NEW YORK — Lawrence “Larry” Ray, who started a cult among his daughter’s friends in her college dormitory 12 years ago, was found guilty Wednesday of charges including racketeering, sex trafficking and forced labor after a trial that focused on the ruinous impact of his conduct on his young adult victims.
It took the jury just several hours to convict Ray, 62, on all 15 counts related to a decade-long criminal enterprise in which he brainwashed and abused his victims, extracting free labor and a significant amount of “restitution” money. He is scheduled for sentencing Sept. 16 and faces the possibility of life in prison on his sex trafficking conviction, and decades behind bars on the other counts.
Evidence at the trial established that Ray took control of a set of his daughter Talia’s college friends after moving into their campus housing in 2010. One of the victims, Santos Rosario, later brought two of his sisters into the mix; their involvement with Ray devastated the Rosario family financially and psychologically. Both sisters are Ivy League-educated, but Felicia Rosario, a medical school graduate, dropped out of her residency program at a California hospital to be with Ray and never went back. She now works as a tutor; her younger sister Yalitza is unemployed.
The three siblings, who were in court to hear the verdict, left the courtroom with prosecutors and declined to speak to reporters after.
“Twelve years ago, Larry Ray moved into his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College. And when he got there, he met a group of friends who had their whole lives ahead of them," U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said after the verdict. “For the next decade, he used violence, threats, and psychological abuse to try to control and destroy their lives. He exploited them. He terrorized them. He tortured them.”
Williams said he was “in awe" of the bravery that Ray’s victims showed in testifying against him.
Ray collected blackmail material and routinely filmed or took audio recordings of his victims confessing to nonexistent offenses and crimes — powerful evidence that was shown in court during the trial. Over time, he ordered the young adults to do chores for him and began giving them sexual assignments, including sometimes to have sex with each other.
Claudia Drury, one of his victims, came into the fold at age 19. She testified that she spent four years working as a prostitute in New York hotel rooms, giving about $2.5 million in her earnings directly to Ray. Santos Rosario worked as a waiter one summer, handing off everything he earned to Ray. He also paid Ray $150,000 in installments, money that he got from his parents, plus another $13,000 he stole from their business.
“When [Ray’s] victims were completely subdued, when they were under his control, he committed crimes to get them to pay — extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, obstruction of justice, financial crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Bracewell argued in her summation Monday. “The defendant did all of this for control, for his own greed, and to increase his power, to cement his position in the organized group that he led.”
Prosecutors said Ray captivated his psychologically fragile admirers with tales about his life and the contacts he said he had in government, law enforcement and the military. He once was close with former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, serving as best man at Kerik’s wedding.
Ray took credit for sending Kerik to prison on corruption-related charges in 2010. He conveyed to his victims that he believed there was a government conspiracy to harm him and that his enemies, including Kerik, were out to get him. He then accused his victims of working with his enemies to poison him, his daughter and others — accusations that were untrue. Ray’s victims were conditioned to believe they were guilty, and in turn they conceded that they owed Ray favors and a lot of money. They testified that they were scared of going to prison for what Ray told them were crimes, and said he routinely threatened to turn them in.
Lawyers for Ray argued that those involved in the group were voluntarily engaged in an ongoing shared fantasy of sorts. In her summation, Ray’s attorney Marne Lenox told jurors that Ray’s paranoid obsessions were real to him — and to his accusers.
“If you think Larry Ray believed he was poisoned, believed he was owed money for damages, you must vote not guilty,” she said in her summation Tuesday morning.
Lenox also described Ray’s accusers as “well-resourced people” who attended private and prestigious schools and came and went during their time with Ray without him stopping them.
“They weren’t children. They were high-achieving, educated, intelligent adults,” she argued, adding they had “supportive parents.”
Ray moved into Sarah Lawrence after he was released from a stint behind bars. In the time before the cult was formed, he had a federal securities fraud conviction as well as charges stemming from a custody dispute and for bail jumping.
Some of his followers followed him to Manhattan and then to Pinehurst, N.C., where several of them did unpaid landscaping work at his stepfather’s property. Later, Felicia Rosario and Isabella Pollok lived with him in Piscataway, N.J. at the home of one of Ray’s friends.
Pollok is Ray’s accused co-conspirator and is also under indictment. She will be tried separately.