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Defendants Plead Guilty in Mob Case

September 12, 2000 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Three men accused along with a Miami Beach nightclub owner in a mob murder case surprised prosecutors Monday by pleading guilty to racketeering charges carrying possible life sentences.

The men entered the pleas two weeks before they were to go on trial together in Brooklyn for allegedly robbing banks, dealing drugs and settling scores for the Bonanno organized crime family.

The nightclub owner, Chris Paciello, and the other remaining defendant, reputed Bonanno boss Anthony Spero, now will be tried separately, with Paciello’s trial delayed until mid-November.

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Prosecutors had alleged that all five men were behind an early 1990s crime spree that left a half-dozen bodies in its wake, including that of New York housewife Judith Shemtov.

Shemtov’s daughters wept in Brooklyn federal court Monday as defendant Thomas Reynolds confessed he was part of a violent holdup crew that raided her home in 1993 on a tip that her businessman husband had $200,000 stashed in a safe. Reynolds, 28, claimed his gun accidentally went off, killing the victim before the getaway car _ allegedly driven by Paciello _ sped away.

Reynolds also told U.S. District Judge Edward Korman that he was among the armed bandits who smashed the windows of a Staten Island bank and stole $300,000 in 1992. Accomplice witnesses have alleged Paciello was both mastermind and lookout for the heist.

The other defendants were Joseph Benanti, 66, and Fabrizio DeFrancisci, 30. Korman did not set a sentencing date.

Authorities have accused Paciello, 28, of using mob money to open a string of celebrity hangouts in South Beach like Liquid, Bar Room and Joia. Paciello, whose real name is Christian Ludwigsen, has denied any wrongdoing.