Cult Leader’s ‘Campaign of Terror’ Kept Victims Afraid While He ‘Got Rich’

A federal prosecutor urged a jury to hold accused Sarah Lawrence College “cult” leader Larry Ray accountable for his “campaign of terror” against his alleged victims, in two hours of closing arguments reprising the case’s twisted, horrific and salacious allegations and evidence.

Following his release from prison in 2010, Ray entered the lives of students of Sarah Lawrence College, a prestigious liberal arts school that his daughter Talia Ray attended. Prosecutors say that Ray systematically manipulated the students, extracting false confessions from them by instilling a “climate of fear” and using their recorded statements to “get rich.”

“Pass Me the Bag”

During her two-hour closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mollie Bracewell told the jury that this pattern was symbolized by the story of Ray’s alleged sex trafficking victim Claudia Drury on Oct. 15, 2018. That is what another prosecutor described as Drury’s “long night of torture,” which spilled over until the next day.

“This one event embodies so much of the charged conduct,” Bracewell said.

In harrowing testimony, Drury told a jury that the incident occurred years after Ray forced her to become a prostitute. Drury said that Ray was incensed after she told a client that Ray tried to blackmail them. To punish her, she said, Ray entered her room of midtown Manhattan’s Gregory Hotel and abused her. Ray allegedly stripped her naked, handcuffed her to a chair, suffocated her with a bag, choked her with a leash, and doused her head with water next to an air conditioner. Drury said that Ray’s accused accomplice Isabella Pollok taped the encounter, an audio recording of which was played by the jury.

Isabella Pollok

Larry Ray’s accused accomplice Isabella Pollok was charged separately and will be tried later this year. (Photo via DOJ)

Bracewell told the jury that they can hear Drury gagging on the tape before it ends with the chilling words: “Pass me the bag.”

The audio recording was not the only corroboration to Drury’s horrifying tale. She testified that Ray and Pollok had burgers at the nearby Starlight Diner. Authorities found receipts for that meal in a search of Ray’s home.

“Think about that: She remembered what [Pollok] ate at a night four years ago,” Bracewell marveled. “She remembered because this night of abuse is seared in her memory.”

Other receipts showed that Ray and Pollok went on a “shopping spree” the next day, and cell site data put Pollok and Drury’s phones in the same area that night, further backing up the tale, the prosecutor noted.

Those allegations represent “just a snapshot” of what occurred with other alleged victims on a grand scale, the prosecutor said.

“Not How Debts Are Collected”

As summations began, Bracewell played an audio recording in which Santos Rosario can be heard being beaten. Rosario, who was the ex-boyfriend of daughter Talia Ray, delivered grueling testimony about his feeling of immense pressure to repay the defendant for supposed debts. Ray also allegedly abused his sister Felicia and Yalitza Rosario, who told similar stories about how they they said the defendant manipulated them. All three Rosario siblings would attempt suicide when they were part of Ray’s orbit.

Mother Maritza Rosario testified that she went seven years without seeing her children, and her son Santos would beg her for the money that he gave to Ray.

Of the raft of charges against Ray, the top count accuses him of racketeering, a statute created to deter organized crime. Time and again, Bracewell referred to the criminal enterprise in this case as the “Ray family,” in both of its literal and figurative connotations. The prosecutor placed Talia Ray among the group of people who “got rich” off the alleged victims. The other two were Ray and Pollok, who is scheduled to stand trial later this year.

Talia Ray has not been charged with any crimes, but the government tore into her at her father’s trial for having “treated her roommates as if they existed for her profit.”

Talia Ray

Talia Ray

During the defense summations, federal defender Marne Lenox said the so-called “Ray family” was just a family. She portrayed Talia Levin as a “mean girl,” who acted like it in a derisive note to her friend. “It was mean, and it was obnoxious,” Lenox said. “But it certainly wasn’t criminal.” Lenox argued that the “enterprise” was little more than the imaginings of a group of “storytellers” who believed Ray was under attack.

In the 1990s, Ray was connected to powerful people internationally, from ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Ray was the best man at ex-New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik’s wedding. After being prosecuted in a mafia-spearheaded securities fraud scheme, Ray turned informant against Kerik, who was later convicted of multiple federal crimes. Ray would tell his alleged victims that he feared Kerik’s payback and interrogate them about whether they acted as his agents.

What prosecutors describe as false confessions shared common themes: Ray would accuse his alleged victims of poisoning him, damaging his property and colluding with his enemies and interrogate them until they confessed, prosecutors say.

Bracewell said that Ray’s behavior revealed his claims to be a sham.

“Why on earth would you stick around and share meals with your supposed poisoners?” the prosecutor asked.

Later during her arguments, Bracewell played a video of Ray using a set of pliers to pull on the tongue of Daniel Barban Levin, a former Sarah Lawrence student who wrote a memoir about his time in Ray’s cult titled “Slonim Woods 9.”

Though Levin did not testify at trial, other witnesses said that Ray used Saran Wrap as a makeshift garrote on his testicles, and the video footage showed other shocking scenes of abuse. After apparently pulling on Levin’s tongue with pliers in the footage, Ray placed a hammer under his chin and threatened to do worse.

“That’s not how debts are collected,” Bracewell thundered.

“Escalating Degradations”

Such threats form the basis of multiple extortion and conspiracy counts against Ray. Most of the forced labor counts involve the work that Ray allegedly forced his followers to do on his stepfather’s property in Pinehurst, North Carolina, in the summer and autumn of 2013.

Ray also engaged in the forced labor of Felicia Rosario by goading her to create sex tapes with strange men, the prosecutor said.

A Harvard graduate who received her medical degree from Columbia, Felicia Rosario said she was pulled into Ray’s orbit by her brother, Santos, who believed Ray had helped him. Felicia Rosario testified that Ray would goaded her into what the prosecutor described as “escalating degradations.” Echoing Drury’s testimony, Felicia Rosario testified that Ray urged her to participate in a “gangbang.” Ray also allegedly suggested she proposition with her doorman and strangers for sex.

Rosario said the doorman turned her down, but other men agreed. The doorman backed up her account, and an FBI agent authenticated videos of the sex tapes that prosecutors now describe as the fruits of Rosario’s forced labor.

Prosecutors say that Ray laundered his ill-gotten loot through a domain name business purchased through GoDaddy.com, and trial evidence showed his followers funneling nearly a million dollars into his account with the website through a complex web of more than 1,000 transactions.

After more than three weeks of meticulously presented evidence, defense attorney presented two short witnesses on Monday. Ray’s former attorney Glenn Ripa, who represented him in a housing matter but not in his criminal case, told a jury that he advised that he could collect “compensation” from Drury because of her supposedly poisoning him.

Bracewell scoffed at that defense during her closing arguments.

“This wasn’t attorney advice,” she told the jury. “This was a contingency plan developed in the culmination of 10 years of criminal conduct.”

Ripa testified that Ray never told her Drury was handing him millions of dollars in alleged sex trafficking proceeds, but he conceded that he knew Drury received her money from prostitution. The defense closing arguments continue on Tuesday, to be followed by the government’s rebuttal summations and jury deliberations.

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