The Messed Up Story Of Sarah Lawrence Cult Leader Larry Ray

Larry Ray was a man in his 50s when he moved into his daughter's dorm at Sarah Lawrence College. He positioned himself as a mentor to the students living there and encouraged them to share their deepest fears and insecurities with him. Using techniques derived from cult leader control strategies, Ray would isolate the students from their families, extort thousands of dollars from them, and subject them to psychological manipulation, sexual abuse, and extreme violence. Soon, he would control almost every aspect of their lives.

After several of the students managed to break away from Ray's high-control group, they contributed to an exposé from New York Magazine's The Cut. After an FBI investigation, Ray was charged and convicted on 15 federal counts, including sex trafficking, forced labor, and extortion.

Larry Ray's story begins long before he moved into the dorm at Sarah Lawrence. He had connections to famous politicians and organized crime. He was often in trouble with the law, but he also served as an FBI informant and testified against former friends. His history is complicated by the decades of lies he told about himself, and the many personas he adopted to ingratiate himself with those around him.

If you or someone you know is dealing with spiritual abuse or a high control group, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find information, resources, and support for religious trauma in this resource guide.

Larry Ray was a chameleon

Larry Ray is now famous for moving into a dormitory at Sarah Lawrence College, ingratiating himself with the students there, and taking control of their lives. The strategies that he used to manipulate the students were ones that he had been using to get ahead his entire life. As quoted by The Cut, he was described by people who knew him as "a chameleon" who "would juggle 10 different people at the same time, telling each of them one piece of a story ... convincing them he wanted them to be part of his master plan."

Ray frequently created a variety of personas to endear him to the people around him. People who knew him before the notorious events at Sarah Lawrence stated that he would sometimes present as an intellectual or a patriot, and could even go so far as to use props and costume pieces such as fake glasses to create an image of himself that would impress others. Often, it was stories about his past that he used to create his persona. As described in The Intelligencer, Ray often liked to balance tales of daring exploits that made him seem heroic with stories that made him look like a victim of a mass conspiracy. These stories were lies, but there were typically elements of truth within the story – just enough to look like proof.

He claimed to have been a Marine

The following section includes references to suicide.

Larry Ray frequently told stories about his time as a Marine to manipulate others. As stated in a report by The Intelligencer, Ray had been dishonorably discharged from the military after just 19 days.

Four years before he moved into the dorms at Sarah Lawrence, Ray used stories that he made up about his military career to encourage his daughter's high school boyfriend, Iban Goicoechea, to enlist. Goicoechea's friends, many of whom were fellow veterans, described him as a selfless and fun-loving person, with dreams of becoming an underwater archeologist. Goicoechea saw extensive combat in Afghanistan, where he developed PTSD. Goicoechea's parents died shortly after his return to the United States, leaving him with few places to turn but to his former "mentor" Ray. While Goicoechea had hoped that Ray would support him and help him process what he was going through, Ray was frequently violent and cruel. As well as being physically abusive, he manipulated Goicoechea into believing in a vast conspiracy that was unfairly targeting Ray. Goicoechea would become increasingly paranoid and erratic. In 2020, Goicoechea died by suicide.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​. For veteran-specific resources, visit

Larry Ray claimed NATO sent him to Moscow

Some of Larry Ray's stories were more believable than others. The most incredible framed him as a daring NATO operative carrying out vital operatives overseas.

As stated by The Cut, Ray claimed that he had assisted a military general in developing a plan to capture activist and fugitive Assata Shakur. Ray claimed that in 1999, NATO had sent him to Moscow to negotiate an end to the bombing in Kosovo. He used a letter written by a NATO official thanking him for his assistance to add legitimacy to this claim, but the NATO official who wrote the letter has since stated that all Ray had done was make several phone calls.

While it's highly unlikely that Ray was traveling the world on secret missions, he did genuinely have international connections, which he used to his advantage. As described by the New York Times, in 1997, Ray was able to arrange a meeting between New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Making introductions between more powerful and influential people was one of Ray's most profitable abilities, and they lent him an air of legitimacy.

His business ventures gave him connections

While the vast majority of Larry Ray's claims were either distortions or outright lies, he did genuinely have connections to some powerful people. As detailed by The Cut, these included New York politicians, high-ranking members of the military, and members of the mafia.

Although he had no college degree, Ray managed to finagle a job on Wall Street in the early 1980s. He was part-owner of several establishments, including a New Jersey nightclub. He used these to leverage more connections, sometimes hosting political fundraisers for candidates like Patrick Kennedy. At one time, he attempted to purchase the famous Manhattan nightclub the Limelight (pictured). In the 1990s, he founded a commercial insurance brokerage firm that insured construction projects, but he was often paid just to make introductions. His former friend and client, construction firm owner Frank DiTommaso, has stated that Ray had introduced him to Marine generals and powerful politicians.

As reported by the New York Times, this is what got him involved with the mafia. Federal investigators determined that Ray had been approached to help a mafia-backed project get insurance. Over time, the mafia would come to feature prominently in Larry Ray's delusions.

Larry Ray was friends with NYC's police commissioner

In 1995, Larry Ray met an NYPD detective named Bernie Kerik, who would go on to become a public figure as New York City's police commissioner during the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. The two became close. As stated by The Cut, Ray would help pay for Kerik's wedding and be the best man, and Kerik would provide Ray with new contacts within the police department. When Ray arranged for a meeting between Rudy Guiliani and Mikhail Gorbachev, he did so as a favor to Kerik.

As described by the New York Times, in 1999, Kerik renovated his apartment. How this was paid for would become the subject of a massive scandal. Ray had introduced Kerik to construction firm owner Frank DiTommaso. DiTommaso's company performed more than $200,000 worth of work on Kerik's apartment, for very little money. A story claiming that Kerik had accepted money from Ray for his wedding, furniture, and a custom Tiffany police badge appeared in the press. The story's source was Ray. Kerik would ultimately be convicted of eight felonies, and serve three years in prison. Kerik has since described Ray as "a psychotic con man who has victimized every friend he's ever had."

He was an FBI informant

The friendship between Larry Ray and Bernie Kerik had soured when Ray found himself in legal trouble and Kerik told him that he couldn't help him out of it.

One of the contacts that Kerik put him in touch with was an FBI agent named Gary Uher, who took Ray on as an informant. As described by The Cut, Ray had told Uher that he had information on a pump-and-dump stock scheme being done by a high-ranking member of the Gambino crime family (who Ray also claimed had put a hit out on him.) Ray turned out to be unwilling or unable to provide any information of value to the FBI, and in some cases, the FBI believed he had intentionally lied to them. In 2000, federal prosecutors indicted 19 defendants for fraud. One of them was Ray, who was accused of paying a $100,000 bribe to a bond broker for the mafia.

Ray turned to Kerik, believing that his close friend in law enforcement would get him out of trouble. When Kerik would or could not, Ray was sentenced to five years probation. It is believed that Ray's role in the corruption case against Kerik was retribution.

An assault may have left Larry Ray with neurological issues

Larry Ray cooperated with the authorities in building a case against his former friends Bernie Kerik and Frank DiTommaso. While DiTommaso was never changed in the corruption case, Ray testified against DiTommaso in 2012 in a perjury trial, which stated that DiTommaso had lied to a grand jury about Kerik. Despite Ray's testimony in the case, DiTommaso was acquitted. As reported by NBC, in 2017, DiTommaso attacked Ray in a hotel lobby.

Surveillance footage showed DiTommaso beating Ray (though not with a metal pipe, as Ray would later claim). As noted by the New York Times, Ray's lawyer stated during the trial that the attack had fractured Ray's skull, causing issues with speech, and other neurological problems.

DiTommaso ultimately pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after the attack and had to take anger management classes. He continued to deny any ties to the mafia. His attorney insisted that he had not targeted Ray, and was unaffected by his cooperation with FBI investigators.

He believed there was a conspiracy against him

Frank DiTommaso's attack became a central piece of evidence in Larry Ray's claims that he was being targeted by a massive conspiracy. He also claimed that Bernie Kerik was a major part of the scheme against him. As stated by The Cut, Ray often claimed that Kerik had been working to silence him on the orders of Rudy Guiliani, George Bush, and Dick Cheney because he knew classified information about 9/11. He claimed he had been shot at by mysterious individuals in cars, fake legal claims had been filed against him, and that even his own lawyers were working against him. 

From an early age, he convinced his daughter Talia that individuals were out to get him – including other members of their family. His tirades have been described as long and unrelenting, overwhelming the listener completely. It is unknown whether he genuinely believed these claims and was experiencing delusions or if they were a calculated tactic, or some combination of the two. In 2005, a psychological profile of Ray stated that "power and control are exhibited through the process of wearing down the other person to the point of sheer exhaustion."

One of Ray's most common claims about the conspiracy was that he was being poisoned by his enemies. When living with the students at Sarah Lawrence, Ray would accuse them regularly of poisoning him, and sometimes force them to admit it. In some cases, he seems to have manipulated them into believing that it could be true.

Larry Ray abused his family

In 2004, Larry Ray's wife attempted to divorce him, and called the police on him for hitting her. As noted by The Cut, when the police arrived, Larry claimed that his wife was the abusive one, and had been harming their 15-year-old daughter Talia. He was given temporary custody of Talia. Soon, she would accuse her grandfather, cousin, and aunt, of abuse as well. Using a strategy he would employ again while living with the students from Sarah Lawrence, Larry created websites featuring extremely graphic accounts of abuse against Talia and his younger daughter by many people, especially her mother.

Investigators ultimately determined that Larry's wife had not abused their daughters. A psychological evaluation of Larry from the time stated that it was impossible to get a genuine evaluation because he was "able to manipulate and control almost any situation." Examiners found that Talia's descriptions of the abuse seemed rehearsed, while her younger sister stated that her father had told her to say her mother had hit her, but she never had. Larry lost custody, but Talia did not go back to live with her mother, instead chosing to stay in shelters.

In 2006, Larry Ray's wife accused him of violently attacking her. Larry told a detective at the time that he was being targeted due to a "major government investigation," and that his wife had made up the incident to discredit him. 

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

He moved into his daughter's dorm room

Larry Ray spent time in prison related to the custody battle and bail jumping. While he was in prison, his daughter Talia began working towards a degree at Sarah Lawrence College, a private liberal arts college 30 minutes from Manhattan. In 2010, Larry was released and he moved into Talia's dorm.

As described by The Washington Post, Larry quickly insinuated himself into the community of roommates in Talia's dorm suite. He set himself up as a mentor and patriarch, first cooking meals for the students where he regaled them with stories claiming he had been in the Marines and worked for the CIA. As stated by The Cut, he would give lectures, presenting himself as a kind of philosopher. Eventually, he was giving them a kind of amateur counseling, which he claimed would improve their lives. Many of Talia's roommates were living on their own for the first time and struggling with mental health conditions, which Larry exploited under the guise of supporting them.

Larry Ray referred to the group as a "family," but it has been characterized as a high-control group because of the methods of indoctrination he used, including psychological manipulation, sleep deprivation, and physical violence. As noted by The New York Times, this was not coincidental. Investigators would eventually find multiple articles on Ray's hard drives detailing the techniques cult leaders often use to keep others under their control.

Larry Ray moved the students to a private apartment

Larry Ray did everything he could to isolate them from their families and the rest of the outside world. In 2011, Ray moved the students from the Sarah Lawrence dorm into a one-bedroom apartment on East 93rd St. in Manhattan. As described by the Washington Post, Ray had encouraged the young people in his orbit to confide in him, and he used that information to blackmail and control them. As noted by The New York Times, on several occasions, he used extreme violence and threats of gruesome deaths to terrify them into obedience.

Ray manipulated many of the people he had moved into the Manhattan apartment into confessing to crimes, primarily poisoning him and his daughter. He would record these confessions, and threaten to go to the police if they turned against him. Ray used these to extort money from the young people living in his apartment and their families, demanding large sums of money to compensate for various imagined crimes. Some he forced to work (most in typical service industry jobs, but one was forced into sex work) and give him their wages in order to pay off what he believed were their debts. He sometimes deprived them of food and forced them to sleep outside. He forced them to perform humiliating sexual tasks and enacted cruel punishments on them for perceived wrongdoings.

He was convicted of trafficking and extortion

Federal investigators began investigating Larry Ray in response to an exposé by Ezra Marcus and James D. Walsh published in New York Magazine. It featured interviews with several of the former roommates from Sarah Lawrence who had been abused by Ray. In the spring of 2022, Ray was put on trial for 15 federal counts, including sex trafficking, forced labor, and extortion.

One of the Sarah Lawrence students that Ray had isolated from her family, subjected to his form of "counseling," coerced into having sex with multiple people, and referred to as his "wife," was also charged with money laundering in relation to the high control group. According to The New York Post, she faces up to five years in prison.

Prosecutors made the case against Ray primarily using powerful testimony by several of his former followers, along with many of the confessions that he had forced them to write or record. One of the prosecutors, Danielle Sassoon, stated that Ray believed he was safe because, "He never thought they would have the courage to take the stand, to face the abuser they had been taught to revere and trained to fear" (per The New York Times). On April 6, 2022, Ray was convicted on all counts.