Extortion, Sex Trafficking, and Dirty Money: Hulu's New 'Stolen Youth' Crime Series Unpacks Larry Ray's Sarah Lawrence College Cult
Larry Ray has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for using manipulation to extort millions from his victims.
In 2010, Lawrence "Larry" Ray, now 63, infiltrated his daughter Talia's friend group at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, a university known for attracting some of the brightest students in the country. But what began as a dad crashing on a couch morphed into a full-fledged cult filled with sex, manipulation, and extortion.
Ray's story garnered national attention in 2019 after New York Magazine published a feature about his then-alleged exploits including extorting millions from his victims called "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence."
The expose was prompted after people found websites of Ray's victims advertising prostitution and videos of false confessions, and the piece led authorities to begin investigating Ray and his crimes. What they found was a series of deliberate attempts to control his victims and extort them for financial gain.
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In January 2023, after three years in the New York court system, 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.
Hulu unpacks the story in a three-part docuseries Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence, which premiered on February 9.
Keep scrolling for everything you need to know about Larry Ray and the Sarah Lawrence cult.
Who is Larry Ray?
According to The New York Times, Lawrence "Larry" Ray owned several bars and nightclubs in the 1980s, where he became friends with influential politicians like Bernie Kerik, commissioner of the New York Department of Corrections. Despite never having a college degree, he also worked as a consultant in various industries from insurance to gambling, per New York Magazine.
Furthermore, Ray had ties to influential government officials including former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev, after befriending the Soviet leader's interpreter, Pavel Palazhchenko, according to People. He allegedly used his connection to Gorbachev to arrange a meeting with him and then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, at the request of Kerik.
In 1988 he married Teresa Ray, and together they welcomed two daughters, one of which was Talia Ray, before divorcing in 2004.
Ray once touted himself to those around him — and later to Talia's friends — as a former marine with rich life experience and slowly became a self-help "guru" and consultant to the group of students, per People. Additionally, Ray had told her friends that he played a key role in some foreign policy discussions, including aiding in the ceasefire in Kosovo and he often showed off a letter from NATO thanking him for his efforts, per the Washington Post.
In addition to his stories of the glory days, he hosted group therapy sessions and lured the kids in with home-cooked meals and fatherly advice to earn their trust.
However, his alleged resume was greatly embellished. The Cut found that the Brooklyn native served in the United States Air Force for 19 days, with no proof of him ever working as an intelligence agent despite his many claims to Talia's friends that he was involved with the CIA.
Also, a NATO official, Chris Donnelly, told The Cut that the letter Ray presented was easily attainable for anyone who even had a small involvement in the ceasefire.
What happened at Sarah Lawrence and how did Larry Ray profit off his victims?
Ray's involvement with the students at Sarah Lawrence began in 2010 after he served six months in prison for violating his probation for securities fraud after he was charged with interference with child custody for refusing to turn his daughters over after a scheduled visit.
Ray's daughter Talia, who often regarded her father as a deity of wisdom, per The Cut, believed Ray was protecting her from her "abusive mother" before he was jailed. She called his efforts to separate her from her mother "heroic" and his imprisonment back then was unjust and the result of "deep-seated government corruption," according to the outlet. Upon his release, he went to live with Talia in her college dorm with her friends Santos Rosario, Daniel Levin, Isabella Pollok, and Claudia Drury.
While the situation seemed odd at first to the students, per The Guardian, he garnered their respect one by one by offering "therapy sessions" to help with their problems, according to the outlet.
Once summer vacation came around, Ray moved into an apartment on the Upper East Side in 2011 and the students moved in with him. He then began using tactics like sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, physical violence, threats of criminal legal action, alienation, and exploiting the victims' mental health vulnerabilities, according to the indictment, to gain control over his victims and use them for monetary gain.
Ray would convince his followers that they owned him money by manipulating them into thinking they destroyed his property, including a variety of machinery used for home renovations, like tools for digging, and would force the students to participate in hard labor.
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Ray also extorted the students' parents by asking them for payments in addition to making the kids work off their debts. According to prosecutors, Ray extorted about $1 million total from at least five of his victims on false accusations of property damages, per BBC.
Some of his followers slowly started realizing what was happening and left the group, including Daniel Levin who cut off contact with Ray in 2013. Santos Rosario stuck around, and his sisters Yalitza and Felicia Rosario joined him. Isabella Pollok and Claudia Drury also stayed in the one-bedroom apartment with Ray as well. Pollock and Yaliza Rosario stood by Ray the longest and were known as his girlfriends. Isabella and Ray were sharing a bedroom.
Ray also forced Claudia Drury to become a prostitute to earn money to repay him after convincing her she broke his vacuum, ate his food, and claimed she attempted to poison him with cyanide, per the New York Times. She charged $2,000 an hour for her services. According to the BBC, her sex work brought Ray $2.5 million over the course of four years.
Ray's trouble with the law began before Sarah Lawrence
Before he became a cult leader at Sarah Lawrence, Ray was already involved in shady business deals.
From the 1990s to the early aughts, Ray and Kerik developed a strong business and personal relationship with Ray even being Kerik's best man at his wedding.
Kerik introduced Ray to FBI agent Gary Uher, per The Cut, and he began working as an informant on the Gambino crime family's "pump-and-dump stock scheme," thanks to his long-standing business relationship with Eddie Garafola, a capo in the Gambino family.
However, Ray had offered a $100,000 bride on Garafola's behalf and the FBI agent soon realized Ray had been using his role with the FBI to cover his own involvement in the case.
In 2000, Ray and 18 other defendants were indicted in connection to the Gambino crime family's scheme and he was charged with securities fraud.
Ray then turned to his longtime friend Kerik, who was then nominated to be Secretary of Homeland Security by former President George W. Bush in 2004, for help getting out of his legal troubles. After Kerik refused to get involved, Ray pleaded guilty to securities fraud and was sentenced to five years probation in 2003.
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The ordeal led Ray and his wife Teresa, who had previously accused him of child abuse in court filings, to divorce in 2004 and a bitter custody battle followed.
Following his sentencing, Ray turned to the media to share damaging information on Kerik including details about $165,000 in illegal free home renovations that Kerik allegedly accepted from the Interstate Industrial Corporation (known for allegedly having mob ties), to which Ray had introduced him.
The scandal forced Kerik to withdraw his nomination for Secretary of Homeland Security shortly after his nomination, and he later plead guilty to felony tax and false-statement charges in relation to information Ray had given to the authorities. Kerik served three years in prison from 2010 to 2013.
Where is Larry Ray today?
New York Magazine's 2019 feature sparked an FBI investigation, which led to Ray's arrest in February 2020 on 15 counts of racketeering, extortion, violent assault, sex trafficking, forced labor, money laundering, and tax evasion, according to court documents. His trial began in April 2022, and in January 2023 was found guilty on all counts and sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Several of Ray's victims testified at his trial and went on to tell their stories in books and documentary appearances. Daniel Levin published the book "Slonim Woods 9: A Memoir" in 2021. Only one, Isabella Pollok, his longest girlfriend, has faced charges for her time with Ray and the crimes she allegedly committed.
Pollok was charged with racketeering, extortion, and sex trafficking conspiracies in March 2021, per Newsweek. She was the last to leave Ray's side but they appear to have parted ways as their legal troubles mounted and they are no longer together. She pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering conspiracy in September 2022, and she's set to be sentenced in February and could face a maximum of five years in prison.