Alleged Cult Leader Larry Ray Was Sentenced To 60 Years In Prison

The Stolen Youth subject once faced a life sentence.

Originally Published: 
'Sex, Lies, and the College Cult' subject Larry Ray, via Peacock's press site

Peacock’s true-crime documentary Sex, Lies and The College Cult revisits the shocking story of how Larry Ray, a father and professional conman, “brainwashed students of Sarah Lawrence College into an abusive sex cult that upended their lives, and the lives of their families.” In the doc, which premiered in September 2022, some of his victims even shared their stories of Ray’s manipulation tactics that led to a decade of abuse, extortion, sex trafficking, and forced labor.

The bizarre series of events began in 2010 when Ray was released from a New Jersey prison, where he was serving time for charges related to a child custody dispute, according to the New York Times. That’s when prosecutors later said Ray, who allegedly compared himself to Roman emperor and philosopher Marcus Aurelius, moved into daughter Talia Ray’s dorm on the Sarah Lawrence campus north of New York City in Westchester County.

Former students claimed that Ray described an approach to life called “Quest for Potential” and often shared dramatic stories about his supposed military exploits and law enforcement connections. He also allegedly manipulated his victims, presenting himself as a mentor, isolating students from their parents, pressuring them into degrading acts, and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from them.

A later indictment and evidence presented at trial claim Ray subjected his victims to sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse. His tactics allegedly included sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, physical violence, threats of criminal legal action, and exploiting their mental health vulnerabilities. Moving from New York, North Carolina, and New Jersey, Ray would control where his victims went, to whom they spoke, and even what they ate and when they slept, prosecutors alleged.

“He met a group of friends who had their whole lives ahead of them,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams explained in April 2022. “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. Let me be very clear. Larry Ray is a predator. An evil man who did evil things.”

Ray’s modus operandi, according to prosecutors, involved gaslighting his victims into making false confessions about the harm they’d brought to him, his family, and associates and then extorting payment for those purported damages. His accusations against his followers included everything from property damage to them trying to poison him. The victims would then employ extreme measures — including draining their parents’ savings, opening lines of credit, selling real estate, performing unpaid labor, and prostitution — to make their payments.

During his trial, one female victim detailed how he had begun sexually grooming her in college and then manipulated her into performing commercial sex acts for a debt she did not owe him. In addition to collecting sexually explicit photographs and other personal information to coerce her into prostitution, he once also allegedly tied her to a chair, put a plastic bag over her head, and nearly suffocated her. According to attorneys, he ultimately collected millions of dollars in forced prostitution proceeds.

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Ray’s defense lawyers argued that he’d become caught up in a group delusion that his daughter’s friends and roommate — some of whom suffered from mental illness — had created in crafting a “fantastic conspiracy” against him.

Following a four-week federal trial, in April 2022, a Southern District of New York jury found Ray guilty of carrying out a racketeering conspiracy, a violent crime in aid of racketeering, extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, tax evasion, and money laundering offenses after less than a day of deliberations.

“Today’s verdict finally brings him to justice,” Williams added. “This verdict would not have been possible without the victims who testified in court. We are in awe of their bravery in the face of incredible trauma.”

Ray, who was 62 at the time the verdict was handed down, was returned to the custody of the U.S. Marshals. Though his sentencing was scheduled for September 2022, the date was later postponed multiple times. The punishments associated with each charge range from a minimum of 15 years behind bars to a maximum sentence of life in prison. As he awaited sentencing, Ray was housed at the MDC Brooklyn federal jail, according to public records.

On Jan. 20, 2023, Ray was sentenced to 60 years in prison for racketeering conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, tax evasion, and money laundering offenses, according to a press release from the Department of Justice. In addition to the prison term, he also received a sentence of a lifetime of supervised release, along with an order to forfeit the $2.4 million he earned from the sale of his GoDaddy portfolio, and the Pinehurst, North Carolina, residence where the forced labor took place, per the DOJ. The Court also announced that they would determine a restitution amount within 90 days.

Courtesy of Hulu

Following the sentencing, Hulu is releasing a three-part docu-series, Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence, on Feb. 9, 2023. According to the streamer, the latest true-crime exploration excerpts first-hand interviews with Ray’s victims, along with personal audio recordings and videos. One such woman was Felicia Rosario, who also described her experience to People. "Little by little, he took over my mind,” she said. "I don't even know how he did it. He made me feel like there truly were people after me, people coming to hurt me, and that people had hurt me in my past. . . . He broke me. He made me fall apart.” Rosario added that, in the Stolen Youth series, “you can even hear him gaslighting” her.

As of February 2023, Ray is still housed at MDC Brooklyn.

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