Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Chemical Cowboys: The Club King Of New York

Chris Paciello

Chris Paciello
Chris Paciello
Paciello was born Chris Ludwigsen, but he took his mother's maiden name at sixteen, in rejection of his father, a former bouncer and heroin addict who faced charges in the late 1980s for burglary, auto theft, and drugs. Paciello was tight with the Bensonhurst Bath Avenue crew, a gang that got its start robbing pet shops and video stores and paid the Bonanno crime family for the right to invoke its name for protection in disputes.

By twenty-one, Paciello had orchestrated a $300,000 bank heist in Staten Island. A year later, in 1993, he was behind the wheel of a Mercury sedan playing the getaway driver in a botched home invasion robbery in Staten Island that ended with the death of forty-six-year-old housewife Judith Shemtov. Paciello had heard that Shemtov's husband, Sami, a wealthy businessman, kept hundreds of thousands of dollars in a safe hidden somewhere in the house.

Judith Shemtov was sipping tea when she answered a knock at her door and three men with guns shoved their way in and ordered her to "open the safe." Sami heard gunfire and rushed in to find his wife shot in the face with a .45 automatic. The shooter was thirty-year-old Tommy Reynolds, a Bath Avenue soldier so reckless that he had nearly killed a Gambino crime family associate outside a Brooklyn bar two years earlier.

Chris Paciello needed a good reason to leave New York while police snooped around the unsolved Shemtov murder. In August 1994, Paciello moved to Miami and bought Mickey's, a restaurant previously owned by actor Mickey Rourke, and managed by John Gotti's former driver Carlo Vaccarezza. Paciello invited Caruso to join him as a promoter and club director.

Skipping town seemed like a good idea to Caruso. He had burned a lot of friends and was on the hit list of the Latin Kings gang over a brawl outside a rival nightclub. Caruso accepted Paciello's offer and agreed to put in $25,000 for club renovations in return for a 10 percent share of the profits. When it came time to tell Gatien he was leaving, Caruso lied and said he had run up a $40,000 gambling debt. Gatien wished him luck.


Excerpt from Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham