US ‘cult’ leader handed 60 years in prison for sexual and emotional abuse | New York
A financial fraudster who lured students at an elite New York liberal arts college into a cult-like world of sexual, physical, and emotional abuse was sentenced on Friday to 60 years in federal prison.
Larry Ray, born Lawrence Grecco, was found guilty in April of sex trafficking and racketeering, among other related charges, stemming from the psychological manipulation – and ensuing physical violence – against his daughter’s roommates at Sarah Lawrence College.
“It was sadism, pure and simple,” Judge Lewis Liman said in handing down the sentence, shortly after saying that Ray used his “evil genius” to torment his victims.
Authorities became aware of his criminal behavior following an explosive New York magazine feature.
During Ray’s four-week Manhattan federal court trial – during which he had several medical episodes – prosecutors laid out a chilling chronology of events that started when Ray moved into his daughter’s dorm room around late 2010. Ray engaged in “therapy” sessions with some of her roommates under the false pretense of helping them navigate psychological issues.
Ray cast himself as a “father figure”, and several of the roommates moved into an apartment in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighborhood the following summer. The one-bedroom flat devolved into a house of horrors, they said in their indictment against him.
Ray engaged in still more spurious “therapy” sessions with students, convincing them to reveal deeply “intimate” details about their lives. He subsequently “alienated” several of his victims from their parents and convinced some that they were “broken” and “in need of fixing” – by him, charging papers said
After securing these students’ trust, Ray commenced “interrogation sessions” that mostly involved physical and verbal abuse. He made false allegations against the students during these sessions, including claims of property damage and, in one preposterous instance, accusations that one victim tried to poison him.
Ray once put a knife against one male victim’s throat until he confessed to wrongdoing, and placed a chokehold around another male victim’s neck, making him lose consciousness.
He slammed one female victim against the ground after she returned home with food that became cold. Ray also forced three female victims to work on a family property in North Carolina, where he kept food under lock and key – forcing them to work “in the middle of the night” and sleep outside despite the summer heat, prosecutors said in court papers.
Four years after Ray entered these students’ lives, he told one female victim that she should engage in prostitution to repay him for purported property damage. The victim, Claudia Drury, did so from about 2014 to 2018.
“I became a prostitute,” Drury testified and, according to the New York Times, said. “It was Larry’s suggestion.” Ray, who had sexually groomed Drury for several years prior, then pocketed more than $500,000 she had made from prostitution.
Drury also told jurors that Ray became livid after telling one of her clients about parts of her life. He threatened to waterboard her. Ray also put a plastic bag over Drury’s head in a Manhattan hotel as she fought to breathe, per the Times.
In pushing for a life sentence, prosecutors said that “over a period of years, he intentionally inflicted brutal and life-long harm on innocent victims that he groomed and abused into submission”.
“While the defendant’s victims descended into self-hatred, self-harm, and suicidal attempts under his coercive control, the evidence showed that the defendant took sadistic pleasure in their pain, and enjoyed the fruits of their suffering,” they argued in court papers.
Prosectors vehemently argued that lust for money was not Ray’s only motivation. “He also enjoyed being cruel,” they argued.
“It is obvious, for example, that his victims, without any experience with physical labor or construction equipment, had no real chance of making productive financial improvements to the property in North Carolina – and yet the defendant forced them to toil senselessly under punishing conditions for weeks on end simply to revel in their Sisyphean struggle,” they said.
“When his victims expressed anguish or guilt, he feigned sympathy and twisted the knife in deeper.
“He baited his victims to attempt suicide and then stymied their recoveries, while pretending to be the only one concerned with their wellbeing.”
Ray’s defense, on the other hand, contended in court papers that any sentence exceeding 15 years would be “unnecessary.” They also claimed that Ray himself effectively grew up in a house of horrors himself.
Ray’s grandmother hit him with a cat o’ nine tails, a “whip intended for severe physical punishment”. And, as Ray was forced to sleep on top of a pile of blankets in his grandmother’s basement, his grandfather sexually assaulted him, they said.