Students at a New York liberal arts college fell under the thrall of a classmate’s father who humiliated, tortured and trafficked them for pleasure and monetary gain.
In the fall of 2010, Lawrence “Larry” Ray settled into a dorm at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College in affluent Bronxville, N.Y., just outside New York City. However, he wasn’t a wide-eyed freshman living far from home for the first time.
Recently released from prison, the then-50-year-old convicted stock scammer was crashing at the on-campus home of his daughter and her roommates. These roommates soon became members of “The Ray Family,” a sex cult forced to do Ray’s bidding for nearly a decade.
In February 2020, Ray was arrested on federal sex trafficking, extortion, conspiracy and other charges. Ray physically, sexually and mentally abused more than half a dozen followers, most of whom attended Sarah Lawrence, according to his indictment.
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Ray brainwashed seven victims into falsely confessing that they caused him and The Ray Family harm, and he then used those fraudulent statements to control them and make them pay him for the made-up transgressions, federal prosecutors allege.
Victim Claudia Drury testified at Ray’s trial that he forced her into sex work after convincing her that she had damaged his property and had supposedly poisoned him, accusations that were not true. Ray also threatened to abduct her and bring her to the Middle East. Drury told jurors that she gave Ray $2.5 million during the four years she worked as an escort, and recounted how he tortured her by choking her with a bag and a pillow.
On April 6, 2022, after a half-day of deliberations, the jury convicted Ray. He now faces life in prison. [Update: On January 20, 2023, Ray was sentenced to 60 years in prison.]
A Ray Family member, Isabella Pollok, also pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money the cult leader derived from sex trafficking.
Ray certainly fits the profile of an “absolute authoritarian” destructive cult leader, Rick Ross, executive director of the Cult Education Institute, tells A&E True Crime.
“The people in Ray’s group were broken down so much psychologically, they will be scarred with those traumas probably for the rest of their lives,” Ross says. “The one thing that was so frightening about Ray was his ability to infiltrate Sarah Lawrence and that he operated within student housing.”
Ray’s Long Con
In the 1990s, Ray was a savvy businessman prone to embellishing tales of his accomplishments, but he had bona fide political connections and mob ties, according to a 2019 New York magazine investigative story that first exposed The Ray Family sex cult.
Ray formed a close-knit friendship with Bernard Kerik, at the time, a rising New York cop. Their bond was so tight, Ray was best man at Kerik’s wedding.
In 2000, the same year Kerik was named New York City police commissioner, Ray was indicted in a pump-and-dump stock scam linked to organized crime, The Journal News reported. Three years later, Ray pleaded guilty to one count of securities fraud, receiving a sentence of five years’ probation. Between 2006 and 2007, he was t arrested twice for violating probation, spending a year in lock-up.
In 2004, Ray came forward with evidence that he’d given thousands of dollars in unreported gifts to his former police commissioner pal. Kerik blamed Ray for tipping the dominoes that led to his downfall. At the time, Kerik removed himself from consideration as Secretary of Homeland Security due to the burgeoning scandal.
In 2010, Kerik was sentenced to 48 months in prison, a year after pleading guilty to federal charges of tax fraud and making false statements for crimes unrelated to Ray, according to media reports.
“Ray conned and deceived anyone and everyone around him,” Kerik tells A&E True Crime. “I’ve seen it firsthand. It was all a sham.”
At the height of their friendship, Ray arranged a visit by Mikhail Gorbachev to New York, introducing the former Soviet president to the city’s then-mayor, Rudy Giuliani and other top city brass, Kerik recalls.
“He actually brought Gorbachev and put him in my car,” Kerik says. “I have seen [Ray] get on the phone with four-star generals. Who in their right mind would think there is something wrong with the guy when he had access to these people?”
Ray Forms College Dorm Cult
While he wasn’t shocked that Ray manipulated a group of young adults into submission, he was taken aback by his ex-best man’s brazen ease in forming a cult on the Sarah Lawrence campus, Kerik says. “What surprised me is that the school did nothing,” Kerik says. “I am not sure how he was allowed to stay in a dormitory when they apparently knew he was there.”
Patricia Goldman and Patricia Pasquale, spokespersons for Sarah Lawrence College, did not respond to A&E True Crime requests for comment.
Per the 2019 New York magazine exposé and witness testimony at his trial, Ray’s daughter Talia Ray and her roommates allowed her dad to stay in their dorm during her sophomore year following his release from prison in September 2010. During his stay at the Sarah Lawrence property, Ray became the students’ self-help guru and confidante, convincing them that he had the knowledge to help them become better versions of themselves. Gradually, his younger roommates began to believe his non-medical advice about their mental health.
Yet Sarah Lawrence College officials told New York that the school “had no record that Larry Ray lived on campus at any time.”
When the new school year began in 2011, Ray and his followers had moved off campus into a Manhattan apartment, where he ramped up the psychological and physical abuse that his victims would endure for the next eight years.
Victim Santos Rosario testified that Ray had convinced him that he was trying to hurt his newfound mentor, including trying to poison him, just as Drury had come to believe, according to New York.
On the stand, Rosario described various incidents in which Ray tortured him, including making him slap himself in the face repeatedly, forcing him to have sex with female Ray Family members and an ordering him to wear a diaper, the New York Daily News reported.
Sarah Lawrence’s Role in Failing to Protect Students
When it comes to recruiting new followers, cults typically target university and college campuses, Ross says. “Students living on campus are usually away from home, often for the first time, in a place where they don’t know many people,” Ross explains. “This makes them more vulnerable.”
Ross has spoken with family members of the Ray Family cult who are having a difficult time understanding why Sarah Lawrence didn’t step in when it was apparent Ray had become a full-time unauthorized dorm resident, Ross says. “They were shocked at his ability to operate on that campus,” Ross says. “He was able to recruit with impunity at Sarah Lawrence College.”
Sarah Lawrence should face accountability for not taking steps to protect the students who fell under Ray’s influence, said Steven Hassan, a Massachusetts-based mental health counselor specializing in destructive cults.
“That would force Sarah Lawrence and other schools to realize we have a lot of bad actors on campuses,” Hassan says. “Colleges used to have programs for students to protect themselves from mind-control organizations and destructive cults in the 1980s and 1990s. They stopped doing it.”
Hassan, who in the 1970s renounced his membership with the Unification Church, a religious organization that he and other critics denounce as a dangerous cult, says court testimony from Ray’s trial showed that he had free reign to target and corral his victims during the time he lived in his daughter’s dorm.
“Ray got past a lot of people at the college,” Hassan says. “There is no orientation about reporting any behavior in which people on campus are being exploited or abused.”