Frank Owen’s Article on Chris Paciello Reveals All, Q& A With Owen Inside

How does that song go? I can never get it right: "Should old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind…" Something like that. I can’t seem to get away from old acquaintances and the weird thing is, I can’t remember why I should want to never bring them to mind… but something tells me I should. The Limelight movie now out on DVD has made me a movie star. I am recognized in restaurants and get a few Facebook shout-outs a day because of it. A couple of days ago, old acquaintance Frank Owen alerted me to an article in the Miami New Times he wrote about my old acquaintance Chris Paciello . When Chris got out of prison, he had a good run out in LA, did something or other in Vegas, and is now bringing all the celebs and beach beauties to the bar at the restaurant Bianca at the Delano South Beach. I haven’t talked to him in years, but remember we were on good terms last time we met. I always liked him even though it has been reported we had some beef.

There was a time when he reportedly wanted some guys to beat me up, but even then I understood his side of it. I wanted his partner Ingrid Casares to open up Studio 54 with me and not him, and the compensation I offered him wasn’t sufficient to justify my approaching her. I knew the playground I was playing in and I knew the rules and the resulting confrontation wasn’t a surprise. We talked it out a few months later and that’s that. I read Frank’s story, which is amazingly detailed. It paints a not-too-flattering picture of Chris in straight-up black and white…mostly black. Somewhere near the end, a Delano publicist offers this spin from Chris: “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.”
 
I think I said the same thing once or even thrice. Chris and I have learned from our past mistakes; mine was mostly hanging around people like those "co-starring" with me in that Limelight documentary and people like Chris. Hey, I used to be 3-foot-6… but I grew out of it. No one understands the club world of that era except some of the players who created it and wallowed in it. Even then, they only have their own perspective. It was big, there was a lot going on. The Limelight movie can try to summarize 10,000 nights, millions of partying people, and the actions of differently motivated players but it can’t possibly bring you there and into the minds of the players, the whys, and what for’s in a couple of hours.
 
Frank’s article takes it farther than before. It paints a picture of the forces I was dealing with when I was director of some famous clubs back in the day. In a game of musical chairs, I got left without one and did my piece. I stood up mostly because back then, when pressed hard, I chose to stand up rather than sit in a chair I would feel … "uncomfortable" in. Do I have regrets? Yeah, I have a few. If Chris can run joints after murder and other such bad play, I guess I could have done some things I was denied if I had decided to tell a few lies. "You don’t rat against people," I was told growing up and during the ordeal. "When you become a rat, it’s your very soul that you are ratting on"…goes the mantra that I agreed with at that time and now. I didn’t, others did. For now, like Mr. Paciello, "I am grateful to the many people here who have welcomed me back with open arms, and look forward to a positive future.”
 
Frank Owen was running off to give the keynote address at a criminology conference in Missouri in the morning. I asked him what was new in his Killer Comeback story, and this is what he said. I then followed up with a little Q & A.
 
Frank Owen – Here are some of the never-before-revealed highlights:
 
*A 1997 plot involving Paciello and Colombo crime family boss Alphonse Persico to murder a dissident mafioso.
 
*Another murder plot, this one to kill Paciello, which was nixed by Bonanno captain Anthony Graziano.
 
*A 1994 kidnapping of a Staten Island businessman from an auto body repair shop by Paciello and a Bonanno family soldier.
 
*A million dollar robbery of a Westminster Bank in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn that provided the start-up capitol for Paciello’s first Miami Beach nightclub.
 
*The burglary of more than 30 bank night safety boxes in four different states by Paciello in alliance with members of a Bonanno-affiliated gang called the New Springville Boys."
 
 Why do you keep digging into this story?
I didn’t. I haven’t written a major clubland investigative story since I Ieft the Village Voice. Actually, Lera was the one who rekindled my interest in Paciello. She became friendly with a Lord Michael associate and I reunited with Lord Michael after not speaking to him for well over a decade. Plus, there was the Limelight documentary, of course, which brought back a lot of old memories.
 
What has been your personal relationship with Chris? How has he reacted in the past to your articles/book and how do you think he will react, if at all, to these incredible new disclosures?
I don’t have a personal relationship with Chris. I know his brother, Keith, just de-friended me on Facebook because of the story. Keith is a good guy. He’s twice the man his brother is. Over the years, I’ve contacted Chris a number of times but he’s always refused to be interviewed.
 
How does he get away with it after all is said and done? How does he still operate?
I don’t know. In LA, after he was released from prison, he got involved in two major nightclub brawls and was arrested for felony assault and assault with a deadly weapon while he was on parole. For most parolees, that would mean being sent back to prison – not for Chris. A couple of LA defense lawyers I talked to firmly believe that Chris is still working for the FBI.
 
Why is the city of Miami in love with him? What does he represent?
He represents South Beach when it was really happening — the fabulous ’90s, when South Beach became a beacon of international glamor. People down here miss those times. A friend of mine said: "What is wrong with people in South Beach? They think this guy is God." They do. As Paciello’s friend Michael Capponi once told me: "Party people will forgive anything for a good time." Especially in South Beach, the Land of the Lotus-Eaters.

Post-ABSOLUT Miami Panel: Comparing Big Apples to Florida Oranges

If you see me out and about this week you will notice my lingering tan obtained in just two days in the sun in fun Miami Beach last week. I was lobster red when I headed north and now I’m heading to beige, but I have no complaints. I left New York cold, tired, and snow-white and returned a better man. ABSOLUT Miami had me down south for a nightclub panel moderated by Cocaine Cowboys and Limelight producer Alfred Spellman. Limelight will come out on DVD tomorrow and I’m all up in that. Sunday’s New York Post did a story on it and I was there putting my two cents in. I put $1.75 in the flick. 

Down in Miami,  ABSOLUT was pushing its new flavor — ABSOLUT Miami. It issued this press blurb: "The world’s most iconic vodka, and a staple of exceptional experiences in nightclubs for more than three decades, we recognize the impact Miami has had in shaping the course of nightlife culture and we look to celebrate that tonight, over cocktails and conversation, with some of the city’s most iconic party personalities. Moderated by renowned documentarians, Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben, an intimate discussion will unfold about the ‘Art of the Party’ — what it entails to take a party from good to exceptional."
 
I was sipping ABSOLUT Miami Heats as discussions began. Freddie Diaz, a panelist, created this cocktail, which was a blend of ABSOLUT Miami, a slice of jalapeno, muddled basil leaves, passion fruit purèe, simple syrup, and lime juice. Freddie was the quietest of the panelists. He talks softly but makes a good drink. The panel was dominated by Ingrid Casares who is described as follows: "’The Queen of Miami Nightlife’ has been seen in gossip pages since 1991 with longtime gal pal Madonna. Among her feats, Casares discovered and developed DJs, such as Victor Calderone and Tracy Young, and worked with the Versaces in the ’90s, throwing their most fabulous parties around the globe. Her entrepreneurial exploits and celebrity connections helped solidify South Beach as an international playground for the rich and famous." Ingrid relived her stint running the iconic joint Liquid with her partner Chris Paciello, who I was told was back in Miami bringing vim and vigor to the Delano. Ingrid talked about the time when Sylvestor Stallone, Gianni Versace, and Mickey Rourke became fixtures on the scene, and how the rest of the country discovered that Miami was a real great place to party. She recalled an event that happened at the turn of the century, where Madonna played drums and Gloria Estefan sang. She was the voice of reason and clarity on the panel as Alfred didnt get much insight from the rest. He could always turn to Ingrid to clear things up. I talked to Ingrid before and after. She is retired from nightlife and working on her family business.
 
Other panelist included Seth Browarnik, described as "a photographer to the celebrities." He was basically a mentally challenged cheerleader for all things Miami. He said things like Miami nightlife is the best in the universe, and things like that. He also said things like there’s more hot girls per mile here than anywhere in the world. He proclaimed that the celebrities don’t go out as much in Miami because they are afraid, citing cell phone cameras and other circumstances. In places like New York and Vegas and LA, celebrities still swarm the clubs because clubs know how to allay their fears and not burn their celebs or let their clientele do so. I suspect they just want to avoid him, and when nightlife is simplified to the amount of hotties per square inch, then it’s just dumb and dumb is only sometimes sexy.
 
Comparing Miami to New York is like comparing Big Apples to Florida Oranges. As Ingrid pointed out, people going out in Miami have tourist money in hand with no desire to return home with it. The entire make-up of the Beach is about that tourist money. In New York, there is a thing called "culture" which sometime distracts locals. Miami is a party town, but as the panel pointed out, it has lost some of its diversity. The large gay clientele has moved away, leaving Miami to become one great bottle-banging bash. They do this well. However, the town follows the lead of Vegas and New York, developing few — if any — trends of its own. If you look at places like The Darby, Provocatuer, the Standard or even the Bowery Poetry Club, you see innovation. The event was held at LIV, a wonderful money-making machine that seems to be a cross between Marquee NYC and Rain Vegas. The wait-trons were all beautiful, tall, and tan with pearly-white smiles. It was perfect for what it was.
 
Miami may indeed not be perfect, but it was perfect for me. The new Fountainbleau was wonderful, maintaining its tacky, almost-chic dècor, and wonderful staff. Everyone was helpful and intelligent. Miami used to be notorious for its awful service industry employees. This has changed as the city has developed from its Marielle days. It is no longer, as Alfred Spellman pointed out, "God’s waiting room." He also conjectured that Miami Vice helped break the city as a glamorous travel spot. Other panelists included Biz Martinez: "Music Director for LIV/Arkadia/MMG, Martinez created Miami’s longest running Saturday Electric Dance Music night and after-hours." Here, I wanted to hear about new music developing in the corners of South beach, but only name or circuit DJs were discussed. With such a diverse ethnic culture, I’m sure there are sounds developing a dozen or so blocks from the beach that aren’t on the radar here.
 
Conrad Gomez, who "manned the gates of  Miami’s hottest clubs including LIV and Arkadia," recognized a need in the market. He recently opened Foxhole, a high-end bar catering to the locals in Miami Beach." I heard great things about Foxhole. Conrad seemed to be reaching back to old-school in a small joint — a place where a blackcard doesn’t automatically mean you are VIP. Conrad remembered Miami and NY door legend Gilbert Stafford who passed, but will always be in our hearts. I toasted Gilbert with an ABSOLUT Coco Miami.
 
I didn’t ask questions at the end. Alfred came up to me and said he wished I had gotten involved in the discussion. I was enjoying the talk but absolutely didnt want to argue. The reality of Miami is the real celebrity, promoter, superstar. The ocean, beach, seagulls, and promixity give good reason to be cheerful. I popped in and popped out, had a great dinner at Gotham Steak House and lunch by the Fountainbleau pool. ABSOLUT made it possible and the weather gods did their part. It was like 18 degrees when I left NYC and 81 down there. I could almost get used to it. Miami’s lack of some things are more than made up for by its historical assets. The 80-somethings have been replaced by partiers with IQs around 80. Intelligence is pushed aside by attractiveness, and money is the currency of culture, but it is a great place to visit. Sipping ABSOLUT Miameras while a warm breeze wipes away your troubles isn’t all bad. ABSOLUT Miami did the trick.
 
Its passion fruit and orange blossom tang will warm me wherever I am. I can’t give you a blow-by-blow account of nightlife at the beach. John Hood, BlackBook’s Miami guy, does that better than I ever could. Alls I know about Miami nightlife was that when the night got real and I didnt want to go home, my friend Donya Litowitz and I headed to Mac’s Club Duece on 14th Street for a good time. Club Duece is a real-deal dive bar where my bottle service came to me as a cold Heineken. The girls in general might not have been considered in that survey about hottest-women-per-square-mile thing. There were no Ferraris parked outside. It was perfect. When I got back to the hotel, a tall, middle-aged, unnatural blonde also falling short of Seth’s survey asked me if I wanted a good time. I can’t be sure, but she looked exactly like a gal who asked me that same question at that same spot 20 years ago. Not feeling nostalgic nor having had too many ABSOLUT Miami Heat’s to cloud my judgement and having had a good time since I landed in Miami, I politely passed. I was getting up early to catch some rays with Donya before returning to NYC.
 
Donya Litowitz and I almost collaborated on a few game-changing projects in Miami. I was part of a design team that had Greg Brier operating a new Sagamore Hotel. It never happened. There was talk of a G Resort, I think north of town, catering to the gay crowd that was leaving Miami in droves. Besides the Sagamore, G Hospitality Group, was initially launching locations in Wilton Manors, Las Vegas, and South Beach — all hotels. Locations were to include Vegas-style amenities with multiple club, lounge, and restaurant venues. She is a brilliant gal who, along with her sister, created Featherlocks, which are rooster-feather hair extensions. They are selling like cuban sandwiches and spinning off into Puppylocks for pets and other businesses. As we sat by the pool, both of us doing our business on our very smart phones, my mind wandered to a simpler, warmer life in a place with more beautiful women per … no galleries or art house films or culture to distract …but then I said… nah.