lewis came into the Silver Bedroom a VIP section at the Tunnel where Uzzardi threw parties looking for Ecstasy pills. Informed that there were no dealers around, Lewis became angry. Uzzardi testified to then taking a more active role in insuring dealers were always present in the Silver Bedroom. He also claimed Lewis once said that "good music and good drugs is what makes a good party." He told the court that he took this to mean Lewis wanted more dealers in the club. Ron Allen, who worked closely with Lewis since 1992, first at the Tunnel then at Life, says, "I can't fathom that comment ever coming out of Steve's mouth." But the government reasoned that Lewis was guilty since, it alleges, he hired Uzzardi, was aware of the drug operation Uzzardi was running and doing nothing to prevent it, and on several occasions warned Uzzardi of undercover narcotics cops in the Tunnel.
Further damaging testimony came from Uzzardi's roommate Jason Tillotson, who asserted that, after being thrown out of the club by bouncers for dealing drugs, he was let back in the same night by Lewis. (Lewis counters he did so because Tillotson was so drugged that he was a danger to himself.) Tillotson did admit, however, that Tunnel drug peddlers would hide from Lewis when they saw him approaching.
Another drug pusher, Ann Marie Pepe, claimed under direct examination in the Lewis trial that she dealt drugs in front of Lewis in the Silver Bedroom; under cross-examination, however, she admitted she may have walked out of Lewis's line of sight to complete the deal.
Lewis's colleague Allen refutes the popular club-world notion that his mentor is taking the rap for Gatien. Instead, he believes Lewis is taking the fall for self-confessed druggies who testified for the government, most likely in return for probation or short prison terms.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Steven Lewis is innocent," says Allen, who was supposed to take the stand as a character witness for his friend until Lewis's lawyer made the decision not to mount a defense. "The notion that Steve's job was to let drug dealers into the club is so ludicrous it makes me furious," Allen insists. "In all the years I worked with Steve, I never saw him do drugs or be around drug activity."
Another clubland denizen who was shocked by the verdict is John Davies, the man behind Body & Soul, recently named best New York club by The Face magazine: "It's a tragedy. Of all the people, how could Steven Lewis be the one put in jail?"
Additional reporting by Steph Watts