By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
By Alison Flowers
By Albert Samaha
By Jesse Jarnow
By Eric Tsetsi
By Raillan Brooks
Sunday's Catholic mass at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn has a new member of the flockindicted Miami club owner and suspected mobster Chris Paciello. Paciello hasn't discovered God behind bars like so many prisoners before him, says a source inside the jail, but uses the holy ceremony as cover to hold meetings with fellow members of the Bath Avenue crew, the bunch of Bensonhurst hoodlums with whom the tough guy with the movie-star looks is charged with murder, robbery, and racketeering. Maybe they're swapping pasta recipes. But a more likely scenario is that they're discussing how to defend themselves at their upcoming trial.
In his short stay at MDC, Paciello has become quite the celebrity because of all the media attention. "He's cock of the walk around here," says the source, who describes the charismatic club king as strutting around with a fixed smile on his face, glad-handing fellow inmates. Paciello had better get used to life in a correctional facility because the bail deal that the government agreed to is close to collapsing.
Paciellowho once reportedly boasted to a police officer, "You make $50,000 a year, I make $50,000 a week"is unable to come up with the $5 million in money and property needed to secure his $15 million bond. In response, the government obtained an order of detention that might keep Paciello in jail until his September trial.
The January 7 bail agreement started to fall apart after several of the suretorsamong them televison host Sofía Vergara and restaurant owner Shareef Malnickeither backed out at the last minute or posted property with little equity value. Contrary to reports in the New York Post and the Daily News, however, Ingrid Casares is still supporting her business partner, but can only come up with $50,000 in cash, not the $100,000 she initially promised, and is putting up not two, but only one of the Miami condos she co-owns with her millionaire father. In all, the government estimates that Paciello has managed to marshal only a quarter of the equity he needs to get out. Paciello is said to feel hurt and angry that some of his glamorous friends have abandoned him.
At a sometimes rancorous hearing last Friday in Brooklyn Federal Court, Paciello's lawyer Roy Black tried to get the government to reduce the terms of the extremely harsh bail and allow other friends of Paciello to replace the missing suretors. For unspecified reasons, the government objected strongly to Chris's brother, George, who works at Paciello's clubs, using his house as collateral. Also, Paciello can't use the original Liquid in Miami Beach as collateral either because the co-owner of this club would not sign the bond. The government suspects that the trendy venue was a front to launder mob money. Prosecutors also say that two former employees, who were recently interviewed by investigators, stated that Paciello was skimming hundreds of thousands of dollars from Liquid's profits. Another hearing to discuss Paciello's bail hearing is scheduled for February 21.
Meanwhile, Paciello's nightlife empire is in disarray. The office of C.P. Venturesthe parent company that runs the clubsis closed and many of Paciello's key employees have been laid off, or are looking for work elsewhere. Promoters are not being paid and there are rumors that furniture from Liquid is being sold to finance Paciello's bail. In addition, another one of his clubs, Bar Room, is up for sale. Last week, Ingrid Casares turned down a $1.1 million bid for the club, judging it too low. She wants as much as $2 million. "Liquid is empty, Bar Room is half empty," says a prominent Miami nightlife insider. "Without Chris to run things, his businesses are falling apart."
More bad news for Paciello is the ongoing grand jury proceedings, which suggest that prosecutors are looking to charge him with additional crimes. Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it's impossible to verify, but one source says that Ingrid Casares appeared. (Casares's lawyer Bruce Maffeo refused to confirm or deny that his client appeared before the jury.) Fashion model Niki Taylor was threatened with a subpoena, but instead of appearing, she is now cooperating with the government. Prosecutors suspect she was used as an unwitting mule to carry bribe money from Florida to New York to pay off people who were threatening witnesses in the Paciello case. Also, the Florida State Attorney's office intends to charge Paciello with bribery because he allegedly attempted to pay off a police officer in the summer of 1999.
In a related development, a former police informer told the Voice that Paciello paid him $3000 not to rat out Liquid to law enforcement. The source says he was given the money by an employee at a Howard Johnson's in Miami Beach. The snitch was helping to infiltrate the party scene in South Beach, looking for evidence of drug dealing at local clubs. In January 1996, authorities raided and padlocked Paragon, Twist, Groove Jet, and Glam Slam, all prominent local hot spots. Noticeably absent from the list was Liquid. (Liquid was raided three years later, but it was a mock invasion designed to establish the credibility of an undercover cop who had infiltrated Paciello's inner circle and who had warned Paciello of the upcoming police action.) "Why do you think Liquid wasn't raided?" says the source. "Because Chris was not only paying me off, he was paying off the local cops."
Finally, three years after the Voice first revealed the persistent rumors that Paciello's first South Beach club, Risk, was deliberately torched in April 1995 for the insurance money, federal prosecutors now claim that a witness has come forward who pins the blame for the fire on the club owner. Asked in 1998 about the charge, Paciello told the Voice: "Utter nonsense. The fire marshal investigated the incident thoroughly and found it to be an accidental smoke fire."
Either way, Paciello's troubles continue to mushroom.