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Sarah Lawrence sex cult case: Jurors urged to hold leader Larry Ray accountable for torture crimes

Sarah Lawrence sex cult case: Jurors urged to hold leader Larry Ray accountable for torture crimes 2

Jurors deciding the fate of alleged sex cult leader Larry Ray were urged by prosecutors to hold him accountable for a ‘campaign of terror’ against his victims and told that one horrific night was a prime example of his crimes.  

In closing arguments at the Sarah Lawrence College ‘sex cult’ trial on Monday, Assistant US Attorney Mollie Bracewell told Manhattan federal court jurors the October night in 2018 when Ray allegedly tortured Claudia Drury at a Midtown hotel, was ‘a snapshot’ that told them ‘almost everything’ they needed to know about their decision.  

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Sarah Lawrence sex cult case: Jurors urged to hold leader Larry Ray accountable for torture crimes 3

Larry Ray, 62, is accused of running a sex cult out of his daughter Talia’s dorm at the elite liberal arts college in Bronxville, New York 

‘This single night of crime tells you almost all you need to know,’ Bracewell told jurors in Manhattan federal court. 

Ray and his co-conspirator Isabella Pollok allegedly tortured Drury, who he had forced into prostitution, by stripping her naked, tying her to a chair and nearly suffocating her with a plastic bag. 

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Jurors heard audio of this sustained attack during Drury’s testimony. 

At one point Ray can be heard asking Pollok to pass him the plastic bag – ‘an instrument of torture,’ Bracewell said – at another Drury can be heard choking. ‘You can listen to it again,’ Bracewell told the jury Monday afternoon and added, ‘If you are able.’ 

The effect was powerful and immediate. Jurors sat riveted, some took notes. 

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Ray, 62, is facing charges of tax evasion, racketeering and money laundering as well as multiple counts of sex-trafficking and force labor, centered at the Bronxville, N.Y., college. 

The trial was twice interrupted so Ray could be taken to the hospital for treatment of medical issues that Judge Lewis J. Liman assured jurors was unrelated to the coronavirus. 

Ray’s lawyer, Federal Defender Marne Lenox, was next to address the court on Monday – beginning the defense summation which she will conclude today. The jury is expected to begin deliberating later in the day.

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Both parties have rested in the Sarah Lawrence College 'sex cult' case. Attorney Glenn Ripa is seen in the sketch

Both parties have rested in the Sarah Lawrence College ‘sex cult’ case. Attorney Glenn Ripa is seen in the sketch 

Across days of testimony, alleged sex cult victim Claudia Drury told the court that she had been forced into a life of prostitution and handed over more than a million dollars to Ray

Across days of testimony, alleged sex cult victim Claudia Drury told the court that she had been forced into a life of prostitution and handed over more than a million dollars to Ray

Both parties have rested in the Sarah Lawrence College ‘sex cult’ case with Ray declining to take the stand in his own defense. 

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Ray made the decision after intense discussions with his legal team over the weekend. He informed Judge Lewis Liman of it Monday morning ahead of the jury entering court and before the defense stepped up to present its case.

After three weeks of often harrowing and graphic testimony, and a plethora of witnesses for the prosecution – including four former ‘cult members’ – the defense case lasted barely two hours and called just two witnesses. 

The first, forensic cell site analyst John B. Minor, attempted to cast doubt on the credibility of government maps that tracked cell phone activity and appeared to incriminate Ray and his co-conspirator Isabella Pollok by putting them in the same place as Claudia Drury at key times. 

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Across several days of testimony Drury told the court that she was forced into a life of prostitution and handed over more than a million dollars to Ray by way of ‘reparations’ for wrongs of which he coerced her into believed herself guilty. 

On Monday, jurors heard that the data was unreliable but under cross examination from Lindsay Keenan the quality of Minor’s own conclusions was undermined leaving it unclear what if any gains his testimony had made.

Forensic cell site analyst John B. Minor (pictured in a sketch) attempted to cast doubt on the credibility of government maps that tracked cell phone activity and appeared to incriminate Ray and his co-conspirator Isabella Pollok by putting them in the same place as Claudia Drury at key times

Forensic cell site analyst John B. Minor (pictured in a sketch) attempted to cast doubt on the credibility of government maps that tracked cell phone activity and appeared to incriminate Ray and his co-conspirator Isabella Pollok by putting them in the same place as Claudia Drury at key times

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Next came attorney Glenn Ripa, the subject of a hearing late Friday.

The defense had initially hoped to introduce an ‘advice of counsel’ defense with Ripa’s testimony, arguing that Ray acted in good faith collecting ‘reparations’ from students including Drury and not paying taxes on them having been told that those actions were legal by Ripa.

Lewis did not allow this, finding that Ripa’s testimony – which he described as ‘all over the place’ – fell far short of reaching that bar.

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Instead, Ripa could only testify that he told Ray that reparations for personal damages were not considered taxable income and that he understood Drury to have confessed to having poisoned Ray.

Again, Keenan stood to cross-examine and damaged the little testimony Ripa had given. She established that the attorney had made no records regarding this ‘advice,’ and made no mention of it to the defense before March 30 this year.

Under intense questioning Ripa went on to admit that he had no idea Ray was already taking money from Drury when he allegedly advised him and that he had no clue that the sums of money involved ran to more than two million rather than the couple of hundred that Ripa had in mind.

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The government closed its case Friday with testimony from Maritza Rosario, the mother of three siblings who each testified as alleged cult members and victims

The government closed its case Friday with testimony from Maritza Rosario, the mother of three siblings who each testified as alleged cult members and victims

Yalitza Rosario

Felicia Rosario was a 29-year-old Harvard and Columbia medical graduate when she met Ray, 62, through her younger brother who was a student at Sarah Lawrence College

Ray ultimately ingratiated himself with his daughter Talia's friends, Santos Rosario (pictured) Daniel Levin, Felicia Rosario and Isabella Pollok

Yalitza Rosario, Felicia Rosario, Santos Rosario. Felicia, 39, told the court how she saw herself as Ray’s ‘wife’ only recently realizing their relationship was a sham. Yalitza, 32, testified that her relationship with Ray ‘tore her world apart’ and led to her mental breakdown. Santos, 30, told of violent physical abuse, coercion, extortion to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars

Assistant US Attorney Mollie Bracewell delivered the prosecution’s closing Monday afternoon. She sought to strip back a case that has been often dumbfounding in detail and refocus the jury on what, she maintained, was at the heart of it.

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Ray, she told the court, had presided over a criminal organization that existed entirely for his benefit. He used trust to assume power and mounted a campaign of terror, sustained over close to ten years, to induce confessions and turn the students of Sarah Lawrence into ‘piggy banks.’

She replayed some of the most disturbing audio and video: Santos Rosario, 30, being beaten with a hammer by Ray whose blows rained down again and again; Daniel Levin being tortured with pliers, clamped to his tongue and a hammer thrust beneath his chin or into his torso.

Felicia Rosario (pictured arriving court earlier this week) told jurors how she came to realize her 'romance' with alleged sex cult leader Larry Ray was a sham

Felicia Rosario (pictured arriving court earlier this week) told jurors how she came to realize her ‘romance’ with alleged sex cult leader Larry Ray was a sham

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Carlos Pagan told jurors how, ‘shaking and disheveled,’ alleged member, Felicia Rosario, asked him to have sex with her outside and claimed that Ray told her to

Felicia, 39, told the court how she regarded herself as Ray’s ‘wife’ only recently realizing their relationship was a sham 

And she reminded the jury of the night when Ray and Pollok allegedly subjected Drury to hours of torture in her room at Manhattan’s Gregory Hotel.

On that night Ray allegedly stripped Drury naked, tied her to a chair and repeatedly suffocated her with a plastic bag, choked her with a leash, poured water over her while sitting her in the frigid blast of an AC unit and cut her hair with souvenir scissors that had been a gift from a client and she had kept because she thought them pretty.

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They did it because Drury – by then a prostitute – had become too close to the client, Bracewell said, and had to be ‘brought to heel.’

Jurors heard audio of this sustained attack during Drury’s testimony. At one point Ray can be heard asking Pollok to pass him the plastic bag – ‘an instrument of torture,’ Bracewell said – at another Drury can be heard choking. ‘You can listen to it again,’ Bracewell told the jury Monday afternoon and added, ‘If you are able.’

The night, she said, was ‘a snapshot’ that told them ‘almost everything’ they needed to know about Ray and his crimes.

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The effect was powerful and immediate. Jurors sat riveted, some took notes.

Larry Ray's sex trafficking trial was halted after the accused sex cult leader suffered another medical emergency in court

Larry Ray’s sex trafficking trial was halted after the accused sex cult leader suffered another medical emergency in court

Sarah Lawrence College is an elite liberal arts college in Bronxville, just north of New York City

Sarah Lawrence College is an elite liberal arts college in Bronxville, just north of New York City

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Ray, Bracewell told them, was at the head of a criminal structure that had a hierarchy, a group of followers and an anointed few – his ‘lieutenant’ Isabella Pollok and his daughter Talia Ray. Both, she argued, were complicit in his crimes.

This was all about the control that Ray ‘ruthlessly and relentlessly’ pursued over Drury, Levin and the Rosario siblings.

Anticipating the biggest stumbling block of all – the how? of the whole affair – Bracewell reminded jurors of the testimony of psychologist Dr Dawn Hughes, given four weeks ago.

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Hughes had outlined the ways in which coercive control is gained and the tactics used. She listed ten: Establishing Trust, Physical Violence, Sexual Abuse, Isolation, Indoctrination and Gaslighting, Emotional Abuse, Deprivation, Economic Abuse and Collateral.

Ray may not have written this playbook, Bracewell suggested, but he studied it and he followed it verbatim.

The evidence, she told the jury, ‘is overwhelming.’ She said ‘This man reigned over his criminal family and enterprise so he could profit and gain power.

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‘He did so with fear, violence, manipulation, lies and schemes and he did so for years.’

This was, she said, ‘nothing but a long con,’ – a means to the millions Ray and Pollok used to prop up a lifestyle of designer clothes, luxury hotels and expensive dinners and funneled into a domain name portfolio worth, Ray boasted to his father, more than $34million.

She concluded, ‘He told his victims his acts of cruelty were attempts to hold them accountable for made up acts against him.

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‘It is time to hold him accountable for his litany of crimes. We are asking you to bring Lawrence Ray to justice.’

Federal Defender Marne Lenox was next to address the court – beginning the defense summation she will conclude Tuesday.

The way Lenox cast it this was all about ‘storytelling’ and storytellers who lost track of the difference between truth and fiction.

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They all, she said, ‘believed’ – Ray included. Ray believed he was the victim of a massive conspiracy, that he had been poisoned and was due reparations.

The students turned his villains into their own and spun tall tales that they themselves came to believe.

Lenox took a long deep breath, steadying her nerves before she began. ‘Some people’ she admitted ‘thought Lawrence Ray was crazy.’ But others did not. Others believed in the world in which, she maintained, Ray and the students lived.

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She said, ‘That world may not be one that you or I can ever hope to understand but for the defendant and others, through the looking glass, this world was real.’

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