Feature Articles

February 2002

The Bare Facts: Part II

By John William Tuohy

     Right after Rizzolo made his statement before Chicago City officials, Chicago City Attorney Andy Mine flew to Las Vegas to question Rizzolo, and was treated to a lap dance by one of the club's dancers, according to sources. It is widely believed that the Chicago City Attorney's Office will purposely fumble the case against Rizzolo and the club.

     The club is also being monitored by the Chicago Crime Commission and its Chief Investigator, Wayne Johnson.

     The case of Chris Paciello is interesting as well.

     Down in South Beach, Miami Florida, he was known as Chris Paciello, a high profile young nightclub owner who knew the right people, Jennifer Lopez and Sean "Puffy" Combs and romantically to Madonna, comic Sandra Bernhard and super model Niki Taylor.

     The Miami business community held him in high regard and credited him with spearheading the revival of local nightlife in the South Beach area. He owns a yacht and a waterfront mansion and is a regular at local charity, upscale, charity events. But, back in New York, federal investigators still knew him by his rightful name, Christian Ludwigsen, and accused him of being a member of the Bonanno crime family and say that he has links to the Colombo and Gambino organizations as well.

     Paciello, reportedly moved to Miami in the mid-1990s, changed his name and opened a nightclub called, Risk. In 1995, Risk burned to the ground under unusual circumstances two months after it opened. Paciello used the club's insurance money to open a new place, the Club Liquid, in 1995, in Miami Beach's newly hip South Beach area and brought in jet setter Ingrid Casares as partner. Within months, celebrities and hundreds of Miami's youth crowd clamored to enter the club to be seen with the Madonna, super model Niki Taylor, Daisy Fuentes and Gwyneth Paltrow.

     Miami police have long suspected, but never been able to prove, that Paciello's establishments operate as fronts for organized crime.

     Prosecutors say Paciello allowed his South Beach clubs to become a haven for money laundering by the mob and a center for drug dealing. He is also accused of intimidating at least twelve witnesses with assaults and threats since 1987.

     He was also named in a massive racketeering indictment with eight suspected members of the Bonanno crime family. They are accused of taking part in a botched home robbery in Staten Island in 1993, leaving a housewife dead, and the 1992 robbery of $300,000 from a Chemical Bank branch in New York.

     The feds also claim that Paciello used criminal proceeds to establish one of his Miami-based "businesses," which, if true, means the government could confiscate his properties.

     Included in prosecution papers filed against Paciello is the transcript of a secretly recorded tape made by an undercover agent posing as a corrupt cop, in which Paciello allegedly talked about killing a business rival.

     Paciello has also allegedly been connected to three other homicides, including the 1996 brutal stabbing of suspected drug dealer Ilber "Billy" Balanca, who was found in the trunk of an Oldsmobile on Staten Island. The murder was supposed to have happened over 50 pounds of marijuana deal gone wrong.

     Paciello denies any links to the murder and is quick to point out that his accuser is a known drug user and dealer and that he allegedly holds a grudge because Paciello was romantically linked to his girlfriend. The accused is also under federal indictment.

     Paciello was also named as one of three suspects in connection with the February 1993 shooting of Judith Shemtov, a homemaker who was killed in her New York home during a home invasion. Also charged were two reputed associates of the Bonanno crime family, Thomas Reynolds, and James Calandra.

     According to police, on Feburary, 19, 1993, Shemtov was drinking tea with her husband when the doorbell rang. When she opened the door, two armed men rushed in and fired a shot in to her head with a .45 caliber automatic handgun. Police say the robbers were looking for a safe filled with money.

     Police say Paciello allegedly drove the getaway car in a robbery. In the Chemical Bank robbery, police say that the robbers arrived to the branch at 9:00 AM sharp and used a sledgehammer to smash open the banks window before they charged in with guns drawn.

     The handsome Paciello, who can be charming and easy going, is also said to have a hair trigger temper that got him involved in a with Latin King bouncers at Sound Factory, an assault on Niki Taylor's ex-husband in a Miami bar and led to his questioning in the stabbing of a photographer at New York night club several years ago.

     Paciello has five previous arrests, including a 1997 charge for attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a man three times in the neck and for assaulting a police officer.

     Not far away, up in Atlanta, the lights to the Gold Club have finally gone out. The club, once a prominent Atlanta strip club, was strung by a federal indictment which claimed the bar was a front for prostitution, that it over billed patrons, provides free sex to celebrities, bribed police officers and bought protection from the Gambino organized crime family and laundered its money.

     The clubs owner is Steven Kaplan, a longtime associate of John A. Gotti Jr. and 15 others, including two strippers, were charged in a federal indictment that alleges the Gold Club was controlled by New York's Gambino crime family. Law Enforcement official identify Kaplan as a longtime associate who worked in Junior Gotti's crew when Junior was a capo.

     The indictment said that the elder Gotti collected payment from clubs that Kaplan owned in Manhattan and Boca Raton, Florida and that after the elder Gotti was convicted of murder and racketeering in 1992, his son took over the family and the collection of the payments from Kaplan.

     The indictment says Kaplan paid the Gambinos protection money, bribed Atlanta police, overbilled patrons and laundered millions in illegal profits since 1988.

     Prosecutors also allege that after John Gotti, Jr. was indicted in New York one of his subordinates used Kaplan to keep a potential witness quiet about the Gambinos' control of Scores, a Manhattan strip club.

     Kaplan is accused of providing dancers and hookers to celebrities and athletes as part of a $50 million criminal operation with ties to the Gambino family.

     NBA stars cooperated with the FBI agents who were investigating the Gold Club and said that the club's owner, Steve Kaplan, procured hookers for pro basketball players at least seven times between 1994 and 1998.

     The indictment against Kaplan stated that in April of 1997, Kaplan brought strippers to the Francis Marion Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina, to perform a lesbian sex show. Afterwards the women offered sex to some of the Knicks players.

     It also alleges that Kaplan provided strippers as prostitutes to NBA players at an Augusta, Georgia hotel, at the Gold Club's Gold Room and inside the Atlanta Swiss Hotel.

     According to the 97-page indictment, Kaplan provided strippers to perform oral sex on unnamed pro basketball players inside his Gold Rooms which the players allegedly "rented" using "Gold Bucks" or fake money that the club normally sold to patrons to slip into strippers' G-strings or "rent" one of the club's 19 VIP Gold Rooms for watching nude lap dances in private.

     On one occasion, Kaplan approved comp slips for "Patrick Ewing and friends" for a total bill of $2,233, including a $991 tab in a single night, and that he also authorized free liquor and sex shows to former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman and professional wrestlers Randy (Macho Man) Savage, Diamond Dallas Page, Lou Sabh, Scott Steiner and Saturn.

     Officials say that the favors were probably provided to attract celebrities to the club rather then to influence athletes to throw games or to divulge information that could help gamblers.

     The indictment describes Kaplan handing a bag of $20 bills packaged in $2,000 bundles to a Gambino capo identified as "M.D." during a ride to LaGuardia Airport in 1997.

     It also described a scheme by club employees to charge thousands of dollars to unsuspecting customers on their credit cards for food and drinks, which were never authorized. Some club members of club management were also charged with double-billing, fraudulently obtaining signatures and altering credit card receipts.

     The racketeering indictment charges that Kaplan intimidated his competitors by using his Mafia ties and corrupted two Atlanta police officers in return for special favors and that he skimmed cash from his businesses to evade paying taxes.

     The government has moved to seize Kaplan's Oyster Bay Cove, Long Island, home.

     Otherwise, Kaplan is an American success story. The son of a magazine stand operator inside New York's Grand Central Terminal, he earned enough money in his life to consider making a bid to purchase an NBA franchise.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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