When Lawrence V. Ray arrived on the campus of Sarah Lawrence College in 2010, he presented himself as a mentor to the young men and women who lived in a dormitory with his daughter.
Ray, then 50, began spending nights in the dormitory, holding forth on the importance of honesty and extolling the Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius. He asked students about their lives, they said, and regaled them with dramatic tales about his own.
But Ray’s dark side soon emerged, according to testimony in a trial last year that ended with his conviction on extortion, sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and other charges.
Prosecutors said that Ray, who was arrested in 2020 after the publication of a New York magazine article about him, studied cults and mind control, grooming his victims and bending them to his will. Over a decade, he abused a group of young people, gaining their trust and isolating them from their parents, the prosecutors added, then coerced them into making false confessions that he used as leverage to extort millions of dollars.
Four of Ray’s former followers testified during his trial, describing how he had won them over. He then made them feel worthless, they said, denigrating them and directing them to have sex with one another and with strangers. One of those former followers, Claudia Drury, has said that Ray forced her into prostitution and on at least one occasion touched her sexually. Another, Felicia Rosario, testified that she at one point had a romantic relationship with Ray. The trial did not include any allegation that he had committed sexual assault.
On Friday, Judge Lewis J. Liman of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan sentenced Ray to 60 years in prison. Several U.S. marshals stood behind Ray as he rose, wearing pale green jail garb, to hear the judge issue his sentence. Afterward, he was led from the courtroom, still in custody.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of life in prison, writing to the court that Ray was “incapable of contrition” and would present a serious danger even at an advanced age.
“While the defendant’s victims descended into self-hatred, self-harm, and suicidal attempts under his coercive control,” prosecutors wrote, “the evidence showed that the defendant took sadistic pleasure in their pain and enjoyed the fruits of their suffering.”
Ray himself had been subject to physical, verbal and sexual abuse while growing up in Brooklyn, New York, defense lawyers wrote to the judge while asking for a sentence of 15 years.
They added that he had already experienced significant punishment, becoming the subject of “derisive news articles, salacious television miniseries, and sensational documentaries” and held for three years in federal jails during a pandemic.
“Mr. Ray will never again be in a position to form the relationships that led to the conduct underlying his convictions,” his lawyers wrote, adding that he “has effectively been incapacitated by virtue of the very public nature of his trial.”
Before being sentenced, Ray addressed the court, saying he had suffered from worsening physical ailments while in jail, including insomnia, ringing in his ears and failing vision.
Minutes later, before issuing his sentence, Liman praised the former followers who had testified, saying they had “exhibited a courage that was extraordinary” in standing up to a man who had beaten and tortured them.
“He preyed on his victims’ vulnerabilities and took pleasure in degrading them,” Liman said. “He sought to take every bit of light from his victims’ lives.”
For years, Ray cultivated ties with law enforcement officials and accused criminals. Bernard Kerik, who was appointed in 2000 by Mayor Rudy Giuliani as New York City’s police commissioner, helped Ray get a job with a construction company that was accused of having links to organized crime. Later, Ray cooperated with prosecutors investigating Kerik, who pleaded guilty to state and federal charges related to his relationship with the company, Interstate Industrial Corp.
After Ray’s indictment, officials at Sarah Lawrence, in Westchester County, just north of New York City, faced questions about how he managed to be on the campus without the school’s knowledge. Alumni suggested that the school’s decentralized layout and accepting culture may have helped make that possible, according to a report in The Journal News, which covers Westchester.
Ray showed up at the college after a stint in state prison in New Jersey stemming from child custody charges. But his daughter, Talia Ray, said he was “a hero” who had been imprisoned because of “corrupt politicians,” one of her roommates, Santos Rosario, testified.
A second roommate, Claudia Drury, testified that Ray boasted of knowing generals and having powerful friends while also saying he believed that Kerik wanted to bring about his downfall.
Those two students were among several who, entranced by Ray’s charisma and seeming empathy, began living with him the summer after their sophomore year in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, New York.
There, students said, Ray held “therapy” sessions that he claimed would improve their lives. Eventually, he began subjecting them to lengthy interrogations in which students said they became exhausted and fearful as he badgered them into false confessions about having damaged his property or harming him. He would later cite these admissions, they said, while demanding money as compensation.
Drury, who falsely confessed to poisoning Ray at the behest of Kerik, said she admitted to things she had not done partly due to his insistence that she had and partly because other students were confessing to imagined infractions.
“Once I sort of started confessing to those things, each one was like further proof of all the others,” she testified.
Rosario testified that Ray directed him to have sex with another student, Isabella Pollok, who prosecutors said helped abuse her classmates and who pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to launder money. Drury testified that Ray urged her to have sex with a tool salesperson who visited the apartment.
He also verbally abused and assaulted students, according to testimony and to video and audio recordings. Rosario testified that Ray struck him repeatedly with a hammer and then ordered him to leap from a window of the Manhattan apartment. Drury testified that she saw Ray tell a student named Daniel Levin he was going to “cut him up” while calling for Pollok to fetch plastic sheeting from another room.
Levin referred to the incident in a victim impact statement he read in court Friday, saying that he will always remember “sobbing while Lawrence Ray brandishes a knife over me, asking Isabella to go line the bathtub with plastic to catch my blood and the pieces of my body he’s about to cut off.”
Rosario read a statement in court describing how Ray “ripped apart” his family, drawing his sisters, Felicia and Yalitza, into a web of exploitation.
Other former followers submitted written statements. Claudia Drury described Ray as “a malevolent, violent, deceitful shadow of a man” and said that his abuse felt like “an attack on my soul.” Felicia Rosario, who had graduated from Harvard and Columbia medical school before she met Ray, wrote that he had directed her to find strangers at highway rest stops to have sex with and that she had tried to kill herself “after Larry entered my life.”
Prosecutors wrote to Liman that one former Sarah Lawrence student, Iban Goicoechea, over whom Ray had “asserted control,” had killed himself in 2020. Santos Rosario, both of his sisters and Drury had attempted suicide while being abused by Ray, the prosecutors added.
Drury testified that she overdosed on Tylenol in 2014 in an attempt to kill herself because she was feeling “trapped” by Ray’s threats that she would go to prison for poisoning him. After a hospitalization, she testified, she worked as a host at sex clubs, something Ray had recommended.
Ray also encouraged her to have sex with a cabdriver in lieu of payment, Drury said, and to have sex with a stranger in Central Park.
Toward the end of 2014, she testified, Ray suggested she become a prostitute, saying it would be “fun” and that she could use the money to pay reparations to him for the supposed poisonings.
Over about four years, Drury said, she saw multiple men per day in hotels, seven days a week, and gave Ray about $2.5 million.
She also testified that she finally parted with Ray after an incident in 2018 in which he handcuffed her to a chair in a midtown hotel room and covered her head with a plastic bag, at one point saying, “I am going to kill you.”