Sometime soon, if they haven’t gotten there already, the Republican and Democratic pols looking to derail Rudy Giuliani’s likely presidential bid will dispatch their researchers to look into his City Hall records. One stop will be the voluminous proceedings of the investigations into the allegedly mobbed-up construction company whose owner was befriended by Giuliani’s former corrections and police commissioner, Bernie Kerik.
Once Kerik’s nomination by President Bush to be Homeland Security secretary imploded, the fierce focus on Kerik’s past quickly faded. Kerik quit Giuliani’s consulting firm, and the former mayor insisted he never heard anything about his ex-aide’s alleged wiseguy pals. But records of the city’s inquiry into Interstate Industrial Corporation, the reputedly mob-tied firm where Kerik’s brother worked and where a close Kerik friend with his own mob links was also employed, show the mayor’s investigators were told in detail about Kerik’s relationships.
In June 2000, when Giuliani was still in office, Frank DiTommaso, who owns Interstate along with his brother Peter, spent hours answering questions from city investigators about his contacts with alleged associates of organized crime.
One of the people the investigators pressed DiTommaso especially hard on was a man named Larry Ray, a former insurance salesman, nightclub owner, and such a close pal of Kerik’s that he served as best man at the commissioner’s wedding. Ray was indicted early in 2000, along with several organized-crime members, charged with racketeering in a mob stock-fraud case. The indictment came about a year after DiTommaso had hired Ray to help his firm with two ultra-sensitive license applications, one that would allow him to do business with Atlantic City casinos, and a second from the city’s tough Trade Waste Commission to operate a facility on Staten Island.
How, attorneys for the city’s Department of Investigation wanted to know, had DiTommaso come to hire Larry Ray of all people?
“It just happened by accident,” DiTommaso answered in a lengthy deposition. He and Ray had known each other off and on for years, he said. Ray had once handled some insurance matters for him, and the two would occasionally go out and ride their motorcycles together. Ray just happened to be present one day, DiTommaso explained, when the contractor got a call from one of his many attorneys regarding his problems with the regulators.
“He saw that I was somewhat frustrated and upset and said, ‘What’s the matter?’ ” DiTommaso recalled. The contractor explained to Ray about the scrutiny he was undergoing from various law enforcement agencies.
” ‘Look, I have a lot of experience in law enforcement,’ ” DiTommaso said Ray told him. ” ‘I think I can probably help you.’ ”
At that point, DiTommaso told the investigators, “It was like, you know, I wanted to kiss him.”
Had Ray offered him any specifics about his law enforcement background? asked DOI attorney Norman Dion.
“He didn’t get detailed with me,” said DiTommaso. “But he did tell me he was doing work overseas for the government, which I knew and was able to validate. He had a strong relationship with [former Soviet president] Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife.”
How did DiTommaso know that? he was asked.
“He told me he provided full security for Gorbachev when he traveled to the United States,” DiTommaso said. Ray had proved the claim by taking him to see his friend Kerik at his city office. There, Ray showed him some framed photos. “It was a picture in Commissioner Kerik’s office with Mikhail Gorbachev, and Larry Ray with the mayor.”
“Which mayor?” burst in one of DiTommaso’s own attorneys at that point in the deposition.
“Our mayor,” said DiTommaso.
“I’m asking a serious question,” continued his lawyer.
“Mayor Giuliani,” the contractor confirmed.
Another DOI attorney, Dyana Lee, cut in to make sure she was hearing him correctly. “You saw pictures in Commissioner Kerik’s office with Mr. Ray and Mayor Giuliani?”
“Yes,” said DiTommaso.
“And Mikhail Gorbachev?”
There’s no audiotape of the session, but the transcript of the deposition, obtained under a Freedom of Information request, suggests a room full of stunned lawyers.
DiTommaso went on to say that he and Kerik quickly became friends. Kerik had personally extended an invitation to DiTommaso to attend the commissioner’s Christmas party in December 1998 at his old correction department office. There, DiTommaso said, he encountered a room packed with law enforcement officials in suits. It was all “hugging and kissing,” he said. “That just validated whatever [Ray] was doing with his law enforcement involvement,” said the contractor.
A week after the Kerik Christmas party DiTommaso said he decided to hire Ray as a $100,000-a-year adviser overseeing his company’s security. The builder’s relationship with Kerik also grew. DiTommaso hired Kerik’s brother for his company, and took to dropping by the commissioner’s office. “When I would be in the city I would call him, see if he was in, stop by,” he said.
When he hired Ray, DiTommaso was strenuously trying to persuade investigators that his business dealings with a notorious Gambino crime family member named Eddie Garafola—the brother-in-law of John Gotti’s former right-hand man, Salvatore “Sammy Bull” Gravano—were completely unintentional. Under a contract with the city’s Department of Sanitation, Interstate used Garafola’s company to supply dirt at the Fresh Kills landfill. Later, DiTommaso agreed to buy Garafola’s firm. Officials quickly flagged those transactions, setting in motion probes by New Jersey’s casino regulators and by city authorities.
But Ray’s hiring only added more fuel to the government’s suspicions. At the time, Ray himself was under investigation for the mob stock scheme, a scam that included Garafola. According to court papers, Garafola had put out a contract on Ray’s life.
All that, DiTommaso maintained, came as a complete shock. Ray was fired when the indictments were announced. Kerik stopped talking to him as well. Ray eventually pled guilty to fraud and was sentenced to nine months’ home confinement and five years’ probation.
Interstate was later denied approvals for city contracts; the New Jersey Attorney General is still seeking to bar the firm from working for casinos there.
Asked last week about the photo of Giuliani, Gorbachev, and Ray that had so impressed DiTommaso, Giuliani’s spokeswoman, Sunny Mindel, said she knew nothing about it.
Joe Tacopina, Kerik’s lawyer, confirmed the photo: “There is a picture. Ray really knew these people. That’s the weird thing. That’s why Bernie was duped by this guy.”
Kerik had considered Ray his best friend, Tacopina said, leading him to “some judgment errors on his part.”
As for DiTommaso, Tacopina insisted the two men were never close. “He was someone Bernie met through Larry Ray. The common denominator is Ray.” Later this month, Tacopina said, Kerik is to be deposed by the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement regarding his dealings with the contractor.
For his part, Ray denies duping anyone. But he also confirmed the photo with the mayor and the former Soviet leader. “Yeah, I was there at City Hall,” he said. “Gorbachev, the mayor. Bernie was proud of a lot of photos. He had bunches of them.”