Deconstructing Tommy

How a Bensonhurst boy rose to the summit of South Beach's promotion biz

Another veteran South Beach promoter, Louis Canales, considers Pooch the quintessential host. "He has a personal rapport with the people who come to his parties," says Canales. "He always remembers who they are. He's not just a name on an invitation, and that's why he has been so successful." But Pooch depends on an extensive phone list, which he turns into gold. For example: "I met this millionaire from Chicago years ago in New York and I stayed in touch. He introduced me to Richard Dent [former All-Pro defensive end of the Chicago Bears]. I'm in Chicago, call Richard, he invites me to a Bulls game. He introduces me to Michael Jordan. Michael comes to Miami to play. I call him and he comes to the Forge. Bingo! Anywhere Michael goes, you get a crowd."

The phones ring about twenty times in the next hour. Pooch is just back from a one-week club-crawling vacation on the Mediterranean island of Ibiza and he's delivering his reports. "Incredible. Clubs that hold 11,000," he tells one caller. "You go into one at 9:00 a.m. and you still have 2000 people dancing. They dress in costumes -- devils, fairies, whatever. And the women! My God, the women! Wild!" He describes a scene in which a woman performs oral sex on her beau in a parking lot as others look on.

Pooch saw something else while in Europe: "The clubs are making CDs from their house music," he says. "The Ministry of Sound, a big club in London, maybe it takes in ten million dollars a year from the club, but the CDs made by their DJs are selling all over Europe and taking in maybe ten times that. Club DJs are the big stars of Europe. We need to do that here -- the music of South Beach, of Chaos."

The secret of succeeding as a promoter is to stay on the cutting edge. Pooch recently started Bogart Records in a rented recording studio in North Miami. One of his partners is engineer Bob Rosa, whose resume includes sessions with Celine Dion, Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac, Mariah Carey, and more. Rosa is mixing the company's first CD with a heavy metal group from the Bronx, Gun Hill. The lead singer is a long-haired, geared-up 26-year-old Puerto Rican known professionally as "The Kid." "Pooch is my hero," the Kid gushes. "He gets things done, man."

Over the next two hours, Pooch catches up on pending business matters. Maureen Reidy calls. She works for Donald Trump and helped stage the Miss Universe pageant on Miami Beach last year. Pooch served as a judge in a preliminary round. She wants to discuss a possible recording career for a contestant.

Pooch then checks in with a young associate, nightclub promoter Gus Gallardo, about upcoming parties. They are negotiating their first international deal with clubs in Mexico. "Lots of high school kids from Miami take graduation trips to Cancœn because there is no drinking age," Pooch says. He, his partners, and a local travel agent are selling weeklong vacations for the teenagers: about $500, including airfare, hotel, meals, and club admissions. Parents can pay $50 per month and purchase the trip for their kids. "We'll send our own DJs down there. We'll have their names and the name of Chaos on posters all over Cancun. It will be great publicity."

Next Pooch speaks to John Banner, owner of Filmtrade, a company that supplies equipment to film crews. They discuss leasing a well-known but troubled South Beach nightclub that they want to turn into a television and movie production site. The two men plan several more phone calls over the next few days, but Pooch won't discuss the issues at hand. "I'm at the table with the big boys and I don't want to blow it," he says.

Finally Pooch receives calls from two partners in Chaos. David Sarner says Emerson Fittipaldi, the Brazilian former race-car driver, will be at the club that weekend. Then partner David Ault calls from his summer home on Martha's Vineyard, where one of his neighbors is Walter Cronkite. "You're hanging around with Cronkite?" Pooch asks in disbelief. "You're kidding me." Ault has done the impossible. He has trumped Pooch in the celebrity game.

Trumping Thomas Eugene Puccio is difficult because, after a long career in the hospitality business, he is a celebrity -- the kind who has gotten close to so many stars that their fame has rubbed off on him like glitter. He was born and raised in Bensonhurst, one of the roughest parts of New York City. "All five Mafia families were active there," says Puccio, who uses Pooch as a professional name. "And, yeah, when I was a kid I was impressed with people like that. I mean, guys would say, 'There goes so and so.' And you would recognize the name." But Pooch insists he was and is not involved with organized crime.

Pooch's father is an insurance agent, his mother a housewife, and his sister a former school teacher. His older brother, Paul Puccio, age 46, graduated from college with a degree in criminology. He has been a private eye for 25 years and runs Blue Moon Investigations in Palm City, near Stuart. "Our parents would have kicked our butts if we got involved with gangsters," says Paul. He acknowledges his brother's run-ins with the law. "I'd say that has to do with where we came from. But he's a good person. He's the prince of South Beach."

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