NEW YORK — He has known mobsters and politicians and high-ranking American military officers. He has portrayed himself as an international man of mystery who played a role in helping to end the war in Kosovo in the late 1990s.
He had contacts with foreign leaders and arranged Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to City Hall in 1997 to meet with the then-mayor, Rudy Giuliani. For the last 19 years, he has been in and out of legal trouble for everything from involvement in a mob stock pump-and-dump scheme to custody issues involving his children.
For decades, Lawrence V. Ray, 60, who was charged by federal law enforcement Tuesday in a bizarre scheme that included extortion, forced prostitution and forced labor involving a group of students he met while he was living with his daughter at Sarah Lawrence College, has been described by some as a master manipulator.
Burly and intense, Ray has put himself at the center of local politics. In 1998, he was the best man at the wedding of a former New York police commissioner, Bernard B. Kerik.
But he’s also turned on those who have trusted him — first as an FBI informant against the mob, and then as a cooperating witness in an investigation that would ultimately land Kerik in prison.
In 2010, apparently down and out, Ray, who had recently been released from prison on a custody charge, moved into his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York, federal investigators said.
He is now facing decades in prison, accused of manipulating students from the school to the point that they were willing to falsely confess to crimes. He is charged with coercing one woman into prostitution, and with stealing $1 million from his victims, according to the indictment unsealed Tuesday.
“Larry Ray is a psychotic con man who has victimized every friend he’s ever had,” Kerik, who has said he cut ties with Ray in 2000, was quoted as saying in the 2019 New York magazine article that prompted the government’s investigation. “It’s been close to 20 years since I last heard from him, yet his reign of terror continues.”
The following portrait of Ray was put together from interviews, court documents and news coverage by the Times over the years.
Here’s what we know about him:
Ties to Reputed Mobsters, Fears of a Hit Man
Ray, who is also known as Lawrence Grecco, grew up in Brooklyn and New Jersey. In the 1980s, he became a partner in a bar in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, called Club Malibu and JJ Rockers. At the bar, he began meeting people from all walks of life, including politicians from New York and New Jersey.
In the early 1990s, he formed a commercial insurance brokerage firm, helping insure people for projects such as construction.
In this role, he met a reputed mobster who owned a company called U.S. Bridge of New York, according to federal investigators. Ray agreed to help the company get insurance for a major project.
At some point in the mid-1990s, Ray began to believe that someone from the mob attached to the company was trying to kill him. Kerik helped him contact the FBI, according to emails between the two men. Ray began serving as an informant in a federal investigation related to a wide-ranging security fraud scheme involving the pumping and dumping of stocks. He ended up being indicted himself, along with 18 others, for a role in the scheme.
In 2000, federal investigators charged Ray with agreeing to pay a $100,000 bribe to a bond brokerage firm executive, according to a 2004 federal court filing. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit security fraud and was sentenced to five years of probation.
Friendship With Giuliani’s Police Commissioner
Appointed New York City police commissioner in 2000, Kerik became a national figure after the Sept. 11 terror attacks. In 2004, President George W. Bush nominated Kerik to lead the Department of Homeland Security. But a series of scandals, some of which involved Ray, destroyed that chance.
Kerik and Ray had become friends in the mid-1990s. The two men worked out together and rode motorcycles. At the time, Kerik was a rising star in the New York City Department of Correction. He became the commissioner of the department early in 1998.
In November 1998, Kerik got married in New Jersey, and Ray served as best man. Ray and another friend, also a partner in Club Malibu, wrote checks to cover parts of Kerik’s wedding and reception.
In 1999, Kerik wanted to renovate his new apartment in Riverdale, in the Bronx, according to emails between Ray and Kerik. The scandal over who paid for his renovation ended up engulfing Kerik.
Through Ray, Kerik befriended a man named Frank DiTommaso, who ran a construction company, Interstate Industrial Corp., with his brother. The company hired Ray as its security director, according to the Times’ coverage of a resulting case that accused the former city police commissioner of, among other things, accepting illegal renovations on his Bronx apartment.
The company had performed more than $200,000 in renovations on the apartment for almost no cost. State and federal investigators discovered the arrangement after Kerik withdrew from consideration for Homeland Security secretary.
Ray agreed to cooperate with investigators looking into Kerik. In 2006, Kerik pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges related to $165,000 in gifts received from the construction company. He was jailed three years later after pleading to eight federal felony charges.
Arranging a Visit by Mikhail Gorbachev
Ray had contacts with at least one American general and Russian officials. He liked to talk about how he helped broker a deal to end bombing in Kosovo in the late 1990s, a claim at least partly backed up by a letter from NATO in court records, The Washington Post reported in 2007.
Somehow, he also formed a connection with someone who worked for Gorbachev, the former leader of the Soviet Union. In 1997, Ray helped to arrange for Gorbachev to visit New York, where he met with Giuliani at City Hall. He later said he arranged the visit, on Dec. 18, 1997, at Kerik’s request.
A photograph from the time shows Ray outside City Hall that day, standing behind Gorbachev, with Kerik in the foreground. Kerik and Gorbachev are both gesturing with their hands in opposite directions.
Beaten Up in a Lobby
Ray would end up cooperating with authorities in cases against not only Kerik but also DiTommaso. Ray testified against DiTommaso in a 2012 perjury trial related to the renovation scandal.
Years later, the slight was not forgotten. Ray popped up in the news in 2017, when a video from two years earlier of his being pummeled in the lobby of the Hudson Hotel by DiTommaso was obtained by the Daily News.
The video shows DiTommaso walking past Ray, and then back toward him after apparently recognizing him. DiTommaso then attacked Ray. Two people nearby in the lobby rushed over and tried to stop the attack.
The beating left Ray with a skull fracture as well as permanent speech and other neurological problems, Ray’s lawyer, Edward Hayes, said at the time. Federal investigators now charge that by that point Ray was already years into his extortion schemes involving the students from Sarah Lawrence College.