His hair is thinning and he's starting to show a double chin, but as Chris Paciello strolls past the mirrored walls and into the restaurant's scented main room, he's instantly recognizable as the handsome impresario who dominated the South Beach nightlife scene in the 1990s. Dressed in a snug-fitting dark pinstripe suit, the man who made South Beach a beacon of international glamour looks damn good for his 40 years. Six years behind bars did little to diminish the sulky bad boy charisma that in his heyday attracted a bevy of famous women from Jennifer Lopez to Sofia Vergara to Madonna.
Tonight is his comeback party. Well, sort of. Officially, it's the debut of the Delano Hotel's restaurant Bianca, a high-priced, high-wattage South Beach Italian eatery. Unofficially, it's an event to welcome back onto the A-list a man whose life story is tabloid legend: An impossibly attractive young thug appeared from nowhere, captured the attention of the Miami Beach smart set, used those connections to build a nightlife empire, and then was brought down by a secret from his past.
Tonight is also a test. Can Paciello still lure bold-face names to his parties, something he was lionized for in glossy magazines and gossip columns during the 1990s? And it seems he is about to pass, because before long, celebrities arrive in dazzling spurts. There's Sammy Sosa, A-Rod, Mickey Rourke, Entourage actor Kevin Connelly, Diana Ross's son Evan, and a gaggle of supermodels including Jessica Stam and Selita Ebanks.
They dine against a backdrop of antique pillars and billowing curtains, while outside by the swimming pool, a trumpeter blows bland jazz on his horn. Also in attendance are '90s scene-makers such as property tycoon Thomas Kramer, luxury homebuilder Michael Capponi, and sycophant-to-the-stars Ingrid Casares; all are here to support their friend's improbable comeback.
Despite the six years he spent in the federal pen for the felony-murder of Staten Island housewife Judith Shemtov, Paciello has returned to reclaim his crown.
"Chris still has the magic touch that it takes to run the hippest place in town," says Kramer. "I'm glad he's back and kicking. [Bianca's opening party is] like a big, happy family reunion."
Not so happy is Paciello's former family, La Cosa Nostra. His Hollywood friends and South Beach supporters mistakenly believe the Mob turncoat only informed on a handful of low-level thugs involved in the 1993 murder-robbery of homemaker Shemtov, who was brewing a cup of tea before taking a bullet in the head. Though he didn't pull the trigger, Paciello planned the robbery-gone-wrong and drove the getaway car.
But according to hundreds of pages of sealed court documents — including interviews he gave to his government handlers — that New Times obtained from a confidential source, Paciello's snitching to the FBI was far more extensive and damaging to the Mafia's interests than previously reported.
Between December 2000 and May 2001, the FBI met with the fallen club king eight times and conducted 15 hours of interviews. During those meetings, Paciello detailed not only his own criminal history, but those of dozens of his Mob colleagues.
Some of the secrets contained in the documents that the former Madonna flame divulged to FBI agent Gregory Massa include:
• A 1997 plot involving Paciello and Colombo crime family boss Alphonse Persico to try to kill a dissident Mafioso. Paciello secretly pleaded guilty and got off virtually scot-free.
• The 1994 kidnapping of a Staten Island businessman from an auto body repair shop by Paciello and a Bonanno family soldier.
• The million-dollar robbery of a Westminster Bank in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, that provided the start-up capital for Paciello's first Miami Beach nightclub.
• The burglary of more than 30 bank night safety boxes in four states by Paciello in alliance with members of a Bonanno-affiliated gang called the New Springville Boys.
Most significant, Paciello fingered two made members of the Bonanno family, which led ultimately to the takedown of almost the entire upper echelon of the organization, including family boss Joseph "Big Joe" Massino. This is something that even undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, AKA Donnie Brasco (whose exploits were described in the eponymous 1997 movie starring Johnny Depp), never managed to achieve during his six years infiltrating the Bonanno family in the 1970s.
Paciello's cooperation with the federal government was "unprecedented," according to a March 2004 letter by his then-lawyer, Ben Brafman, to the court. Brafman estimated that "more than 70 people" had been "prosecuted directly and indirectly as a result of [his] cooperation." This was largely confirmed in a subsequent letter sent by the U.S. District Attorney's Office in Brooklyn.
During Paciello's 2004 sentencing hearing at federal court in Brooklyn, Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres spelled out the important behind-the-scenes role Paciello had played in crime boss Massino's conviction. "Mr. [Paciello]... provided us with information that led to the arrest and later cooperation of made members of the Bonanno crime family. Prior to December of 2002, [none of them] had ever cooperated. In the last 14 months, we've arrested virtually ever criminal supervisor in the Bonanno family. Those prosecutions resulted in part from the cooperation of Mr. [Paciello]."
So why is Chris Paciello still breathing today? And what does it say about the dwindling power of the Italian Mafia that instead of being turned into alligator food in the Everglades, he not only just opened a pricey restaurant, but last Monday debuted a swanky nightclub, the FDR Lounge, at the Delano Hotel — all in the full glare of the public spotlight?
Chris Paciello was born Christian Ludwigsen in Brooklyn's Borough Park in 1971. By his mid-teens, he had already embarked on a criminal career that earned him the admiring street name "The Binger." According to his 2005 testimony at the trial of bank robber Eddie Boyle, Paciello began stealing car radios at age 15 and graduated to cars at 16. By the time he reached his early 20s, he had progressed to bank robbery, home invasion, and kidnapping, not to mention supplying guns in a 1990s civil war among different factions within the Colombo family that left ten dead, including two innocent bystanders. From an early age, Paciello was a prolific moneymaker, something neighborhood Mob bosses quickly noticed.
In a "Dear Judge" letter that he penned for a 2004 sentencing hearing, the high school dropout cited his heroin-addicted dad as the reason he turned to crime: "My father, my role model as a child, left me, my two brothers, and my beautiful mother with nothing... I became the man of the house and this is where my criminal life began. I began to steal, rob, and do whatever I had to, to help me and my family survive."
During a May 2001 interview with the FBI, Paciello described how after his father departed, his family moved from Brooklyn to Staten Island. That's where he first met Lee D'Avanzo, the leader of the New Springville Boys, a ragtag group of wannabe wise guys whom the government would later characterize as a "farm team" for the Bonanno crime family.
D'Avanzo was a meaty tough guy with a cleft chin, piercing eyes, and jet-black hair. A cousin of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, he was the son of a car thief and loan shark who was killed in 1977 after trying to run down an FBI agent. (The younger D'Avanzo achieved notoriety last year as the husband of Drita D'Avanzo in the VH1 reality series Mob Wives.)
Paciello worked with a number of overlapping Mafia cliques in Brooklyn and Staten Island, but the members of D'Avanzo's crew, the New Springville Boys, were the nearest to being his real friends.
These relationships didn't prevent him from spilling the dirt to lawmen about the range of D'Avanzo's criminal activities, from ripping off banks' night deposit boxes to burglarizing stores to breaking into drug dealers' homes. Paciello also exposed D'Avanzo's loan-sharking operation; D'Avanzo once confided to him that he had as much as $100,000 on the street at any one time.
Wrote FBI agent Massa: "D'Avanzo always had guns. He would keep a shotgun next to his bed. Whenever [Paciello] needed a gun, D'Avanzo would provide one."
Sometime in fall 1992, one of D'Avanzo's buddies was picking up drugs on Richmond Terrace in Staten Island when he saw a group of men loading bales of marijuana into a U-Haul truck, according to the FBI documents. He called D'Avanzo and together they followed the truck to a secluded location in New Jersey. They then phoned Paciello, who headed over from the city, broke into the vehicle, and drove it away. When the trio arrived back in Staten Island and jimmied open the U-Haul, they could barely believe their eyes. It was literally a ton of marijuana.
Paciello sold his portion of the pot to a low-level mobster after placing a tracking device in the load. He then stole it back.
Word soon reached Bonanno Mob capo Anthony Graziano, a stocky, brutish man with a permanent smirk, about the huge haul. Soon Paciello was ordered to deliver $50,000 in a brown paper bag. (Documents that describe this incident only list Paciello as "source," but it is clear from the context that this is Paciello.)
According to the FBI report: "[Paciello] went to Graziano's house and met in the garage with Graziano. Graziano questioned [Paciello] about how much money [he] had from the score. [Paciello] lied and said only $150,000. [Paciello] told Graziano that [he] had used the money to purchase a home for his mother."
Graziano must have sensed a lie because he instructed one of his soldiers "to deal with this kid." The soldier pulled Paciello aside: "You want to be around for all the weddings, but none of the funerals," he reprimanded him. It was a thinly veiled threat.
Over the next six months, Paciello acknowledged to the FBI and federal prosecutors, he and the New Springville Boys pulled off several bank jobs. In one, a gangster strapped a fake bomb to his chest and walked into a bank, where he threatened to blow up the building if the tellers didn't give up the money. They did: $300,000.
In December 1992, Paciello helped stage a $360,000 robbery of a Chemical Bank branch in the Staten Island Mall. Fourteen months later, in February 1994, he teamed up with seasoned bank robber Eddie Boyle to take down a Westminster Bank in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. This heist was meticulously prepared, according to testimony Paciello gave at Boyle's 2005 trial. The future club owner cased the bank for a full month, watching the comings and goings of employees and clocking the exact time the armored car arrived to pick up money.
The morning of the robbery, an empty work van was parked six blocks away in case the robbers needed a place to hide. While Paciello waited outside in the "crash car," three masked accomplices entered the bank's basement through an adjoining laundromat and handcuffed two employees who were preparing the money for transport.
When Paciello saw the armored car approaching in his rearview mirror, he radioed his accomplices. They quickly burst out of the front door of the shuttered laundromat carrying two black garbage bags stuffed with bricks of money and drove off in a stolen SUV.
Paciello's job was to trail the getaway car, and if he spotted the police, to ram the pursuing vehicle with his Ford Explorer.
But the crew got away free and clear. The haul: a cool million dollars.
Imagine a soccer riot combined with a rave cross-pollinated with an episode of Jersey Shore and you'll get a good idea of the atmosphere at the Future Shock parties that filled New York's Limelight nightclub in the early 1990s. Outer-borough dwellers, mostly Italian-Americans, traveled to the club to experience a new sound that was all the rage at the time: techno, particularly the industrial strength variety imported from Belgium that sounded more like synthesized heavy metal than dance music.
They raged through the night, pumping their fists and swallowing copious amounts of ecstasy. Under the influence of the drug, they hugged each other close, swearing undying brotherhood. "It was Mob mentality dressed up like techno," said a Limelight doorman at the time.
The creator of these events — and the man who established the East Coast's first full-fledged rave scene — was Lord Michael, AKA Staten Island's Michael Caruso, the so-called "Al Capone of raves." Caruso had visited Britain in 1990 and witnessed firsthand the burgeoning rave scene there. Excited by what he had experienced, he came back to Staten Island with a crate full of acid house records, determined to replicate the scene in New York.
Caruso was a musical trailblazer who, at the climax of his parties, would descend from the DJ booth, throwing samples of high-grade MDMA into a crowd of adoring fans. Behind the scenes, however, this chunky techno promoter who sported gang tattoos crawling up his legs also led an armed crew of ecstasy bandits who robbed club kids and suburban candy ravers for their drugs, which Caruso would then later sell at the Limelight.
One of the young toughs the techno promoter relied on to protect his drug operation was Chris Paciello. "There were times when people made physical threats towards me," Caruso told DEA agents after he was arrested in 1997 for dealing ecstasy and cocaine, "and Chris would tell them, 'Anyone who comes near him, they're going to have to deal with me.'"
At the time, Paciello dressed like a budding professional boxer: jogging pants, muscle shirts, and gold chains. He was indistinguishable from the masked ranks of young Italian-Americans who flocked to Manhattan nightclubs except for one thing: He was drop-dead gorgeous. At the Limelight, Paciello glimpsed a glamorous life beyond suburban Staten Island. He stared out over the seething throng of club-goers and saw the way the thunderous music bound together gay and straight, black and white, drag queens and gangsters. He was impressed.
Flush with cash from the Westminster Bank robbery, he and Lord Michael decided to open a New York-style dance club in Miami Beach. Paciello's older brother, George Jr., had visited Miami Beach and returned with stories about a flourishing nightlife scene. The location for the new club would be a bar called Mickey's at 1203 Washington Ave. that was nominally co-owned by actor Mickey Rourke. Paciello would later testify that Mickey's was a front for the Gambino crime family. He decided to call his new club "Risk" because it was a dicey venture from the get-go.
"I was a big Guido from New York opening up a club," Paciello recalled in a late-1990s interview with Ocean Drive. "Everybody thought I would be out of business within a week."
On November 16, 1994, a 30-strong crew of junior-level Staten Island mobsters flew down to Miami Beach to celebrate the opening of Risk. The late, great raconteur and doorman, Gilbert Stafford, described the scene to me in a 2002 interview: "I thought they were just dressed up like mobsters; it wasn't until later that I found out they really were gangsters."
Paciello would later testify in court that the lease for the space cost him $450,000. The budding entrepreneur forked over $125,000 up front, paid an additional $15,000 a month, and agreed that if he failed to pay after two months, he would have to hand back the key to the Gambino family.
Springville Boys head honcho Lee D'Avanzo initially invested $40,000 in Risk but soon withdrew his stake in the club. Michael Caruso says that before D'Avanzo left Miami Beach, he warned Caruso about the people Paciello was doing business with: "Chris is involved with a bunch of sharks. I want nothing to do with this."
By then, Caruso was becoming increasingly worried about his partnership with Paciello, who sometimes behaved like a violent mad man. The revolving cast of bull-necked Mafiosi that paraded through the club for private meetings with Paciello — meetings from which Caruso was pointedly excluded — scared him.
In December 1994, a member of the New Springville Boys who had heard a rumor that Paciello was sleeping with the mobster's girlfriend flew down to South Beach to confront the newly minted club owner, only to find that Paciello was already in police custody, after the cops arrested him for stealing a doctor's car.
According to Caruso, the mobster warned him that Paciello was "a snake... I'm telling you now, Chris is gonna clip you."
"Chris wanted to use my knowledge of the club scene and then kill me to take over my share of the club," Caruso recently told New Times. Caruso says he was so scared for his life that he skipped town in a hurry, not even bothering to pack his belongings.
By 1997, Paciello's relationship with Lee D'Avanzo had seriously soured. FBI agent Massa wrote after an interview on May 10, 2001: "[Paciello] stated that he didn't care much for D'Avanzo and that he became jealous of Paciello's success." Things had grown so bad between Paciello and the New Springfield Boys that D'Avanzo's friend Danny Costanza approached Bonanno captain Anthony Graziano and asked for permission to kill Paciello. Graziano refused, possibly thinking it was more profitable to keep the club owner alive now that he was making major money in Miami. It was a decision he would come to regret.
Paciello soon gave up the Mob capo to the feds, providing damaging details about a Florida pot business that subsequently led to Graziano's conviction for drug distribution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Greg Andres wrote in a letter dated September 10, 2004: "[Paciello] provided detailed information that led to the indictment of Graziano for marijuana trafficking."
Eleven members of the New Springville Boys were eventually indicted, then convicted of bank robbery, loan sharking, and drug dealing based in large part on the inside dope that Paciello had given the FBI.
D'Avanzo was sentenced to 62 months in prison.
Chris Paciello's second Miami Beach nightclub, Liquid, debuted at 1439 Washington Ave. during Thanksgiving weekend 1995. The front of the club was illuminated by spotlights as if a Hollywood premiere were underway. Limousines stretched around the block. Madonna's brother, Christopher Ciccione, threw a birthday bash in the VIP room. Famous faces — David Geffen, Kate Moss, Calvin Klein, Naomi Campbell, Sean Penn — made the scene. The hype was so all-consuming that two hours before the opening, a hysterical mob besieged the front entrance in a scene straight out of Nathanael West's Day of the Locust. Such was the anger among those denied admittance that, at the end of the night, bouncers escorted some of the celebs to their cars.
"The South Beach equivalent of Truman Capote's Black-and-White Ball," a local gossip writer gushed.
The nightclub's star-studded debut established Liquid — named after liquid ketamine or Special K — as the hottest spot on the Beach, and it quickly became Madonna's favorite hangout. It also attracted a crowd of celebrities, which in turn attracted even bigger crowds of tourists.
But Paciello in 1996 was not the rube who had arrived two years before. His new business partner, Ingrid Casares, dramatically broadened his social circle to include jet-setters and celebrities like Madonna, Gloria Estefan, and Gianni Versace. Paciello wore his first-ever tuxedo for 1995's Make-A-Wish Foundation Ball. As I recounted in my book Clubland, when the time came to go home, Paciello couldn't think of anything to write in the guest book, so a socialite friend obliged: "I loved the lobster but I'm not a mobster," she wrote.
Before his untimely death in 2010, former Risk doorman Gilbert Stafford reminisced about the time he off-handedly asked Paciello: "Well, what did you do today?"
According to Stafford, Paciello beamed, "I played polo."
In early 1996, the new darling of the South Beach set got word that Colombo family underboss William "Wild Bill" Cutolo wanted to meet him, according to court documents. Given Wild Bill's fearsome reputation, it was an invitation the polo-playing tough guy dared not refuse. He flew to New York and Wild Bill notified him that he was now "on the record" with the Colombo crime family and would "have to start coming around to see me in Brooklyn." Paciello testified in court that he understood this to mean he was obligated to begin kicking money up the ladder to the Colombo family.
But there was a problem: Paciello was now caught in a dispute between the Gambinos, who had given him his start in the nightclub business, and the Colombo family, who were now recruiting him.
Enter Alphonse "Allie Boy" Persico, the personable but deadly acting boss of the Colombo crime family. The handsome, well-dressed Persico was Mafia royalty. Fealty to the Colombo clan was part of his bloodline. His father was Carmine "The Snake" Persico, the former boss of the family. His uncle Alphonse was a former consigliere, his other uncle a captain.
Paciello was summoned to a meeting at a Brooklyn bakery with Persico and a representative from the opposing Gambino family. During the sit-down, an apprehensive Paciello told Persico that he would rather align himself with the Colombo family because that's where most of his friends belonged. Then Persico told the Gambino representative, "Everybody knows this guy; he's a respectful kid. He's a good kid. I don't want to hear later on that we have some problems, or he was disrespectful to someone because he's not like that."
Paciello and Persico immediately hit it off, according to the feds. After the New York sit-down, they would often meet for lunch when the Mob boss visited Miami. During Memorial Day Weekend in 1998, the Colombo don invited Paciello and Ingrid Casares to a party on his 55-foot speedboat, Lookin' Good. One time, the nightclub owner gave Persico a $5,000 Cartier watch as a birthday present.
During court testimony in 2006, Paciello described an incident in which he was nearly hit by a speeding car while crossing the street in Miami Beach. Paciello jumped in his SUV with Persico, chased the reckless driver, and drove his SUV into the back of the car, causing it to crash into a parked vehicle. "I was a little drunk," Paciello admitted. "[Persico] just looked at me like I was stupid."
According to the new documents obtained by New Times, the FBI believed that Paciello, even though he was never a made member of any Mob outfit, had what one U.S. prosecutor called "a unique role" in the Colombo family.
Paciello told the feds that after Wild Bill mysteriously disappeared in May 1999, Persico had taken over his lieutenant's loan-sharking operation. Paciello also implicated both men in a 1997 plot to murder former Colombo soldier Jerry "Green Eyes" Clemenza.
A drunken Jerry Green Eyes had called Wild Bill an "asshole," and Paciello had communicated this to Persico, who instructed him to track down the bigmouth. With a hit man in tow, Paciello located Jerry Green Eyes as he was leaving a New Jersey nightclub, but the pair eventually lost him in traffic.
In December 2000, Paciello pleaded guilty to helping locate Jerry Green Eyes for the Mob bosses. "I knew these individuals wanted to physically harm and possibly murder Jerry Green Eyes," Paciello confessed to the judge. "I agreed to contact these individuals if I learned of the whereabouts of Jerry Green Eyes for the purpose of maintaining my affiliation with the Colombo family and I did contact them."
He also pleaded guilty to two counts of money laundering ($100,000 and $65,000) linked to Liquid and another count of bank robbery for the million-dollar Westminster Bank job. The government quickly sealed the transcripts of the proceedings to protect their informant. New Times is the first to disclose their existence.
Of course, Paciello's guilty pleas were a mere formality since they would result in no extra prison time because of his cooperation deal with the government.
In 2001, Persico was hit with loan-sharking and racketeering charges. Paciello was scared to testify in open court against the fearsome Mob boss, but he had little choice given his agreement with the government. Lucky for Paciello, just before he took the witness stand, Persico pleaded guilty and was sentenced in 2003 to 13 years in federal prison.
But Paciello wasn't done. He had one more name to give to the FBI: Dennis Peterson was a Staten Island lawyer with ties to the Colombo crime family who ran a loan-sharking business on the side. The Staten Island Advance reported in 2003 that at one point, Paciello had worked as muscle for Peterson, collecting loan-sharking debts in Miami.
According to a former business associate of Paciello's who declined to be named, Peterson had been like a father figure to the club owner. He had always been there to bail out the young thug when he got into trouble with the police as a kid. Paciello loathed his real father and Peterson filled the emotional void.
"Dennis loved Chris," says the source, who knew both men. "He treated him like a son."
Peterson was arrested in August 2002, following grand jury testimony by Paciello and others. Like Persico, he agreed to cop a plea. But on the night before he was to sign the documents, the blond, blue-eyed lawyer climbed onto the roof of the ten-story apartment building where he lived in the Grymes Hill section of Staten Island, lit a cigar, and jumped. He was 60 years old.
According to his daughter Lori Racioppo, there were factors besides the indictment that might have led to Peterson's suicide: a worsening heart condition, his perilous financial situation, and a messy divorce, for instance. "I knew my father was friends with Chris Paciello," she says, "but you have to understand that my father was a very private person and he never discussed those things with me."
At least one Paciello associate, who declined to give his name, blames Paciello's treachery. "Everybody on Staten Island liked Dennis. He was a nice guy. He wasn't a leg-breaker. What Chris did to him was a fucking disgrace."
Paciello has participated in many crimes, most of which he skated on because of his cooperation with the government. But the one he couldn't escape was the 1993 murder of 46-year-old Judith Shemtov, who lived in a luxurious house at 95 Meade Loop in Staten Island when she was killed. Paciello admitted to recruiting members of the Brooklyn-based Bath Avenue Crew to participate in the Shemtov robbery after he received a tip that Judith's husband, Sami, stored money from his string of porno stores in a safe at home. The home invasion went awry when one of the robbers accidentally discharged his gun into Shemtov's face.
Paciello's guilty plea in the Shemtov murder and six years in the federal penitentiary is well documented. Upon his release in September 2006, most observers of his career presumed he would vanish into the Witness Protection Program. The organized crime figures that he had helped put behind bars still had plenty of friends left on the street.
But after a stint in Los Angeles, where he opened the trendy pizzeria Cristoni, which went bankrupt within the year, and following two of his trademark ultraviolent nightclub brawls (one in August 2008 with the now-indicted Hollywood cocaine kingpin Will Wright, the second two years later at the LA nightclub Voyeur, where he "took out a boatload of Samoan bouncers," according to Hollywood nightlife scribe Mark Ebner), Paciello is now back in Miami as a marketing consultant at the Delano Hotel, charged with guiding the deluxe hostelry's food and beverage operation.
Though his welcome was muted, within days of the news that he was moving to Miami, local supporters set up two Facebook pages — "The King Is Back" and "The Chris Paciello Fan Club." Not everyone was so gleeful, however: Last October, Casares, who was slated to partner with Paciello in his new venture, angrily tweeted to one of Paciello's former girlfriends, New York publicist Lizzie Grubman, "I turned down the Delano deal. Your ex thinks he's God."
For nearly six months after his arrival, Paciello managed to stay out of trouble and out of the headlines. Then, in the early hours of February 17, he was arrested by Miami Beach cops for DUI while driving a dark-colored Jaguar on a narrow street in a residential neighborhood at 80 mph. He could have easily killed somebody. Again.
Contacted by New Times, Paciello declined to answer specific questions for this story, but issued the following statement through the Delano's publicist: "I regret the mistakes I made in the past. I am working hard to make a positive impact and to build a new life for myself in Miami. I am grateful to the many people here who have welcomed me back with open arms, and look forward to a positive future."
The real puzzle of the whole story isn't why the Delano is employing Paciello. A criminal track record is hardly an obstacle to success in Miami Beach. The bigger mystery is why he seems so unconcerned about his own safety. It's not as if he's in hiding. Practically every day he goes to the same place to work out, the David Barton gym at the Perry South Beach.
"If someone feels they want to come after me and get revenge, then that's going to happen," he said in a 2008 interview when Ocean Drive's Jacquelynn D. Powers asked him if he worried about the possibility of reprisals. "I don't live my life in fear."
The most likely explanation for Paciello's equanimity is that he, more than most, realizes the contemporary Italian Mafia is a parody of its former self. These days, La Cosa Nostra's fabled ability to exact vengeance on informants is more a cinematic myth than reality. The old loyalties are gone, along with the old neighborhoods. Snitches and their families don't get stitches anymore; they get book contracts, reality TV shows, and movie deals.
"You can't trust a soul," says one erstwhile mainstay of the Staten Island criminal underworld, who became so disgusted with his fellow mobsters informing on each other that he quit the life, moved to South Florida, and got himself a straight job as a telemarketer. "Whatever happened to the oath of Omerta? It's like being a rat is accepted in criminal society.
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"Chris isn't even going to get slapped for what he did," he adds. "It wouldn't surprise me if some of the same people he snitched on, when they get out of prison, stop by his restaurant to say hello."
Additional reporting by Lera Gavin.