Content Warning: The following program contains adult content, violence, strong language, and suicide….. Listener discretion is advised.
Natalia: Previously on Welcome to Your Fantasy...
Patrick MontesDeOca: Ray was funny, charming, but with a current tension underneath all of that, that he could snap any moment, so to speak.
Graham Gooch: There was a phone call intercepted by the FBI where they said, "We've got a problem. There's a hitman coming to kill some male dancers with a syringe full of poison.”
Ray Colon: Just a tad of cyanide is going to kill you.
Graham Gooch: It was peculiar and certainly wasn't very professional.
Patrick MontesDeOca: I hear what you're doing with this guy, Steve, and you're taking it for him on the chin. He says, why are you doing that? So screw him, give him up. I'm telling you, I'm ordering you. Give him up.
Natalia: Turns out there's actually only one person alive today who really experienced firsthand what happens next in the story of Chippendales. His name is Scott Garriola. Until last year, when he retired, Garriola was an FBI special agent. And a pretty famous one ... He's best known for taking down Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger in 2011. Since the early days of this series, we knew we wanted to talk to Garriola. Hear how he chased down Steve Banerjee ...
Natalia: We wrote and emailed and called for an entire year... But no response. So we used the Freedom of Information Act — FOIA— to get the FBI files from the government. We found the court transcripts where Garriola testified. We talked to his colleagues. And watched every interview he gave in the past. In the end, we decided Garriola was ignoring us, and that what we had would have to suffice. But then, in the last few weeks of production of this show, we tried to call him one last time. And he picked up.
Scott Garriola: I mean, every day you don't know what you're going to get, if you're going to get into a shooting, a car chase, a fight, but you know, it's just the thrill, the hunting of man. That old line by Hemingway that there is no greater thrill or joy than the hunting of man. And it just is.
Natalia: Back in 1991, he’s just a few years into his FBI career, a young hotshot who doesn’t always play well with others.
Garriola: Kind of a recurring theme in my career is I don't get along well with supervisors. I remember in my evaluation at Quantico, the counselor there put a line in my evaluation that I have a tendency to be inappropriately bold at times.
Natalia: He reminds me a little of Johnny Utah, Keanu Reeves’ character in Point Break … if Johnny Utah had grown up in the Bronx and wouldn’t be caught dead in a wetsuit.
Garriola: I like to take risks, I like to take chances. I don't like to just follow the ordinary, and I like to be creative and inventive as far as my investigations. And I think that's kinda what made us successful with the Chippendales thing is that we kind of thought out of the box.
Natalia: In late 1991, Garriola’s he gets pulled into a wild case with an old school agent named Andrew Stefanak, it’s a murder for hire… involving a bunch of male strippers. You might remember from last episode that Ray Colon, Steve Banerjee’s reluctant henchman hired a guy to go to the UK and murder the members a troupe called Adonis. The plan was to inject them with cyanide which Ray provided. Ray was arrested for arranging the hit, and then five months later his lawyers reaches out to the FBI.
Garriola: Colon wanted to cooperate. He wanted to what they call proffer. A proffer is basically you come in and you get one chance to tell your story and to offer a deal to the United States government. And they can't charge you with anything that comes from your story. It's basically the first step in arranging a plea agreement.
Natalia: On February 6th 1992, Garriola meets with Colon for the first time.
Garriola: I mean, he looked like... I'm from New York, he kind of looked like a guy you'd expect with half Italian, half Puerto Rican. He kind of carried his weight. He had that kind of East Coast swagger, which I was familiar with, obviously. I mean, he seemed like a pretty straight shooter. Didn't seem like a tough guy. Didn't seem like a hard-ass.
Natalia: As Garriola put it, for the next three hours, Ray Colon “bares his soul.”
Garriola: Colon gets very emotional. Especially at this time, he gets very emotional. I think he, you know, had had the come to Jesus moment, you know, I don't know at what point it was, but very emotional as he's telling the story.
Natalia: Ray starts at the beginning.
Garriola: He was a traffic school instructor. He was a maintenance guy in an apartment complex. So the apartment complex where he lived was right next to Chippendales, so that's how he became friendly with Banerjee. And I think they just became kind of symbiotic type of relationship. Colon used to get money from him, do odd jobs for him. And Banerjee needed odd jobs, Colon was somebody he could trust.
Natalia: Sometimes the “odd jobs” were like, fix the plumbing or whatever. And other times they were like, burn down my competitor’s club. Arsons. Ray tells Garriola that on three separate occasions, Banerjee offered him seven thousand dollars to commit arson. Ray says he blew off Banerjee’s requests, or he purposefully screwed them up … and over time Steve got more and more upset that Ray wasn’t delivering.
Garriola: It's not very dramatic until Ray start talking about this conspiracy, not just this conspiracy that happens in 1991, but he drops a bigger bombshell on us.
Natalia: In early 1986, Banerjee took Ray out for lunch. He told him, look, you have a debt you need to settle, the seven grand for those failed arsons. And now I need you to settle it. Ray described this moment in the British documentary Chippendales: A Secret History.
Ray Colon: He says, "I want someone murdered."I said, "Are you out of your mind?" And I said, "No, that ain't going to happen Steve." He said, "Come on, man. You do the right thing for your friend."
Natalia: The person Banerjee wanted murdered of course, was his business partner, Nick de Noia. Colon is resistant at first, but Banerjee keeps pressuring him, reminding Ray how much money he gave him over the years. Money for unsuccessful arsons, money Ray never paid back. Plus, they were close friends. And Banerjee would take care of him he promised.
Garriola: He promised he would give Colon anything he wanted, he'd buy him a house. and then he would switch tactics and he said, "If you don't do this for me, I've got friends in organized crime that'll take care of you." And then Colon would say to him, "Well, why don't you just have them do the hit, that's what they're good at, and have them murder de Noia." And he said, "I can't do that because then they'll own my business. I'll have nothing left."
Ray Colon: I said, "Steve, that's a hell of a thing." He says, "Come on, just get someone to do it. This guy, de Noia's, killing me. He's taking millions from me." And, I guess that's when I sold my soul.
Natalia: Ray knew better than to kill Nick himself, so he hired a guy named Louie Lopez to pull the trigger—a small-time crook and heroin addict who’d helped him with those unsuccessful arsons. And this time, Banerjee got his money’s worth. Even though everyone knew Banerjee was behind it, no one could connect him to Nick’s murder. Until this moment… Ray’s deal with the FBI begins a game of cat and mouse between him and Banerjee, with special agents Garriola and Stefanak calling the shots, that will last for nearly two years.
Garriola: There's a lot of risk involved and like I told you before, I like to take risks and sometimes they work out and sometimes they cost me a lot.
Natalia: I’m Natailia Petrzela.. This is Welcome to Your Fantasy, Episode 7: The Golden Goose.
Garriola: So we had this elaborate, from 1979 to 1991, this conspiracy or these allegations of crimes that Colon was telling us, which we really had no evidence of, we had to corroborate this.
Natalia: Ray’s told the feds everything he knows about Steve’s past, the Adonis hit, the de Noia murder, all of the other criminal activity from the past 12 years, and then Ray promises to help them capture his old friend.
Garriola: Ray was not an asshole. He was not a hard-ass or anything like that. Very accommodating to us. His tail was between his legs and he knew he screwed up. And if he didn't cooperate, he was probably going to spend literally the rest of his life in prison.
Natalia: What do you think made him flip on Banerjee, Ray?
Garriola: Ray had this disease that all the children in his family got, where you develop a cysts on your kidney. It was going to kill Ray. I think he was, at the time, what was he, 47, something like that when he was working with us. And so I think he realized he was living on borrowed time, and he didn't want to spend that rest of that time inside a prison. He wanted to see his wife. He wanted to see his mother. He was a family guy. So I think it was a combination of all those things.
Natalia: What Garriola and Stefanak decide to do after their meeting with Ray is truly incredible … or, if you’re Garriola’s boss, incredibly risky … they get a judge to agree to release Ray from jail, and then they put him to work.
Garriola: So the plan that we came up with was that we were going to get Colon out of the detention center because he had this ailment, this illness. We hoped to get them out so that we could get him into Banerjee to try and get some of these conversations about the conspiracies and the arsons on tape. That's the goal. And in order to do that, we couldn't have Ray locked up at the detention center.
Natalia: Right… Wait, did your superiors, was there an issue like, this guy could run, we don’t get people out this often, what did they think?
Garriola: Unfortunately, headquarters, the Federal Bureau of Interferences, as I call headquarters, they decided that it's too much of a risk for him to be out. He's an admitted killer. It's too much of a risk. Right?
Natalia: Garriola tells his bosses, look, there’s no other way for us to get this guy. You have to trust us. It’s under control. And eventually … very, very reluctantly… the higher-ups relent. The first night Garriola and Stefanak pick Ray up from prison, they put him in the back seat of their car. Stefanak’s at the wheel. Garriola’s on the passenger’s side.
Garriola: I have a five shot Smith and Wesson on my ankle, I take it off my ankle. Ray's sitting it in the backseat. I said, "Ray grab this." I said, "Because if you're going fuck Stefanak and I, and take off and screw us, you might as well just put bullets in the back of our head right now." Because-
Garriola: I'm a three year agent. I said, "You're going to fuck my career over. Stefanak's got retirement, you're going to fuck him over. Just kill us right now." And he goes, "Are you guys stupid?" He goes, "I've told you, I'm with you 100%. 100%."
Natalia: Wow. Did any part of you think he was going to act on that? My heart raced a little bit when you told that story.
Garriola: No. I mean, I don't know, maybe I'm stupid. Maybe I'm ballsy. I don't know. I don't know. I felt I could trust him 100%.
Natalia: The case against Banerjee is hard to build. The crimes are old. There’s very little physical evidence. But now that they have Ray, who knows everything, it’s like they can go back in time and try to put the whole story together from the beginning.
Garriola: And we would have him drive us around Los Angeles. We wanted him to show us where this person, Louie, lived. So we got the address for Louie. And then we had them show us payphones that he would use to call Banerjee from so we could get records from these payphones. We're corroborating everything that he's telling us to try and get evidence for the prosecution.
Natalia: It’s 1992, nearly a year since the attempted Adonis hit in the UK. Five years since Nick de Noia’s murder. And all that time, Banerjee has been living large. He now owns Nick’s share of the touring rights, he’s traveling all over Europe with his British tour promoter. Doing calendar shoots and filing a bunch a promotional video in Tahiti. We actually got our hands on a bunch of that behind the scenes footage from that Tahiti trip. There’s Steve sitting on a boat, complaining how expensive the whole trip is and directing the shots with incredible precision.
[Archival Footage Steve Banerjee: Ok here’s what I want you to do. You see how this line breaks, this line should be straight. And your toes should be like a ballet dancer.]
Natalia: Garriola’s plan is to get Banerjee on tape admitting to his crimes. And he also needs to nab Louie Lopez, the guy who pulled the trigger and killed Nick. If Louie admits to killing Nick on tape, and then Banerjee admits to contracting Nick’s murder, the case is made. From May to December 1992, Ray works on Louie Lopez … who’s in Norco prison on drug charges.
Ray Colon: Where you been, man?
Louie Lopez: Where have I been?
Ray Colon: Well, how the hell did you get in there, man?
Louie Lopez: Oh, man. It's a long story.
Ray Colon: Shit.
Natalia: Louie Lopez is actually an alias, his real name, the FBI comes to find out, is Gilberto Rivera. So you’ll hear Ray or Garriola referring to him as Rivera. We’re gonna keep calling him Louie though, which is the name Ray knew him by.
Ray Colon: It's Wednesday, 7-29. It's approximately 7:33. I have just concluded a call that I had accepted from Louis Rivera.
Natalia: Ray records at least a dozen calls over the course of about nine months. Talking to him about old times, and mentioning some work he’d like Louie to do once he gets out.
Garriola: The whole time now Ray is communicating with Rivera, who's in prison. And we're trying to get Ray to put on Rivera's visiting list so he can go visit him and have a face-to-face conversation.
Natalia: But Louie is cagey. And Ray has to play along. Ray knows that Louie won’t discuss specifics on the phone. He refers to Nick as, quote “the guy that we fired from the company.”
Ray Colon: Well, I'd rather... if I get to see you, I'll tell you in person. I hate to talk on these fucking phones.
Louie Lopez: Yeah. I know what you're saying.
Ray Colon: You know what I mean?
Louie Lopez: Yeah.
Ray Colon: I don't want to talk on this phone if I can, but put me on the list and I'll come and see you.
Louie Lopez: All right.
Ray Colon: And maybe we could say a little better than on this fucking phone.
Louie Lopez: All right, man. What I’mma do is..
Natalia: Finally, on Christmas Eve, 1992, Stefanak and Garriola put a wire on Ray and send him off to meet Louie in person.
Steve Clymer: Whenever you have an undercover tape, people think it's going to be like it is on TV, and oftentimes it's not.
Natalia: This is Steve Clymer, one of the federal prosecutors who worked on the case against Steve Banerjee.
Steve Clymer: There's always extraneous background noise, the people mumble, they talk over each other. Somebody is running the water in the background, or there's a TV set on. I did another case involving a major drug smuggling organization, where an undercover tape had been made in a hotel room and Star Wars was on television. So when you listen to the tape, it sounds like Darth Vader's in the room with these guys who are talking about a drug transaction,and so the quality of the recording is not very good.
Natalia: Like this tape. In which you can hear, barely, the voices of Stefanak and Garriola as they prep Ray Colon.
Andrew Stefanak: Well it’s Thursday
Scott Garriola: ...December 24th, approximately eleven o’clock PM, ah…
Garriola: AM. This is ah...Special Agents Stefanak and Garriola with CW Augustine R.A. Colon.
Garriola: And Stefanak and I are sitting inside a building, they're sitting in a courtyard. And I'm listening to the conversation, writing notes as it's happening.
Natalia: Ray and Louie talk for nearly two hours, until visiting hours end. Ray sounds anxious on the recording … telling Louie he’s worried they’ll be overheard.
Ray Colon: I don't know. I don't want to...
Louie Lopez: Bado, you can talk. They can't hear.
Ray Colon: Are you sure these people ain't hearing me?
Louie Lopez: They can't hear you, if they do, they can't make it out. Homes it's too noisy in here.
Natalia: Louie’s right. The actual tape sounds terrible. But we were able to get the FBI’s transcript of the conversation, along with the original recording. Which you’ll hear a bit of here, underneath two actors recreating the conversation. Ray and Louie talk about Christmas and Ray asks about Louie’s mom and kids. He buys Louie cigarettes and a burrito from the vending machine. And then eventually Ray steers the conversation to the day of Nick de Noia’s murder five years earlier, by marveling at the way Louie escaped the crime scene on the 15th floor, right after he shot nick.
Ray Colon: Man you must of ran down those fucking stairs bro, 'cause... that's a lot of fucking floors.
Louie Lopez: I ran.
Ray Colon: You what?
Louie Lopez: I did run.
Ray Colon: You didn't run. You, you fucking [laughs] leaped jack. I'm surprised you didn't have a heart attack, fifteen floors. How long did you take you to get down? Three minutes?
Louie Lopez: Probably. No more than four. I was down there real quick like. I didn't want to look so suspicious. I don't want to come out of breath or nothing. So right before, about halfway down to the main floor, before I hit the main floor that's when I slowed down and I took a second wind, Homes, buttoned up. Act real cool, calm and collective. Walked out. And then I...and then I mingled with all the rest of the crowd. You try to leave the least evidence you can man, especially when you’re doing something like that. That’s life Homes. The least you'll do is twenty-five years. No that's life. Murder for hire, shit!
Natalia: Louie is giving Ray exactly what the FBI hoped he would. Ray just keeps egging him on, trying to get Louie to recount exactly what went down that day in Nick’s office.
Ray Colon: Fuck! De Noia was an asshole anyways.
Louie Lopez: Was he?
Ray Colon: He was an asshole.
Louie Lopez: You know him personally?
Ray Colon: No, I never met him, but I told ah...he, he, you know he fucked up a lot of people...I was always, you know, like i saw him on TV a few times from ah… a tape. He was always smiling. Always with this big fucking … smiling.
Ray Colon: But he did more shit too bro. And then you, they had been warning him and bro. They had warned this guy. . They didn’t say they were going to, you know, whack him, but they warned him.
Natalia: Eventually, Ray brings Louie back to the moment when Louie was standing in Nick’s office, facing him down, gun in hand.
Ray Colon: He almost shit when he saw you bro. I mean come on think about it bro. You or I are just standing here. All of a sudden the guy walks up to you, know what I mean? Now the last thing he heard in his whole life was what … “I’ve got something for you,” that was it. That was one of the last, the last thing, right? Unbelievable.
Louie Lopez: He just looked up, he was surprised.
Ray Colon: He was surprised. What made you think he was surprised?
Louie Lopez: At first he started smiling because he thought it was a joke or something.
Ray Colon: He started smiling?
Louie Lopez: He looked up and then when he saw I meant business, Homes, he … his whole expression, his whole face just, just changed man. He got the fear, man.
Ray Colon: But I mean, but it was like, it was like, a like … let’s say ten seconds or like…
Louie Lopez: It took about five seconds. For his facial expression, his facial expression changed from ah...you know back smiling into … to sheer panic. And that that’s all, that’s all iIsaw. I, I saw a little red dot on his face and I saw him going down.
Ray Colon: A red dot? What do you mean a red dot?
Louie Lopez: Where the bullet went in.
Garriola: And I was like, that was it. That was like, that's all we needed.
Natalia: How'd you feel in that moment?
Garriola: Well, listen, it's a major relief, right? Your heart is in your mouth the whole time, and you're waiting for him to give you that golden nugget. And you finally get it. We have a good thing going with him. We have it on tape, it's beautiful. We have him out of our hair and now we have Banerjee to worry about. That’s the… he's the one we have to get, the golden goose. He's the one behind everything.
Natalia: We’ll be right back.
Natalia: Scott Garriola and Ray Colon both know it’s not going to be easy to get Banerjee to admit anything incriminating, especially not to Ray, who’s suddenly and inexplicably out of prison. Ray tells Banerjee that he’s out on medical leave because of his kidney disease. Banerjee’s not buying it. But Ray’s persistent ... And eventually in the summer of 1992, Banerjee agrees to meet him at a Best Western hotel in Santa Monica. Ray, of course, will be wearing a wire.
Scott Garriola: Back in that day, they were not the most stealthy of devices. So I had this great Italian tailor here in Los Angeles, and I took a pair of Ray's shorts to him. And I had had him sew in a flap right under Ray's crotch. And I had him sew a Velcro compartment in the waistband of Ray's shorts that we could secrete the wires, the actual recording microphones for Ray.
Natalia: What'd the tailor say when you did that, when you requested that?
Scott Garriola: He barely spoke English and I didn't speak any Italian, but we could communicate. So I just told him what I needed. I showed him. So I say, "I need to put this thing here. I need a flap over it. I need some Velcro." "Okay. Okay. I get it done."
Natalia: It sounds like it could be a costume for a Chippendale's number almost.
Scott Garriola: Yeah, exactly. Italian tailor takes off his collar and cuffs and there he is. He's in a G-string.
Natalia: Ray walks into the lobby, and Banerjee immediately leads him into the men’s room where he strip searches him. He doesn’t find the wire, but he still refuses to speak out loud. Instead Banerjee writes notes to ray on little post-it notes, then flushes each one down the toilet after he’s done.
Scott Garriola: And Ray tries to talk to him, but Banerjee just keeps on shushing them. And we picked this up on the wire. There's really not much of a conversation, but there's all these sticky notes of back and forth. And Banerjee is just, he wants to be reassured so badly by Colon that he's not cooperating with the government.
Natalia: After that meeting, Banerjee goes back to avoiding Ray. He screens his calls … stops responding to his letters. So Garriola and Stefanak hatch a new plan. What if they could somehow meet outside the country? What if they can get to Banerjee when he’s on tour in Europe, where he’d be much less suspicious of Ray?
Scott Garriola: And we knew there was no way that Banerjee was going to freely talk to Ray, and we were going to be able to get this conversation on a recording device.
Scott Garriola: Right? So the plan I came up with was, well, let's make Ray a fugitive. He was going to cut off the ankle monitor. He was going to get a passport. And he was going to take off and go to Europe. And when he got to Europe, he would call Steve and get him to come visit him.
Natalia: So Ray tells Banerjee he’s going to go on the run … he’s going to Europe … and Banerjee’s whole tone with him changes.
Scott Garriola: Banerjee told Colon, "Once we get over there, I'll talk all you want." Because like I said, Banerjee was so interested in being reassured by Colon, and he wanted to talk. So that was the plan.
Natalia: As you might imagine, it’s not an easy thing to get a confessed murderer out of the country … even one who’s already working with the government. But Garriola is determined. He gets Ray a real passport under a fake name. And he gets him an apartment in Rome, where they plan to meet with Banerjee.
Scott Garriola: You could imagine the hand wringing and head pulling from FBI headquarters, our office in Rome, and my supervisor. We were going to try and take a guy who was a murder conspirator and take him overseas to Rome, in a foreign country where he could just flee from us. And we have no jurisdiction to arrest him.
Steve Clymer: I don't know of another case where they took a cooperating killer out of the country, in order to further their investigation.
Natalia: That’s Steve Clymer again, the federal prosecutor on Banerjee’s case.
Steve Clymer: It was only because the agent Scott Garriola was able to get that done, and get it done on short notice that we were able to get that piece of evidence. It's not clear if we would have had a prosecutable case against Banerjee but for the fact that Scott was able to get that done. He's a bit of a legend out there.
Natalia: In January 1993, Garriola flies to Rome to begin preparing for the meeting between Banerjee and Colon. He spends a week getting to know the Italian agents he’ll be working with. His partner, Andy Stefanak, arrives with Colon a week later. They get Banerjee on the phone … and Ray tells him he’s there in Rome, he’s got a place for them to meet, and that he’s eager to talk. And then Banerjee throws a huge wrench in the whole thing. He can’t meet as planned, he says … he’s actually not coming to Rome. Instead, he’s on his way to Switzerland.
Scott Garriola: So he said, "Come to Zurich. I'll be in Zurich next week. I'm doing a show in Geneva.” He says, “Meet me in Zurich." Now we're, "Fuck, man. How are we going to get ... Now, we already convinced headquarters and our office to let us go to Rome. Now we got to go to Zurich, Switzerland? How is that going to happen?"
Natalia: Garriola flies into action. The FBI files that I’ve read are a flurry of faxes, memos, and paperwork: country clearance, travel approval, legal authority to make recordings. They set up a new meeting place … a Hilton hotel in downtown Zurich. Garriola and Stefanak tell Ray to put on a disguise, the way someone on the run would do.
Scott Garriola: So Colon made up some kind of disguise with a fake mustache and he got himself a beret. He thought he was French, I guess. And then we got the Swiss police and they were able to wire up his jacket that he was wearing. It was winter in Switzerland, so it was very cold. So we put the microphones and the transmitter in his jacket and we wired up the hotel room.
Natalia: The plan was for Ray to get Steve to meet him at the hotel where Ray's staying, but Banerjee calls Ray when he lands in Zurich and tells him he wants to meet at a different hotel.
Scott Garriola: So now, Ray grabs his jacket, and I go with one of the Swiss police officers and they go into this restaurant.
Natalia: And Garriola and the other agents are outside listening via transmitter. Ray and Steve talk ... But at one point Ray takes his jacket off, which has the wire in it.
Scott Garriola: So now we can't hear anything. So I said, “okay, let me see if I can get Colon to somehow do a signal for him to put it on.” So I go in. I'm wearing an overcoat, raincoat, like a Burberry coat or something like that. I go in and I'm standing at the entrance way of the restaurant, which is in a direct line of sight, and I'm taking my jacket on and off several times, to give Colon the idea to put the frigging jacket back on.
Natalia: But Ray doesn’t notice Garriola trying to get his attention.
Scott Garriola: So plan B. The Swiss police said, "Okay, well handle this." They go in, they tell the maître d' of the restaurant, "Shut the restaurant down. Close it up. It's done for the night."
Natalia: The restaurant closes. The patrons are shuffling out. And when Ray suggests he and Banerjee go back to his hotel room, Banerjee agrees.
Scott Garriola: I’m in the next room, we got the room wired with microphones and we hear the conversation and it is like crystal clear, like a recording studio.
Natalia: Once they’re in Ray’s room, Banerjee finally starts to talk freely … but then the hotel room phone rings.
Ray Colon: And his eyes got as big as that ashtray. And he says, "Who's that?" I said, "Oh, it's just the wrong number.” Oh it was just, you know. Could have cost me my life. He might have had a gun in that suitcase. I don't know.
Scott Garriola: You hear Ray saying, "Nope. Nope. Nobody here by that name, no." Hangs up. And then the phone rings in my room and it's my supervisor calling from the states, wanting to know about an update. And it turned out he had called the three rooms we had rented. He had called all three of the rooms. And so I said, "Pat, stop. We'll call you when it's over." Pretty much hang up on him. And about two minutes later, it clicks to Banjeree like, "Who was that on the phone? Who called you? No one knows you're here. Who's calling you on the phone?"
Natalia: Banerjee starts to panic. He’s convinced there’s someone in the next room listening in. Ray stays calm. He bangs on the hotel room wall reassuring Steve “don’t worry, these walls are thick.”
Ray Colon: These walls are so hard," boom, boom, boom, boom. "Relax, calm yourself." He said, "I'll kill myself." I go , "Nah, don't kill yourself. Don't worry about it."
Scott Garriola: Ray did a great job of getting them back, talking about everything. They're drinking. Ray's so nervous he's drinking beer after beer. Banerjee says, "How much can you drink?" And Ray's so nervous. They just start talking about the arsons and the money and Banerjee's asking, "Do they know about the D? Do they know I gave you the money for the guns?" Ray's just telling him, "No, I didn't tell him anything." Ray's doing his best acting of his life, he's doing in that room.
Natalia: The entire conversation lasts for five hours, into the early morning. I should say here that the tape from this conversation in Zurich … First I heard it was destroyed. Then I heard it still exists, somewhere deep in the bowels of the FBI … But no FOIA requests have worked. Nearly 30 years later, the prosecutor Steve Clymer, remembers nearly every detail.
Steve Clymer: The thing that I remember distinctively was that Banerjee referred to de Noia as D. He'd never said his name. He just talked about him as, "D." He didn't describe just the murder of de Noia. He talked about the fire bombings, he talked about the efforts to try to have the guys in Adonis killed. It was a couple hours long meeting the two of them had, and they covered soup to nuts in that meeting, and you could hear pretty much every word.
Natalia: Garriola says a moment like this is incredibly stressful.
Scott Garriola: You're so wound up, and you're so tight, and you want everything to go right, and here we are. And we just so desperately needed to get this recording, because I mean, this was going to be our last chance. If we don't get him here, how many more times are we going to be able to come over to Europe and do this, and get the tape? So it was that gotcha feeling. You know?
Natalia: Was there one thing that Banerjee said, like the same way that Rivera said, “the red dot,” was there a phrase or a sentence he said when you're like, "This is it"?
Scott Garriola: He asked, "Do they know about the D?" And then he said, "Do they know I gave you the money for the guns."
Natalia: And that was it.
Scott Garriola: Yeah, that was it.
Ray Colon: Steve kept on talking and talking. At some point, he hung himself.
Natalia: We’ll be right back.
Natalia: On the morning of September 2, 1993, seven months after that meeting in Zurich, Steve Banerjee pulls his gold Mercedes into the parking lot of the Chippendales office on West Pico Blvd in LA.
Scott Garriola: Stefanak and I were there waiting in a car across the street. You had a surveillance van. And so when he showed up, he got out of the door, Stefanak and I walked up on him, and told him we have a warrant for his arrest. And I remember handcuffing him. I remember his hands were pretty much shaking nonstop. We didn't go out there with guns drawn. We weren't afraid of him, physically. We weren't worried that he was going to do anything physically, because we know he didn't have the courage to do any of that stuff. He hired people to do that stuff.
Natalia: His hands might have been shaking, but Banerjee seemed almost cocky as they took him in.
Scott Garriola: And he said something to the effect... I don't remember his exact words, but it was like, "You don't have anything on me, and I've got good lawyers."
Natalia: Garriola and Stefanak’s relationship with Ray would last beyond the moment of Steve Banerjee’s arrest. Ray still had jailtime to serve for his involvement in the murder of Nick de Noia, but his sentence got reduced for helping with the case … and the agents arranged for him to serve some of that sentence in a medical facility. When he was finally released, in 1996, his health had gotten quite bad. Garriola and Stefanak took Ray to dialysis while they prepped him for the murder trial, where Ray would testify against Louie Lopez.
Scott Garriola: Ray was so wrapped up in his own problems. He's having heart problems and kidney problems and marital problems, and all this stuff was hitting him at once. Andy and I had to go give blood for him and stuff like that.
Natalia: You gave blood for him? Your own blood?
Scott Garriola: Yeah. We had to do blood transfusions for him.
Scott Garriola: So, yeah, he spent a lot of time in the hospital here in Los Angeles. We had to go visit him in the hospital and stuff like that. Now, this was a little selfishly too, we wanted to make sure he survived. But even after the trial, you establish this relationship with somebody. You're just not going to... I'm not that kind of person where I'm going to just kick you to the curb. I don't want nothing to do with you. You're a bad guy.
Natalia: Did you have other cases where you'd have that kind of rapport with your informant? I don't know. I'm not in the business, right? But it sounds like, wow, that's not the relationship I'd expect.
Scott Garriola: I mean, I had a bunch of crazy cases. And Henry Hill from Goodfellas, and Whitey Bulger and stuff like that. But just, nothing... I mean, this relationship with Ray was like, I mean, from the moment we met him in '91 until he passed away in 2002, so we had a 10 year relationship with him.
Scott Garriola: I mean, in the course of my career, you work with criminals so much, whether it's informants, so you listen to them on wiretaps that, you know ... I don't want to say ... You kind of develop a bond, sort of, with them.
Scott Garriola: Because if you treat them like dirt, then they're not going to work with you, not going to work for you, and you're not going to get the truth out of them so you have to treat them... Listen, I believe in confessions and making right with your maker and stuff like that. I believe everybody deserves a second chance, but what Ray did was horrible. There's no doubt about it.
Scott Garriola: At his core is he a bad person? I'm not going to judge him.
Natalia: Next time ... The saga of Steve Banerjee finally comes to a close.
Steve Clymer: I never had a defendant do that on the night before sentencing before. It was shocking.
Natalia: And the legend of Chippendales continues, in the minds of those who lived it...
Bruce Nahin: When I die, women will come with their beefcake calendar
Natalia: And it also lives on for the women who still to this day turn out for a good show.
LI Woman 1: She’s got all her dollars in her wallet, she can’t wait. [laughs]
Natalia: Are you ready to use those dollars?
LI Woman 2: Oh definitely! [laughs]
[Audience chanting: “Chippendales! Chippendales!]
LI Woman 1: And we’re horny old ladies! [laughs]
[Audience chanting: “Chippendales! Chippendales!]
Natalia: Welcome to Your Fantasy is a production of Pineapple Street Studios in association with Gimlet. It’s hosted by me, Natalia Petrzela. Our senior producer is Eleanor Kagan, our producer is Christine Driscoll, and our associate producer is Erin Kelly. Nicole Hemmer and Neil J. Young are consulting producers.
Natalia: Our editors are Joel Lovell and Maddy Sprung-Keyser. It was mixed by Hannis Brown. And fact-checked by Ben Phelan. Our voice actors were Gerry Pinzon and Isiat De La Fuente. Casting by Harrison Nesbit.
Natalia: This show features original music by Daoud Anthony. And thanks to our music supervisor Jasmine Flott. The executive producers at Pineapple Street are Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linsky. From Gimlet our executive producer is Lydia Polgreen and our editor is Collin Campbell.
Natalia: We’ve got a Spotify playlist with tons of music from the original show so you can recreate the club experience for yourself in the comfort of your own home. You can find the link in the show notes.
Natalia: For behind the scenes footage, photos, clips and more check out our Instagram account @ChippendalesRevealed. That’s our handle @ChippendalesRevealed.
Natalia: Did you ever go to Chippendales? We want to hear about it. Leave us a short voicemail—30 seconds to a minute, tops—at (323) 475-9424, and we might play it on a future episode. That’s 323-475-9424.
This is a Spotify Original Podcast.