At Sarah Lawrence Cult Trial, Bronx Siblings Describe Their Ordeal

Lawrence V. Ray grunts and screams on the audio recording. He asks for his “sharpest razor,” calls for a hammer and yells at a young man named Santos Rosario.

“I swear I’ll put this through your skull,” Mr. Ray shouts. “I want to take you out in a brutal way.”

The recording, played to jurors in Mr. Ray’s trial on charges of sex trafficking, extortion and racketeering conspiracy in Federal District Court in Manhattan, captured the rage he unleashed on young people whom he first befriended, then mesmerized and then accused of sabotaging him.

Mr. Ray, 62, who was arrested in 2020 after he was the subject of a New York magazine article, spent nearly a decade controlling and abusing a group of young people, prosecutors say. He met most of them, according to testimony, in 2010 after moving into his daughter’s dormitory at Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County, just north of New York City.

Mr. Ray has been accused of manipulating, threatening and assaulting those under his sway and isolating some from their parents. Prosecutors said he pressured the young people to make false confessions of undermining him and damaging his property, then extracted payments from his victims and their relatives.

After the recording was played in court earlier this month, Mr. Rosario testified that Mr. Ray had become infuriated when someone had listed him on the web as a mental-health provider. Mr. Rosario, conditioned by years of fake confessions, told Mr. Ray he had posted the information, but then could not comply with his demand to remove it.

“He was hitting me with the hammer,” Mr. Rosario testified, adding that the encounter lasted for “several hours.”

The defense has maintained that Mr. Ray was absorbed into a fog of falsehoods created by students who mixed their own life stories with his, adding details and building upon one another’s accounts to create “one fantastic conspiracy.”

No family became more deeply intertwined with Mr. Ray than the one that included Santos Rosario and his older sisters, Yalitza and Felicia, who grew up in the Bronx and other areas and then attended prestigious schools.

After Horace Mann High School in Riverdale, Mr. Rosario went to Sarah Lawrence. He met Mr. Ray there and introduced him to Yalitza, then a student at Columbia University, and Felicia, who had graduated from Harvard University and Columbia medical school.

Santos and Felicia Rosario have testified in the trial, offering vivid accounts of how Mr. Ray’s methods of control tore apart their family and describing how he belittled them, disparaged their parents and ultimately turned the siblings against one another.

Ms. Rosario, who finished her testimony Tuesday, said that she is back in touch with her family but still fears Mr. Ray.

“I still feel like no matter where he is, he can still get to me,” she said.

Mr. Rosario, who gave his age as 30 when he began testifying March 10, first heard about Mr. Ray while dating his daughter, Talia Ray, during their freshman year at Sarah Lawrence. He testified that Ms. Ray described her father as “a hero” in prison on “trumped-up charges.”

The following year, when Mr. Ray got out of the New Jersey prison where he had done time after a child-custody dispute, he showed up at the Sarah Lawrence dormitory where Mr. Rosario and Talia Ray lived.

There, he began speaking with students about ideas like honesty and honor, Mr. Rosario testified. “I thought he was very cool, very smart, very composed and very inspirational,” he said.

In summer 2011, Mr. Rosario said, he was among several students who often slept at Mr. Ray’s apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Philosophical conversations continued, and Mr. Rosario wrote to Felicia Rosario, now 39, that he felt more comfortable in that apartment than anywhere else.

He introduced Mr. Ray to Yalitza Rosario, who is expected to testify Wednesday, and who was then living in New York. He also connected Mr. Ray and Felicia, who had just begun a psychiatry residency in Los Angeles. Within months, Mr. Ray and Felicia Rosario began a long-distance romantic relationship, she testified.

Mr. Ray soon began making odd requests, Ms. Rosario testified, asking her to have sex with strangers. He called a “tease” and “liar” when she declined, Ms. Rosario said, and became increasingly angry.

“I decided I would comply to appease him,” she testified. The experience left her feeling “disgusting, used, embarrassed, ashamed, uncomfortable, guilty.”

Still, she moved to Manhattan to live with Mr. Ray in 2012. By then, Sarah Lawrence had placed Mr. Rosario on medical leave after he told a psychology professor at Mr. Ray’s urging that he had “violent intrusive thoughts” and had tried to kill himself while in high school, he testified.

Around that time, Mr. Rosario testified, Mr. Ray began calling him “scum” and “trash,” and accusing him of wasting his time and damaging his property.

“He would hit me, slap me, held a knife to my throat, to my throat; he hit me with a hammer, he held a knife to my genitals,” Mr. Rosario said. “He made me believe that I deserved the treatment, that I had done something wrong to deserve it.”

Soon, Mr. Ray began interrogating Santos and Felicia Rosario, recording their false confessions and insisting they owed him hundreds of thousands of dollars, they testified.

Ms. Rosario testified that Mr. Ray accused her of cheating on him and costing him money in business deals that had fallen apart while he was tending to her. Near the end of 2012, she said, she tried to kill herself.

“I felt so guilty, because of the things that he was saying that I had done or had participated in that I hadn’t,” Ms. Rosario said.

Mr. Rosario, meanwhile, admitted to damaging dozens of items in Mr. Ray’s apartment, including a Viking refrigerator, a set of Williams Sonoma pots and pans and a pair of binoculars.

He testified that his parents gave him money to pay Mr. Ray for the supposed damages, from hundreds to thousands of dollars. Once, when his mother refused him more, Mr. Rosario testified, he grabbed $10,000 from the cash drawer of the travel agency that his parents ran.

Over time, Mr. and Ms. Rosario testified, Mr. Ray’s demands grew more bizarre.

Mr. Rosario said that Mr. Ray directed him to have sex with Isabella Pollok, a former Sarah Lawrence roommate, who prosecutors said had become Mr. Ray’s “trusted lieutenant” and has been charged with conspiring with him to commit sex trafficking, extortion and racketeering. Ms. Rosario testified that Mr. Ray directed her as well to have sex with Ms. Pollok and to record sexual encounters with strangers.

Mr. Ray also sowed division between the siblings, according to testimony and recordings. Ms. Rosario said that at one point Mr. Ray accused her brother of being jealous and wanting to “destroy” her. During one interrogation session, a recording introduced into evidence shows, Mr. Rosario confessed that he had plotted with Yalitza to get Felicia to kill herself.

“I used to love you, Santos,” Felicia Rosario says on the recording.

During what Mr. Rosario referred to in court as the “hammer recording,” Mr. Ray repeatedly ordered him to leap from his apartment window. The recording captures Mr. Ray saying: “Jump, it’ll be over in a second.”

“I want you out, too,” Mr. Ray tells Ms. Rosario. “Why don’t you hold hands and jump together?”

Related Articles

Back to top button