By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Born in a working-class Queens neighborhood, Mike Pescatore, a first-generation American, went to well-regarded St. Francis Prep and was first in his family to graduate from college, earning a business degree from C.W. Post. His father works as an electrician, but Petro says Pasquale Pescatore also once ran an automobile salvage company in Jamaica in the 1980s with Edmonston as a partner, which was probably how Michael got involved in the car business. (The father did not return calls left at his job and, through his lawyer, Pescatore declined to comment.)
In fact, Pescatore had never been arrested until the chop-shop case, and by then he was nearly 40.
Petro says he found the chop-shop king "arrogant" in person and uncovered examples of the kind of cruelty and venality associated with mobsters. If a competitor outbid him at an auction, Pescatore was known to pry the VIN tag off the dashboard, reducing the car's value considerably. Once, according to Petro, Pescatore was overseeing the redecoration of a store he owned when someone walked in and asked what happened to the man who ran the store. Lying, Pescatore said, "Didn't you hear? The man has cancer." Then Pescatore asked the man if he'd like to make a donation to a fund set up for the supposedly stricken man. After the visitor contributed $100 and left, a smiling Pescatore turned to his workers and boasted that he just made lunch money.
It's not known whether they laughed or frowned. But Pescatore's workers in the chop-shop ring complained that he didn't pay or treat them particularly well, says Petro, and nearly every one of them cooperated in the investigation against him.
Pescatore's former girlfriend disputes that portrayal, saying he is even-tempered and reserved almost to the point of being shy.
"He wasn't a big mouth," she says. "He wasn't a show-off at all. He was a very low-key kind of guy."
The ex, who described herself in an e-mail as a five-foot-eight "Iraqi beauty" and an "international makeup artist turned NYC power broker" (she's in real estate), takes credit for transforming Pescatore, when she met him in 1991, from "tacky" to "an 'It' guy." She described him as six feet tall, handsome, with wavy dark hair, and a cross in looks between Sylvester Stallone and comedian Paul Reiser. He'd wear Banana Republic during the day and Armani for a night out on the town.
Pescatore collected and raced cars, taking his vintage Ferraris down to the Cavallino Classic in Palm Beach or upstate to the Watkins Glen raceway or over to the Lime Rock track in Connecticut. He also loved to ski. Above all, she says, she knew him as a "great family man, very, very loyal and loving of his family." He has a 14-year-old daughter from a first marriage and two children, five and three, with his current girlfriend.
The ex insists she's no longer bitter about their split, which ended badly in 2000. But she wants it known that a week after breaking up with Pescatore, she met "a fabulously gorgeous Latin heartthrob" who is an actor and one of the top fitness trainers in the city. "For all the ladies out there who think that a multi-millionaire who can't see past his own reflection is the way to go, think again," she says. "I wouldn't pass up my man for three of those mansions!"
No reflection on Pescatore, but the Upper Brookville of years past, the old-money era when the village boasted a country club for its butlers, wouldn't have even let him visit. By the time he was looking for a spot to build, however, new-money couples like has-been actress Pia Zadora and her then husband Meshulam Riklis had already softened up the snooty town. They bought the mammoth Iselin Estate property, played with it for a few years, and then sold it and its 110 acres to a developer who cut it up into 16 lots, creating Chestnut Hill Estates in 1989. In September 1996, Michael Pescatore paid $500,000 for one of the more desirable lots, abutting Planting Fields Arboretum.
For many in the village, the house Pescatore built over the next three years was the worst of the worst of the village's new super-sized Mc Mansions. "It just looks huge," says one village official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I call it the Miami Beach Hotel."
Actually, according to IRS Special Agent John Ricupero, the house was supposedly modeled after a famous Palm Beach mansion. It wound up with such extras as dual wrap-around staircases, an elevator, fireplaces everywhere, two family rooms, an indoor pool with sliding roof, a kitchen with three dishwashers and another in a pantry just in case, two attached four-car garages, and a gazebo called the "Temple of Love." And, oh yes, the estate is surrounded by an eight-foot-high wrought-iron fence.