By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
Vaccarezza is sensitive about the allegations that he was allied the mob. In 1992 he sued the New York State Racing and Wagering Board to reverse the license ban, but was denied. And in 1995, when WPLG's (Channel 10) Rad Berky aired a report that termed Vaccarezza a "Gambino soldier," the former restaurateur sued for libel. The case was recently settled for undisclosed terms.
The horse farm defaulted on several loans and went into bankruptcy in 1995. And Vaccarezza reapplied for his license in New York in 1998 but was again turned down.
Gerry Kelly fidgets nervously while sitting on a velvet couch in the VIP section of his new club Level. With a deft flip of the wrist, he opens his cell phone and tells his assistant to hold all his calls. His tone is uncharacteristically clipped. Kelly, an Irish fashion designer who came to South Beach six years ago from Spain, has helped a succession of clubs make it in this fickle market. He has survived, personally and professionally, by being overtly gracious. He almost never utters a bad word about rivals or colleagues, including Paciello and Casares, whom he worked for until last fall. In fact immediately after Paciello's arrest, Kelly wished only the best for his former boss. "I consider him a friend," Kelly said. "I tell you, from my heart, I thought he brought something special into this city."
But Kelly is not saying that now. Miami Beach police recently invited him to their station and revealed that Paciello had targeted his former employee for revenge. The cops contend Paciello hatched a plan September 29 to have Kelly arrested, and Kelly's partner in Level, Noah Lazes, beaten up. "I knew absolutely nothing about the threats," Kelly says. "I thought it was idle gossip. I left on good terms with CP Ventures [Paciello's company]. In my resignation letter I wrote that it was an honor and a pleasure to work for both him and Ingrid."
Paciello hired Kelly, who had run Shadow Lounge, in fall 1998. Paciello wanted him to market and manage his two clubs. By all accounts Paciello labored hard running his clubs, but he needed help. And he got it with Kelly, who is known as a workhorse. While Casares was flitting around the country hobnobbing with celebrities and attending fashion shows, the Oscars, and VH1's music awards, Kelly put in long hours ordering liquor, placing ads and trying to keep the clubs going. And last summer, about the time Paciello was introducing Detective Dohler to Persico, Kelly was watching his hard work pay off. Although South Beach's hot months are supposed to be the down season for the club because the idle rich and the models flee to the Hamptons and Europe, in 1999 things were rocking.
"It was a peak time of business," Kelly says. "We had record-breaking sales." Among the summer's highlights were a sold-out July 4 party at both clubs and a June masked ball at Bar Room thrown by Paciello and Casares in honor of Kelly's birthday. "I was very, very happy there," Kelly recounts.
Then as summer eased into fall and South Beach's monied crowd returned, competition moved in. Clubland's reigning boss suddenly became uneasy. A successful Chicago company, Big Time Productions, bought the Cameo Theatre, located across the street from Liquid, and announced plans to transform it into a dance hall called crobar. Then in September Lazes offered Kelly a partnership in Level. Kelly says he invited Paciello and Casares to join the project, but they declined.
Outwardly Paciello took the loss of his right-hand man graciously, with a smile and a handshake. But in the privacy of his office, prosecutors say he conspired to retaliate. The man Paciello turned to for help, Detective Dohler, was taping their conversations.
At the time Paciello was urging Dohler to transfer to the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which handles narcotics cases. Paciello hoped use Dohler to obtain information and intimidate other club owners. The two apparently had discussed setting up Kelly at a previous encounter.
Dohler: When we talked about me getting into SIU, that's got to open up some doors for you.
Paciello: Of course, of course. You getting in there could help me a lot. We could put some pressure on those clubs, and also I'll know when there's pressure on me. It works both ways. We could really put some pressure on [the other club owners].
Dohler: This [Kelly], what do you want to do? I know what you're saying, I know exactly what you want. How far do you want to go?
Paciello: This fucking [Kelly], he's got a bad drug problem; he's always got drugs on him. He always drives drunk. You can arrest him.... I really want to hurt this guy good and I'll take care of you big-time. [Kelly denies taking drugs or driving under the influence.]
Paciello: I'm telling you ... we got to get [Kelly's partner Lazes's] head fucking broken in. We got to get him beat up. I got to get him whacked.
Dohler: As long as it's done on the Beach.
Paciello: Right, but if something happens to that kid right now, [the police] are going to be so far up my ass. But not if [Kelly's busted for drunk driving or drugs]. It's normal shit. He gets beat up, I'm fucked."