Trigger Warning: This post contains references to sexual assault and domestic abuse.
Calling Lawrence Ray a cult leader might not seem appropriate for some. He wasn’t Jim Jones nor David Koresh in the number of his followers. But that may be how he was able to fly under the radar for so many years. For most of the 2010s, Ray, who’s real name was Lawrence Grecco, was able to take control of several young people, most of them students at Sarah Lawrence College, where his daughter, Talia, was attending.
The first documentary is Sex, Lies and the College Cult and is about an hour and a half long streaming on Peacock. It was released in Septemeber of 2022 and is more matter of the fact with the typical talking heads of law enforcement and journalists who helped report the case. The second and most recently is Hulu’s Stolen Youth: Inside the the Cult at Sarah Lawrence. Part of me feels that word got out that Hulu was doing an in-depth documetnary on the case so Peacock scrambled to put together its documentary and got it out sooner.
Both documentaries are worth a watch. And some information not covered in one is covered in the other. I would recommend Stolen Youth mostly for the more in-depth interviews with some of the people who were victims to Ray’s years of abuse. I would still recommend you watch the Peacock one first as it provides a lot of information that would be needed going into Stolen Youth.
In 2010, eight students were living in an on-campus style of apartment in the Slonim Woods part of the campus. It’s my understanding most of the students were in their second year but had bonded and gotten to know each other in their first year. It looks like at times, it was going very well before Ray came into their lives. Just released from prison, he found himself staying on campus with his daughter, Talia.
This immediately should’ve thrown up a lot of red flags. Many colleges and universities have strict policies on guests staying in campus housing, especially if they have a felony record. My suspicion is Talia probably convinces the others to allow him to stay and Ray worked his smooth talk on the ones he could control. Many of them say they would spend hours individually speaking with Ray.
Some people point the finger at the college itself and probably for legal reasons, no one is interviewed and they give canned responses of plausible deniability that they had no idea Ray was there because it wasn’t brought to the proper attention. In some ways, the college is able to plead ignorance. A lot of colleges are quick to act like they’re not as responsible as some would say they should. Most people in college are 18 and over so on paper, they’re adults technically. If they’re having problems with a roommate or an unwanted guest, they should tell someone.
But, having living in dorms and worked for the housing department myself, I can attest there is a lot going on that isn’t reported. Also, if many worried parents knew better, they’d bite the bullet and get their kids a one-bedroom/studio apartment that they only have the key to. There are so many ways even at the college’s with the most strictest policies for people to gain access to places they’re not supposed to be.
Sadly, the introduction to Ray to the circle of friends caused everything to fall apart very quickly. Some of the students such as Raven Juarez didn’t buy into Ray’s bullshit. But others did. Since he was dating Talia, Santos Rosario found himself among others drawn into Ray’s grasp. Eventually, Santos would move out of Slonim Woods into a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan with Ray and other Slonim roomates including Daniel Levin, Isabella Pollok, Claudia Drury as well as Santos sisters, Felicia who was close to finishing her residency at an Los Angeles area hospital and Yelitza.
The Peacock documentary indicates the apartment belonged to Lee Chen, an acquaintance of Ray’s, who was supposed to be receiving money from Ray for rent. But Chen says he received no money and had to go through a very long process of evicting Ray and the others, which took years. And over these years, he took to tormenting, abusing (both physcially, emotionally and sexually), and extorting the young people at the apartment. At the same time, he made the young people believe there was a conspiracy of people out to get all of them.
Ray had a previous history with Bernard Kerik, a former commissioner of the New York Police Department who was nominated by President George W. Bush to be the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. But Kerik withdrew his candidacy after it was revealed he had had an undocumented immigrant as a nanny. He would go on to spend some time in federal prison. Kerik is interviewed in the Peacock documentary commenting on the relationship negatively.
Kerik wasn’t the only high profile person Ray had an acquaintance of. He was also friends with Mikhail Gorbachev and had pictures to prove it. So naturally, a lot of people hearing from Ray or talking to him might think he was a man of big importance. But his felony conviction had come from Ray actually abducting his own daughter, Talia, who was a minor at the time, as the courts had declared he didn’t have custody of her. Ray moving back in with Talia after his release shows that he had a control over her.
Both documentaries are hard to watch because Ray insisted that everything he did be videotaped and the abuse is on full display as he makes these people do whatever he wants. He was able to convince them they owed him money by breaking or damaging his personal items. He would turn one person against another or several against one. The worst part is when he made Drury resort to selling sex for money for at least two years of which it’s reveal she was able to make over $1 million.
Stolen Youth manages to give more insight and at one point, after Ray has been finally evicted from the Manhattan apartment, he’s living at a house in New Jersey with Isabella and Felicia who are very supportive of him. The way they talk of Ray shows how he was able to make them think everyone else was the problem and give him support. It’s typical of abusers. Eventually Felicia does leave and work on getting her life together.
Isabella still talks support or Ray but part of me thinks it was her defense as she knew she would be facing charges in connection with Ray. She was trying to act like she wasn’t competent to stand trial. There’s an incident involving Claudie Drury (who understandably didn’t want to be interviewed for either documentary) was assaulted by both Ray and Isabella. The filmmakers of Stolen Youth report she eventually stopped talking to them and cut off contact. She eventually pleaded guilty.
As for Ray, he’s not interviewed in other documentary even though the video footage of him speaks volume. Ironically, it was his own narcissism demanding the events be filmed, that gave authorities everything they needed. He is currenty serving 60 years for racketeering conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, tax evasion, and money laundering offenses.
If anything else, the documentaries should hopefully help other young people as well as those who are in abusive relationships see the warning signs. Sadly, Ray isn’t the last of these people. More people will behave like him. If he hadn’t insisted so much be videotaped, it’s very likey he may not have received such a penalty.
What do you think? Please comment.