Issues | THE FOREIGN ELEMENT

Trail of failed ventures involving American in murder probe leads from New York to Tokyo

by Simon Scott and Ben Stubbings

In the days prior to July 29, when Mariko Akitaya’s lifeless body was discovered floating off the coast of Miura, Kanagawa Prefecture, police say Gregory Gumo, an American resident of Yokohama, purchased a rope and a brown plastic sheet.

On July 27, security camera footage captured images of Gumo and Akitaya traveling in a vehicle in the direction of nearby Atami. Two days later, Akitaya’s body was found, wrapped in a brown sheet and attached with rope to a concrete block at the bottom of the shallow bay. She had reportedly been alive when she entered the water, and evidence of drugs used in sleeping pills was detected in her blood. Later on July 29, Gumo was detained at Haneda Airport, where police say he planned to board a plane to the United States. He was charged on Aug. 6 with disposing of a body and the case was sent to prosecutors on Aug. 8.

Kanagawa police believe Gumo, a 41-year-old married father of three, met Akitaya, a 42-year-old single employee in the cosmetics industry, through a dating website. Like most people their age, the victim and her suspected killer left a digital trail across social media and other online sources that may prove useful to police attempting to understand the crime. While Akitaya’s online presence was minimal, Gumo — who styled himself as a master event promoter and start-up entrepreneur — left a far bigger footprint that traces the arc of his adult life, from the clubland of his native New York to Japan and Singapore.


Luis Mendez first met Gumo in the Gaspanic nightclub in Tokyo’s Shibuya district in 2003, not long after Gumo is believed to have arrived in Japan, through a mutual friend.

“I thought, ‘My friends know him, so he is a cool guy,’ ” Mendez says.

Mendez, now 44, was working as a model at the time for a number of Japanese fashion houses. He says it was a couple of years later before he saw Gumo again, this time in Gaspanic’s now-shuttered Yokohama branch, where Gumo was working as a waiter taking drink orders.

He says Gumo starting telling him about an Internet business idea he had called Cloud Five, which he envisioned as a type of peer-to-peer file-sharing system similar to the now-defunct LimeWire.

“I wanted to be a part of starting it — I saw a vision of people downloading stuff,” says Mendez. “I was like, ‘This will be huge.’ ”

He says he met Gumo a few more times and everything seemed above-board, so he invested all his savings.

“He got me some paperwork and showed me some stuff,” he explains. “I looked through the stuff and I put through ¥10 million — that was cash. I had it in my Louis Vuitton bag.”

Two of his friends also invested $5,000 each (roughly ¥550,000 at the time) into the business, he says, which added to his confidence that Gumo was the real deal.

Mendez says he came from an impoverished background and grew up tough on the streets of Brooklyn, New York.

“We were always homeless, sleeping on the train one day and then in the homeless shelter,” he says.

Mendez believes that his background skewed his perspective on the value of money.

“I was poor and got into the modeling game and I suddenly had money,” he says.

After parting with his ¥10 million, Mendez was now a proud shareholder in Cloud Five. Later, he says Gumo took him to the fledgling company’s office, which he now believes was paid for with the money he and his friends had invested.

“He has this place which is two stories, not far from Roppongi,” Mendez recalls. “It is looking beautiful and it was running a lot of servers. It looked legit.”

Yet as time went on, and with Gumo becoming ever harder to track down, Mendez says he began to suspect all was not as it seemed.

“It is almost a year and we hadn’t seen any returns, and now the apartment [office near Roppongi] is gone,” he says. “He has just disappeared.”

Mendez says he spent years trying to track down Gumo and get his money back, but with no luck, when, out of the blue, he ran into him around 2006 or 2007, again in Gaspanic in Shibuya.

“I saw him through the corner of my eye, and then he goes out the door, and I run towards the door. I look down and the guy is not there. I run straight down, flying down the stairs and this guy is gone, I mean gone,” says Mendez. “That was the last time I saw him.”

Mendez says he never got a penny back from Gumo, but he also never reported what happened to him to the Japanese authorities.

“I f—-ed it up,” he admits. “I lost the money and I wanted to settle it myself.”

In 2010 Mendez returned to the U.S., and he says that although it took him some time to get back on his feet, he is doing well now working as a doorman at a nightclub in New York.

“I can’t believe I put my trust in him,” he says of Gumo. “I felt betrayed, and after that I couldn’t trust anybody with anything, money-wise.”


New York is where Gumo’s name first crops up in relation to shady business practices, part of a pattern that follows him to Japan and then to Singapore, and possibly Thailand as well.

Gumo’s LinkedIn profile places him in the New York club scene from 1988, when he would have been just 14 years old, at the height of the era captured in the 1998 documentary “Party Monster” and later feature film of the same name, which both follow the infamous drug-fueled exploits of Michael Alig and his “Club Kids,” culminating in the murder of one of their own, “Angel” Melendez, by Alig and a friend over a drug debt.

Online records link Gumo to Limelight (and its successor, Avalon), Tunnel, the Palladium and Club USA — all renowned Club Kid haunts, and all owned by Alig’s mentor, the eyepatch-wearing “King of New York Clubs,” Peter Gatien, considered a seminal figure in the development of global club culture.

Gatien’s reign came to an end with a large-scale federal investigation into the sale of party drugs at his clubs and a tax fraud conviction, leading to his eventual deportation back to his native Canada. An event promoter like Alig, Gumo claims to have worked as event coordinator at all four of the aforementioned Gatien-owned clubs during this period, and also as managing director in the late ’90s after Gatien’s departure.

Although it is unclear exactly what role Gumo played at these clubs, his name does appear in local media at the time in relation to dubious activities surrounding events at some former Gaiten venues.

In an article in New York’s Village Voice magazine in September 2002, Gumo’s name is mentioned in relation to a scam.

The story discusses a botched series of house party events in New York organized by a promoter named Josh Isaac, at which well-known artists such as Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo of Daft Punk and his brother, Paul, were to perform, a fiasco that resulted in Isaac losing around $25,000.

“Isaac contends he did all the right things: booked the hotel, paid the deposit, etc.,” the columnist writes. “But he shortly discovered he was bamboozled — and was dealing all along with a nonexistent booking agency in France that he was recommended to by a former colleague, Greg Gumo, who used to work at the Limelight. Gumo, who is currently living in Japan, could not be reached at press time.”


Over the next seven years in Japan, one constant in Gumo’s life appears to be work with Yamagata Corp., a maker of instruction manuals, and its affiliate companies, where he claims to have worked first as a “localisation / translation specialist” and later a “chief business officer, Technovangelist,” — or, in other words, as he puts it, “Spit shining the old brass.” In 2006, he appears to have co-founded Soundpedia, a failed music streaming site (or “one of the most advanced music indexing and streaming platforms of all time,” as Gumo calls it) that closed a year later.

Gumo’s club and event promotion activities appear to pick up again after he moved to Singapore around 2007. From all appearances, Gumo had a love not just for the nightlife and club scene, but the money behind it and the lifestyle of luxury it promised. Not long after arriving from Japan, he set his eyes on one of Singapore’s priciest chunks of real estate as the next location for his music events: the floating Crystal Pavilions located in the iconic Marina Bay Sands casino resort. He went on to work as an event promoter for the two connected superclubs that occupy the pavilions, Pangaea and Avalon.

What Gumo’s exact role was in relation to these two clubs is unclear, but according to his LinkedIn profile he worked as a “Guy Friday” for the now-defunct Singapore-based company Crystal Pavilion Marina Productions from 2010 to 2011. In interviews and other reports from local media at the time, Gumo appears as a representative of Marina Productions and as managing director for both Pangaea and Avalon — the latter being named after the original New York club Gumo was involved with.

In 2013 Gumo was the co-organizer of the 1 World Music Festival, a high-profile and hotly anticipated concert in Singapore that was supposed to complement the Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend in September, one of the key events in the city-state’s calendar. Top international acts, including Moby, Snoop Dogg and Orbital, were slated to appear at the event, but it was suddenly cancelled just two days beforehand.

It is unclear exactly what role Gumo played, if any, in the festival’s collapse, but local media reports and interviews he did at the time show he was one of the organizers and was working for, or with, Australian company Retfar Entertainment.

Statements issued at the time by the company failed to explain beyond generalities why the high-profile event collapsed, but reports in the local media suggested that the event had been overhyped before acts’ participation had been confirmed and without the logistics being in place, that few tickets had been sold, and that embezzlement may have been involved. Soon after this, Gumo appears to have moved back to Japan.

NTV has reported that the police believe a monetary motive may be behind the death of Mariko Akitaya, based on an apparent Line message by Akitaya to a friend. In the text message, Akitaya says she had lent money to Gumo and was finding it difficult to make ends meet.

Despite the differences between the pair in terms of their online presence, a love of the high life appears to be something Gumo and his alleged victim had in common. Akitaya’s Facebook page, which was open to the public until Wednesday, consisted largely of pictures of herself — seemingly alone — in exotic and luxurious locales around the world. In one photo of her, the main profile picture for her Facebook page, she is posing in a bikini, lying in the famous Infinity Pool on top of the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, the resort where, incidentally, Avalon and Pangaea, the two clubs Gumo worked for, are located. The photo was dated May 15 this year.

Akitaya’s Facebook page lists her as being “in a relationship,” but no partner is mentioned in any posts; nor does one appear in any of the photos. The identity of the photographer is also not revealed.

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