News & Politics

Thug Life

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With her exotic looks, privileged pedigree, and stable of famous
”galpals” like Madonna and k.d. lang, Ingrid Casares is the most
recognizable face behind a controversial effort to open a large club on
a Flatiron district street already overrun with bars and nightspots.

And while area residents, politicians, and Community Board 5 are
convinced that Casares’s proposed venture–the Gotham branch of Miami
Beach’s popular Liquid nightclub–would cause more havoc in the
neighborhood, they have something else with which to be concerned, the
Voice has learned.

Lurking behind Casares is her Miami Beach partner, a mob-connected
thug with a lengthy rap sheet and a history of violence. In fact, Chris
Paciello, Casares’s associate, is a singular quality-of-life nightmare,
the kind of pumped-up wild man that community groups fight to keep from
their streets.

Court records, law enforcement sources, and testimony from the recent
trial of club czar Peter Gatien paint a scary portrait of the
Brooklyn-born Paciello. In fact, for the past few years, the 26-year-old
has used an alias–his real name is the less wiseguy-sounding Christian
Ludwigsen–in an apparent bid to cloak his seedy record, highlights of
which include:

After a 1995 business dispute, according to court testimony at the
Gatien trial, Ludwigsen beat up his partner and pointed a gun in the
man’s face, threatening to kill him.

Ludwigsen financed a friend’s purchase of $10,000 worth of Ecstasy,
the illegal drug of choice for many clubgoers.

Ludwigsen met privately with a pair of Gambino crime family members,
including powerful captain John ”Jackie Nose” D’Amico, at the Miami
Beach predecessor to Liquid, a nightclub called Risk. Investigators
believe that the wiseguys secretly owned a piece of the nightspot, and
FBI agents are currently probing Mafia involvement in the Ludwigsen
operation. The club eventually burned down in what Florida investigators
believe, but could not prove, was an arson fire; Ludwigsen used his
$250,000 insurance settlement to open Liquid.

On behalf of an associate, Ludwigsen arranged for two Colombo crime
family figures, with whom he is affiliated, to intercede on the
associate’s behalf and help smooth over a problem.

During a brawl outside a Manhattan club, Ludwigsen used an ax handle
to split open the head of one man. In another New York club fight, a
Ludwigsen opponent was somehow stabbed with a fork, though no charges
were filed in either case. And in a South Beach incident last year,
Ludwigsen bashed a plank over the head of one unfortunate rival,
according to a federal investigator.

In testimony at the Gatien trial, government witness Michael Caruso
recounted a conversation he once had with Ludwigsen, his ex-partner in
Risk. At the time, Ludwigsen wanted Caruso, a well-known party promoter,
to run Risk with him since, as Caruso recalled Ludwigsen explained,
”I’m a goon. I’m not a high-fashion pretty boy.”

Ludwigsen’s criminal record confirms this telling appraisal. He has
been arrested three times for felony assault in New York, and his rap
sheet also includes busts for criminal mischief, disorderly conduct, car
theft, grand larceny, and drunk driving. In most cases, charges against
Ludwigsen were eventually reduced and he escaped prison sentences.
Ludwigsen did not return several messages left for him at Liquid, while
his spokesperson Lizzie Grubman declined to answer any Voice questions.

Seeking to duplicate the raging success of their Miami Beach
business, Casares, 33, and Ludwigsen have spent more than a year looking
for a Manhattan site to house Liquid’s New York outpost. After false
starts at two West Side locations, the pair settled on a
20,000-square-foot space at 16 West 22nd Street, now home to the Les
Poulets club.

But landlord David Yagoda, acknowledging community concerns, has
balked at agreeing to allow Liquid to assume the Les Poulets lease. The
issue of the lease assignment is the subject of ongoing hearings at the
State Liquor Authority (SLA) as well as negotiations between the
landlord and Liquid’s lawyers.

In an SLA filing, Liquid listed its sole shareholder as Raul Casares,
Ingrid’s wealthy father. Ludwigsen’s name does not appear on the
document, though he has attended negotiating sessions with Yagoda,
according to Andrew Miltenberg, the landlord’s lawyer.

Florida records show that Ludwigsen is the sole owner of Liquid in
Miami Beach, though Ingrid Casares is always described in media reports
as his ”partner” or ”co-owner” of both the Florida and New York
ventures. The duo are also reportedly partners in an Italian restaurant
that opened last year in South Beach called Joia.

Investigators told the Voice that they believe that Ludwigsen served
as an investment front for organized crime figures involved with Risk
and may be doing the same with Liquid. Along with the two Gambino
members he met with in Miami Beach, investigators said that Ludwigsen is
principally connected to Colombo associates Enrico Locascio, 27, and
Dominick Dionisio, 28, junior members of the crime crew headed by
captain William ”Wild Bill” Cutolo. According to an FBI report, the
six-foot-six-inch Dionisio was a member of a Cutolo-led hit team that
roamed Brooklyn’s streets during the Colombo family shooting war of the
early ’90s.

When he opened Risk in 1995, Ludwigsen told Florida licensing
officials that the bulk of his $141,000 investment came in the form of a
$125,000 loan from a Staten Island gym owner named Robert Currie. But in
a Voice interview last Friday, Currie vehemently denied lending the
money to Ludwigsen, whom he described as a friend who once worked out in
his Richmond Avenue gym. Currie could not explain why Ludwigsen would
claim that he had provided the Miami Beach club’s seed money.

Before opening Risk, Ludwigsen worked from 1988 to ’93 as assistant
manager of a Staten Island nightclub, according to Florida licensing
records. After being unemployed during 1993–94, Ludwigsen opened Risk
in early 1995 in a South Beach space that had previously been occupied
by a club owned by Carlo Vaccarezza, a close pal of John Gotti’s and a
former chauffeur for the Gambino crime family boss.

Along with Caruso, Ludwigsen hired three other New York
expatriates–Robert Gordon, Frank Romano, and Paul Torres–to work at
his Miami Beach clubs. All four men had previously worked for Peter
Gatien’s Manhattan clubs and were cogs in a drug distribution network
flourishing in those establishments. After being indicted on federal
criminal charges, each member of the quartet agreed to testify against
Gatien, who was subsequently acquitted at trial. It was during this
testimony that Ludwigsen’s former associates, felons all, were
questioned about their dealings with Gatien and a host of other
nightlife fixtures, including Ludwigsen.

Caruso, his ex-partner, recalled Ludwigsen threatening him with a
gun. The pair’s relationship was not always so tense, though. Caruso
told of once needing “some cash for an Ecstasy deal.” Caruso said that
Ludwigsen “basically told me, ‘I won’t have any hands-on involvement or
buy drugs or deal drugs, but I’ll give you a personal loan.'” Caruso
testified that Ludwigsen gave him $10,000 with the understanding that
Caruso would pay back $11,500. But, Caruso added, Ludwigsen did not hold
him to the usurious terms: “I ended up only paying him back 10,000 and
we became friends.”

While Ludwigsen does not have Casares’s high profile–she is a gossip
column staple and has been romantically linked to Madonna, Sandra
Bernhard, and other celebrities–he has become a well-known South Beach
figure. Following the death of designer Gianni Versace, Ludwigsen,
identified as Chris Paciello, appeared on ABC’s Prime Time Live to talk
about Andrew Cunanan’s visits to Liquid in the weeks before he murdered
Versace.

According to the National Enquirer, Ludwigsen has dated Madonna,
while other published reports have linked him to supermodel Niki Taylor.
The latter relationship, according to a December 1996 Daily News story,
resulted in a ”brutal fistfight” when Taylor’s ex-husband, Matt
Martinez, confronted Ludwigsen in a South Beach bar. Ludwigsen dropped
Martinez ”with one punch,” the News reported, and was later seen
”blowing a kiss” to Taylor’s ex. Ludwigsen told the paper that
Martinez ”should be happy she has a good male friend in me. There are a
lot of s— guys out there.”