A former Sarah Lawrence student described the years of abuse he endured at the hands of Lawrence Ray—including one harrowing incident where the accused sex cult leader told him to jump out of a window or face getting bashed in the skull with a hammer.
“I want to take you out in a brutal way,” the 62-year-old Ray allegedly told Santos Rosario during an hours-long interrogation after he accused Rosario of putting his personal information on the internet.
The recording of the interrogation was played in open court on Friday and was among several audio and video clips prosecutors played for jurors to prove Ray’s pattern of abuse and manipulative behavior. In the hour-long clip, Ray is also heard telling Rosario to jump out his Upper East Side apartment building window, hitting him with a hammer on his legs, and threatening to use a sharp razor on him.
“Why would a little tiny worm like you think you could out clever me,” Ray told Rosario at one point. “Because of being retarded,” the college drop-out said while trying desperately to appease the irate man.
Rosario, who met Ray when he was a 19-year-old sophomore at the elite New York college, is the first of the 62-year-old’s alleged victims to testify at his trial in Manhattan federal court. Prosecutors claim that in 2010, shortly after Ray’s release from a New Jersey prison, he moved into his daughter’s Sarah Lawrence College dorm and allegedly ran a sex cult for nearly a decade under the guise of “therapy sessions.”
Wearing a gray sweater and white mask, Ray was extremely still throughout Friday’s proceedings, only slightly adjusting his earbud twice to better hear the video played in court. The behavior came after Judge Lewis Liman admonished Ray for nodding his head in approval and disapproval on Thursday as Rosario began his testimony.
“I assume those were reactions in the heat of the moment,” Liman said, noting that if Ray continued his expressive reaction to testimony he may face contempt of court.
Ray has pleaded not guilty to several charges, including sex trafficking, extortion, and racketeering conspiracy, for allegedly physically, sexually, and psychologically abusing several college students at the liberal arts school in suburban New York—in addition to laundering over $1 million from one woman he forced into sex work. Eventually, prosecutors say, the abuse continued in his Manhattan apartment, North Carolina, and other locations.
This harrowing extortion and sex-trafficking scheme was first detailed in a bombshell New York magazine expose in April 2019.
“When [Larry Ray] arrived at Sarah Lawrence in 2010, he was not there to help students improve their lives. He was there to help himself,” Assistant United States Attorney Lindsay Keenan said during opening statements Thursday at Ray’s trial. “He used violence, fear, sex, and manipulation to get what he wanted: sex, money, and power.”
Prosecutors say the alleged abuse began shortly after Ray was released from prison on charges stemming from a child custody dispute—when he moved into the on-campus housing his daughter shared with Rosario and their mutual friends.
Rosario, 30, on Thursday admitted to jurors that he was initially enthralled by Ray, describing him as a “cool” man who would often cook for him and his roommates. He said that he enjoyed talking to Ray about a variety of topics, including “his personal philosophy” that included the “importance of honesty.”
“I ended up confiding in him issues that I had with my family... the depression I struggled with in high school,” Rosario, who was also once Ray’s daughter’s boyfriend, said Thursday.
Eventually, Rosario said, Ray’s behavior turned more sinister in the fall of 2011, just months before the student was forced to take a medical leave of absence after sending an email to a physiology professor about “violent, instructive thoughts and about a suicide attempt” at Ray’s behest.
“It turned into an escalating pattern of verbal and physical abuse,” Rosario said on Thursday, adding that Ray would call him a “bitch, trash, hemorrhoid, [and] scum.”
In addition to the verbal abuse, Ray allegedly hit him, slapped him, held a knife to his throat and genitals, and put him into a chokehold until he passed out. Rosario said the abuse usually came after Ray accused him of making a mistake, damaging his property, or trying to “sabotage” him.
In another harrowing video played in court on Friday, Rosario is seen hitting himself in the face “for over an hour”—at Ray’s direction—to get his sister, Felicia, to stop talking.
The video, filmed by Ray and shot inside his cluttered one-bedroom apartment, is chaotic, featuring Felicia howling as Rosario repeatedly slaps himself in the face and tells her to stop talking and “behaving like a child.” While the video was played in open court, Rosario put his head in his hands while Ray sat across the room and silently watched the screen on his defense table.
“I hit myself in the face for about an hour,” Rosario said, adding that afterward his face “was swollen.”
In addition to the physical abuse, Rosario testifies about how Ray forced him to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars for alleged “property damage” to his house. The demands for money were so extreme—and often coupled with violence on Ray’s part—that Rosario testified about an embarrassing incident where he stole money from his parent’s travel agency in order to satisfy Ray.
“I went to my mother at her place of work and asked her to help with this debt I supposedly had,” Rosario said on Friday. “A few nights before, I had a conversation with Larry that was particularly intense so I was wound up, so to speak.”
When his mother—who had already given him upwards of at least $200,000 already to pay Ray—refused to give him more money, Rosario said he “grabbed what I could from the cash drawer and took a cab and gave it to Larry.” Later, he said he realized he stole $10,000.
Shortly after stealing the funds, Rosario said he went to visit Ray’s North Carolina home at the end of 2013, where he and several other victims were allegedly forced to perform manual labor at this behest.
“I felt like a slave,” Rosario said of the manual labor that included digging ditches and moving rotting sod.
Rosario, however, testified Thursday that the worst part of the three-week trip was when Ray forced him and Isabella Pollok to have sex. Prosecutors allege that Pollok was Ray’s “trusted lieutenant” and she is facing conspiracy charges for her role in his scheme.
“I did what he told me,” Rosario said after Ray told him to perform oral sex on Pollok next to the shed by the garage while he was standing “a few feet away.”
He added that Ray told forced him to have sex with Pollok twice in this New York City apartment while he was sitting on the couch.
Prosecutors allege that several of Rosario’s other friends were affected by Ray’s mistreatment, including one woman who was forced into sex work for his financial benefit. In one disturbing act of violence, Ray allegedly used a plastic bag to choke that woman—identified in court as Claudia—inside a Manhattan hotel room after she was subjected to hours of “torture” that also included being smothered with a pillow and choking her with a leash.”
“He told her to behave. He told her to keep making money,” Keenan said.
Rosario on Friday also said he once witnessed Ray twist a long piece of saran wrap, tie it in a knot, and put it on one of his friend’s genitals before twisting it. “It was a contraption he made up on the spot,” Rosario said.
To ensure their loyalty and silence, Ray also allegedly forced the students to write fake emails and journal entries, give him thousands of dollars—often making them drain their parents’ bank accounts—and even took explicit photos of them.
Rosario said Friday that Ray often threatened to publicize those fake confessions. In the audio of Ray insisting Rosario take his personal information off line, the 62-year-old is heard threatening, “I’m going to post your worst videos, everywhere.”
So far, Ray’s defense has taken an unusual approach to explain away the case against their client, claiming the allegations are just “stories” from a group of misguided young adults.
“I am not saying Larry Ray is a saint,” defense attorney Allegra Glashausser admitted. “You don’t have to like him. But these things are not federal crimes.”