Life Is No Longer a Party for This Hoodlum
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
Back in his salad days, Chris Paciello moved easily between his murderous activities as a Brooklyn hoodlum and his role as a Miami Beach nightclub impresario, hanging with Madonna and other glamorous friends. But Paciello is having a tough time adapting to his current station in life — mob turncoat.
The Generation X gangster, who sweet-talked his way to a seven-year rap for murder by agreeing to spill his guts about his criminal cohorts, has balked about taking the stand to testify against Colombo’s acting boss, Alphonse “Allie” Persico, Gang Land has learned.
Paciello, 34, already has taken the stand once, when he testified last year against an alleged bank robbery cohort. But sources say he has told the feds he doesn’t think his testimony is relevant to the main charge against Persico — connected to the 1999 slaying of underboss William “Wild Bill” Cutolo — and that his appearance would be merely “window dressing.”
The foot-dragging by the former night-life maestro — who still has about a year to serve for taking part in the 1993 robbery-murder of a Staten Island housewife — is giving the feds conniptions. Paciello is one of eight turncoats slated to testify against Perscio, 52, and underboss John “Jackie” DeRoss, 69, who took over the slain Cutolo’s slot, at their murder and racketeering trial.
In court papers, prosecutors Katya Jestin, Thomas Seigel, and Deborah Mayer say that Paciello is an important witness who had direct criminal dealings with both Cutolo and Persico during the late 1990s and who would also testify that Persico approved a plot to kill another wiseguy during that timeframe.
Paciello’s hesitation stems from the fearsome reputation of the Colombo chieftain, as well as his still-fond feelings for his old playmates, especially Ingrid Casares, whom he doesn’t want to drag into the courtroom drama, a source familiar with the ongoing situation said.
Based on FBI reports obtained by Gang Land, Paciello has real reason for concern on that last point. Casares used her exotic looks and familiarity with the Miami Beach scene to help make Paciello, a high school dropout, a multimillionaire owner of two nightclubs and a trendy Italian American eatery with 350 employees during the late 1990s. During those years, according to the reports obtained by Gang Land, she accompanied Paciello to meetings he had with Persico and Cutolo in Florida and New York.
On two occasions, FBI agent Gregory Massa wrote, Casares met Persico in the Sunshine State, and both meetings were a testament to the luxuriously giddy times they then were all enjoying.
In one rollicking episode, Paciello and Casares attended a party on Persico’s $500,000, 55-foot cabin cruiser named “Looking Good.” That was on Memorial Day weekend in 1998, and planes and helicopters flew overhead during the Fort Lauderdale air show. Casares met Persico, Mr. Massa wrote, as Paciello was buying his own boat, a $400,000 beauty named “Liquid,” which was also the name of one of the nightclubs he and Casares operated.
Around Christmas 1997, she was on Paciello’s arm when he visited Cutolo at his Brooklyn social club and she “spoke with Cutolo briefly about a mutual friend of theirs who had dated a mob associate that Cutolo knew,” Mr. Massa wrote.
The session “consisted mainly of generalities,” Mr. Massa wrote. But following an inquiry by Cutolo about how he “was doing in Florida,” Paciello decided to send his capo a “case of wine as a Christmas present,” a gift that Wild Bill later complained “was not lavish enough,” Mr. Massa wrote.
Nearly two years earlier, Paciello met both Wild Bill and Allie on the same day in early 1996 — as Liquid, his first club with Casares, was fast becoming a Miami Beach hotspot. His entrée to the Colombos was set up by Dominick “Black Dom” Dionisio, a childhood friend who was a Cutolo crew member, Mr. Massa wrote.
After Black Dom introduced them, Paciello stated that he wanted to be released from a loose affiliation with the Gambinos and placed “on record” with the Colombos as a member of Cutolo’s crew, according to Mr. Massa’s report. Cutolo assured Paciello “that he would take care of the issue,”Mr. Massa wrote.
An hour later, a man wearing a T-shirt, jeans, and a baseball cap who Black Dom introduced only as “Allie” entered the Bay Ridge eatery where they were meeting, sat down next to Cutolo, whispered something in his ear, and left.
Later still, on instructions from Cutolo, Mr. Massa wrote, an “apprehensive” Paciello accompanied Frank “B.F.” Guerra, a Colombo soldier “with a reputation of being a shooter,” to a bakery where he once again saw Persico, this time at a sitdown with Gambino capo Michael “Mikey Scars” DiLeonardo.
At the session, DiLeonardo released Paciello, who remained aligned with the Colombos in Wild Bill’s crew until Cutolo disappeared on May 26, 1999, according to an 11-page report by Mr. Massa. DiLeonardo, who is also poised to testify against Persico, corroborates Paciello’s account of the sitdown, according to a report by FBI agent William Hekel.
Opening statements in the trial are scheduled to begin Monday in Brooklyn Federal Court.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor Hou, lead prosecutor in the trial of John “Junior” Gotti, asked one question too many this week during his cross-examination of a defense witness about the near-fatal shooting of talk show host and Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa.
The moment came when Mr. Hou, in what would have been his final question, asked the witness, a former Guardian Angel who had visited Mr. Sliwa in the hospital after the shooting, whether he believed that Mr. Sliwa “had shot himself.”
When the witness, William Diaz, replied, “I did,” Mr. Hou, realizing his faux pas, quickly thanked the witness, said “nothing further,” and sat down.
But before Mr. Diaz could leave the witness stand, trial Judge Shira Scheindlin, who often interrupts lawyers and poses her own questions, asked: “Why did you think he shot himself?”
As Mr. Hou cringed, Mr. Diaz said: “He had fabricated a lot of situations, your Honor. And the story that he was saying — we had already had a big falling out — the story that he was saying just didn’t jive with me. We were trained as Guardian Angels. We used to train a lot of women in self-defense training and we always trained women before they went into cabs or any strange car that wasn’t theirs, to look in the front seat. I just found it strange that Curtis got in a cab and didn’t look in the front seat the way we trained so many women to do.”
In a further bitter irony for Mr. Hou, lead defense lawyer Charles Carnesi, who was obviously pleased by the outcome, had objected to Mr. Hou’s initial question, apparently believing like the prosecutor that no man could possibly believe that Mr. Sliwa had shot himself three times, including once in the groin.
This column and other news of organized crime will appear later today at ganglandnews.com.