One former Gaucho fondly calls D'Almeida the "Santa Claus of the Bronx." But critics, including some former players, say that D'Almeida has a win-at-all-costs mentality; that he is obsessed with outdoing his crosstown rival, Ernie Lorch of the Riverside Hawks; and that he commits sundry transgressions, starting with paying kids to play, a charge he denies. And even in summer basketball, a milieu glutted with questionable characters, D'Almeida is distinguished by a little-known episode in his past.
In 1971, D'Almeida pleaded guilty to a charge of criminally negligent homicide and was sentenced to five years' probation for the 1969 shooting death of Gerald Gerardo, 20, a former New York City club champion diver who frequented the same Manhattan YMCA as D'Almeida. In a plea agreement, assistant district attorney Gino Gallina had knocked down the charge from second-degree manslaughter and promised that his office would recommend probation in exchange for D'Almeida's cooperation in an ongoing investigation of organized crime. Shortly after that deal was struck, Gallina went into private practice—as a lawyer for the mob, according to informant Martin Light's 1986 testimony before the President's Commission on Organized Crime. In 1977 Gallina was walking down a street in Greenwich Village when he was gunned down in what police described as a gangland slaying.
Over the years D'Almeida has given two different explanations for what happened the night Gerardo was fatally wounded in a private parking garage on East 82nd Street in Manhattan. According to congressional testimony and newspaper reports, D'Almeida told police that after a "quarrel" with Gerardo, D'Almeida tried to commit suicide with his unregistered .45-caliber revolver. Gerardo attempted to wrest away the gun, D'Almeida said, and it went off, shooting Gerardo once in the chest. But in an affidavit filed in the '86 civil suit over a real estate deal, D'Almeida said it was Gerardo who tried to commit suicide that night.
Asked now about the two different versions, D'Almeida says, "I tried to prevent this kid from, you know, killing himself.... It's a clearly crushing thing. Since I was the only person who was a witness, I had to testify. But obviously I wasn't involved."
Glen Whitten, Gerardo's club diving coach for five years, emphatically disagrees. "No way." Whitten, a retired dentist and a 1956 U.S. Olympic diver, says Gallina questioned him about Gerardo and D'Almeida after the shooting, and Whitten himself kept close tabs on the investigation throughout. He adds, "I think I know as much about the case as anybody."
When Gerardo was 15 or 16, says Whitten, D'Almeida befriended him. D'Almeida picked up Gerardo after diving workouts, treated him to dinners, took him on at least one trip, to Arizona. By the time Gerardo left for his freshman year at Ball State in Indiana, according to Whitten, D'Almeida was also trying to help him launch a modeling career. "I saw the photographs," Whitten says. (D'Almeida denies that he was helping to get Gerardo into the modeling business and says only that he helped get him a job at NBC.)
The last time Whitten and Gerardo spoke was at a diving workout two or three nights before the shooting. "Gerry told me he and Lou had some kind of fight," Whitten says. "I know Gerry had some things, clothes, over at Lou's house, and he had taken them out that day, or the day before [he was shot]."
Pressed a second time for an explanation of the discrepancy between his two versions of the story, D'Almeida repeats, "He ended up killing himself.... That's what I'm telling you. It hurts me to talk about it now. It's over. You do go on with your life."
With D'Almeida, it's always hard to tell if appearances are quite what they seem. He is Yale-educated and is conversant in four languages. Now 61 and a lifelong bachelor, he has resided in the same penthouse apartment on West 57th Street much of his adult life. He was born in Paris but raised in Buenos Aires until age 14, when his father, Baron Antonio D'Almeida of Portugal, died suddenly at age 47 from a cerebral hemorrhage. D'Almeida's mother promptly moved to New York with Lou and his two brothers. Within two years she had opened a boutique and married Paul Felix Warburg, a prominent U.S. diplomat and investment banker.
Yet gilt-edged as D'Almeida's background is, and as busy as he is managing his real estate interests, he has never just cut the checks for the Gauchos. During Gaucho road trips he can always be found staying in the same modestly priced motels or picking up the team's dinner bills.