‘Stolen Youth,’ About the Sarah Lawrence Sex Cult, Is the Year’s Most Disturbing Docuseries
In the Nineties teen rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You, Kat Stratford (Julia Stiles), the film’s Riot Grrrl rebel who listens to Letters to Cleo and idolizes Sylvia Plath, wants nothing more than to attend Sarah Lawrence College. The choice tracks. A liberal arts college with fewer than 2,000 students nestled on 44 wooded acres in the suburb of Yonkers, New York, Sarah Lawrence not only boasts a certain sylvan-secluded charm, but also caters to artists and creatives, counting J.J. Abrams, Julianna Margulies, Carly Simon, and Vera Wang among its notable alumni.
“Their slogan at the time was, ‘You are different. So are we.’ And they were trying to attract the kind of students who were maybe outcasts of some kind in high school. The nerds or the artists,” offers Max Mamis, a former student.
So, it came as an extraordinary surprise when, in April 2019, New York Magazine published an eye-opening exposé of Larry Ray, an unhinged fiftysomething con man who indoctrinated a number of Sarah Lawrence College students — via his daughter Talia, a fellow student — into an abusive sex cult, starting in 2010. The college and authorities didn’t do a thing to stop his symphony of abuse until after the story ran, nearly a decade into his reign of terror. He was charged with sex trafficking, conspiracy, money laundering, forced labor, and several other offenses in February 2020 and convicted on all counts in April 2022. Last month, the 63-year-old was sentenced to 60 years in prison.
Max is one of the eyewitnesses in Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence, a three-part Hulu docuseries debuting Feb. 9. Directed by Zach Heinzerling (Cutie and the Boxer), it’s a harrowing chronicle of Larry’s cult, featuring interviews with most of those who fell under his thumb and their friends and family, as well as terrifying audio and video recordings Larry took of him physically and psychologically tormenting his victims. It is, without question, one of the most chilling documentaries in recent memory and not for the faint of heart.
The story begins in the fall of 2010, during the sophomore year of Santos Rosario, a Dominican American from a working-class family in the Bronx. Santos and his Sarah Lawrence pals decided to live in Slonim Woods, a duplex dorm — a house, pretty much — spacious enough to give each of the eight friends their own bedroom. Santos soon fell for Talia Ray, a stunning classmate of his, and quickly became infatuated with her (she was his first girlfriend, after all). She would talk nonstop about her father, Larry, saying she wanted to become a lawyer to help people like him, a war hero and political player who she felt was wrongly imprisoned.
One day, Talia informed the dormmates that her father was getting out of jail and asked if he could crash on their living room couch for a while because he apparently had nowhere else to go. When Larry arrived, the teenagers were immediately taken with him. He talked “for hours” about his time in the Marines, in the CIA “doing psy-ops against foreign leaders,” working with NATO in the Kosovo War, serving as Gorbachev’s guide in the U.S., and being close with political luminaries like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. He also claimed that after whistleblowing on pal and former NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik, the lawman had him thrown in jail on “trumped-up charges.” Before you can say red flag, Larry was staying on the students’ living-room couch four days a week. The Slonim kids describe him as initially being “the fun dad in the house” who kept the kitchen clean, ordered them pizza, and occasionally cooked them steak.
“It was so weird, and everyone was also a little bit stoned all the time, so we were like … Is it weird or am I weird?” says Raven Juarez, one of the dormmates, in the doc.
One day, Larry called a house meeting where he unveiled what he called his guiding philosophy: Q4P or Quest for Potential. He claimed to be able to “untie the confusion” in them and grant them clarity to find their true selves and access their full potential.
“He could help identify, articulate, and then process repressed memories, trauma, abuse,” says Dan Levin, one of the Slonim kids and Raven’s boyfriend. “If we went through that process, we would be healed. That’s what it means to have ‘clarity.’”
Larry first zeroed in on Isabella Pollok, a reclusive girl from Texas. The two would stay up all night in her room, sometimes for 12 to 16 hours straight, talking. Larry convinced Isabella that she was molested as a child, and told her parents that if she visited them over Christmas she was “going to kill herself.” He then set his sights on Claudia Drury, making her believe she had schizophrenia. And he assured Dan, who was questioning his sexuality, that he wasn’t gay but should also cut ties with Raven, who was “in his way.” Larry made it a point to target the students in the group who were experiencing a crisis of identity, or were from poor backgrounds, or had experienced family troubles, or all of the above. It made it easier for him to drive a wedge between them and their families.
“Everyone at the beginning thought he was weird. And then, one by one, he would get them alone, have these conversations, and suddenly they’re like, Oh, he’s not so bad to Actually, he’s pretty great. Actually, he’s saving my life. Actually, he’s the best thing that ever happened to me. Actually, I’ll never not listen to him. Actually, fuck you, I’ll never listen to you if you talk bad about him. And it happened steeply. And it shocked me,” recalls Raven in Stolen Youth.
In summer 2011, at the end of their sophomore year, Larry persuades a coterie of students to move into his apartment in a high-rise on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, with Dan, Claudia, and Santos in the living room, and Talia, Isabella, and Larry in the bedroom. He ran it like the Marines. They would have to rise at 7 a.m., put on a morning playlist he curated, and do up to 400 pushups. Larry preached that it would “make you feel better” to embrace your masculinity or femininity, so the young women started wearing makeup and the young men shaved their heads.
One night, while the others were out, “Isabella crept out of the bedroom. I was in my boxers, asleep on the couch. We … hooked up,” shares Dan. “And, you know, there’s a part of me that was like, this is cool that someone is randomly performing a sex act on me, I guess. It just was so hard not to feel like she had been sent out. What came to pass soon after that was I was explicitly being enrolled in this sexual education, and Larry was my professor and Isabella was his TA.”
Larry’s bizarre sexual “lessons” included teaching them how to touch each other, and that it’s important to have sex while listening to 13th-century Gregorian chants.
“It did grow into, like, him having sex with [Isabella] and me having sex with her, all three of us together. But this is where my brain starts to lock up those memories,” says Dan in the doc. “But I do remember there’s part of me that felt special. I had been brought into the royal court.”
By fall 2011, their junior year, the five students would attend classes at Sarah Lawrence by day and then return to Larry’s apartment at night. Around this time, Santos introduced Larry to his younger sister, Yalitza, who moved in as well. Larry became increasingly unmoored. He packed the apartment with power tools, and would cut up Adderall and give it to the students, keeping them awake for long periods of time where he would accuse them of damaging items in the apartment — even though they would have no recollection of doing so — demanding accountability during interrogation sessions lasting hours. It caused the youngsters to question their reality. He made Santos, who was dating his daughter, the target of much of his ire.
“Remember, you are the one that has hurt me! You are the hurter, I am the victim of your hurt!” Larry can be heard screaming at Santos in an audio recording in the film, later demanding payment for items that he says were damaged.
“I remember at that point not knowing what was true and what was not,” says Santos. He ultimately made a list of every item he could have conceivably come into contact with in the apartment, and since he couldn’t pay for them, began asking his parents for money. His parents pawned his mother’s jewelry for $750. Santos then began calling all of his friends and asking for between $5,000 and $25,000 in loans to pay back Larry.
Meanwhile, Raven began spreading word on campus that Larry was “a pervert” who was manipulating her estranged friends. The rumors prompted Claudia to email their entire friend group, along with the dean of Sarah Lawrence, about supposedly slanderous allegations she’d made against Larry. Claudia further cold-called friends, telling them she was fine and that “Larry Ray is the only reason I am alive.” (Claudia elected not to participate in the docuseries.)
“That was when I would’ve first started using the word ‘cult’ for what was going on,” says Max.
The second episode of Stolen Youth delves into the backstory of “Larry Ray,” a supposed happy family man who was actually involved in a pump-and-dump scheme with connections to organized crime, landing him five years behind bars. His real name was Larry Grecco, and he never served in the Marines, though he did hobnob with Giuliani and Gorbachev. After the criminal conviction, Larry lost custody of his children — violating his probation in 2007 by abducting Talia — and crowed that he was the victim of a vast conspiracy involving ringleader Bernard Kerik, Giuliani, then-VP Dick Cheney, and a host of others.
In the apartment, Larry’s treatment of the students got worse. He would interrogate them for hours, until three or four in the morning. They ate when he ate, and slept when he said so. He began pressuring them into making on-camera confessions that they were in league with Kerik and a cabal of corrupt cops trying to sabotage Larry. Stolen Youth presents video and audio footage of these “confessions,” where the students, who appear as though they haven’t slept for days, are bullied by Larry into concocting elaborate Kerik-led plots, occasionally bursting into tears. Talia, Larry’s daughter, broke up with Santos and moved back to the Sarah Lawrence campus, but was quickly replaced by Felicia, Santos’ older sister and a soon-to-be doctor in the middle of her residency. After a lengthy phone courtship, where Larry persuaded Felicia people were going to kill her, she left her job, was evicted from her apartment, and moved into the cramped Upper East Side place.
With three of the Rosario children under his control — Santos, Yalitza, and Felicia — Larry “brainwashed” (their parents’ words) them into thinking their father was a drug dealer who raped them as kids, and also demanded large sums of money for various “damaged” items in the apartment. The parents sold their house and car, and borrowed around $300,000 from their friends to send to him.
This is the point where Stolen Youth becomes very difficult to watch. We are shown a video of one of Larry’s interrogations of Dan. Larry is holding a mallet to his neck as he grabs his tongue with a set of pliers, demanding he “tell the truth” before repeatedly striking him in the chest with the mallet.
“The next thing that’s gonna be out is your dick and balls,” Larry tells the frightened Dan, aiming the mallet at his crotch.
“As punishment, he made this rope out of aluminum foil and plastic,” Dan says. “He had me wrap it around my genitals. And then he was twisting that to tighten it. At this point, there was just nothing left of me.”
This echoes Santos’ account, who testified during Larry’s trial, “He would hit me, slap me, held a knife to my throat.… He hit me with a hammer. He held a knife to my genitals. He put me in a chokehold and put me to sleep.”
The beatings were the last straw for Dan, who climbed up to the roof of the Upper East Side apartment and considered jumping off. It was at that moment, he says, that he finally began to realize Larry was an evil man. He packed his bags and returned to campus.
In the spring of 2013, following graduation, Larry had the remaining people under his control — Santos, Yalitza, Felicia, Isabella, and Claudia — move into a home he said his stepdad owned in Pinehurst, North Carolina. He made them fix up the property, doing hours upon hours of manual labor in the pouring rain. He put a lock on the fridge and wouldn’t allow them to eat without his permission. They say Larry would pop 120 milligrams of Adderall a day and almost never sleep.
His delusions were getting worse. Larry accused Yalitza of poisoning him and Felicia on the order of her parents. Yalitza walked off the property with just the clothes on her back. Shortly thereafter, Santos did the same. In the real world, their former classmates at Sarah Lawrence discovered a website purported to be made by Claudia, wherein she confessed to poisoning their Sarah Lawrence class with mercury. A video on the site shows Larry berating a confession out of Claudia. Then, Raven and Max found an escort site advertising the services of Claudia, under a pseudonym. The sites prompted Max to go to the authorities. He says he met with a Department of Homeland Security official specializing in sex trafficking.
“They didn’t know what to make of the case, but they basically laughed it out of the room,” he claims.
Raven and Max subsequently reached out to Ezra Marcus, a fellow Sarah Lawrence alumnus who was a freelance journalist. He pitched it to New York Magazine, who published their story, “Larry Ray and the Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” to great fanfare.
“It made me feel sane again. Human again,” Dan says of piece. “This did happen.”
Larry was arrested in 2020 following its publication, at a house in Piscataway, New Jersey. Isabella and Felicia were still there at the time of the raid.
The third and final episode of Stolen Youth follows Isabella and Felicia in the immediate aftermath of his arrest through to his conviction. Initially, they are both adamant that Larry is innocent and that they were indeed poisoned by Claudia.
“I do consider him my husband. He is my honey bunny. That’s what we call each other. I’m his honey-bunny lady and he’s my honey-bunny man,” a chuckling Felicia tells producers. “We say we’re husband and wife. I love him very, very much.”
As she gains distance from Larry and reconnects with her family, including Santos and Yalitza, Felicia realizes how badly he was manipulating her.
“Larry was using my own memories, but then he twisted it, and he turned it into whatever was gonna suit him,” she says, later adding, “I have a past. I have a future, which I didn’t have before.… I had been trapped for so long, closed off from everyone. It feels like I’m coming out and there’s light.”
Isabella, who works as an Amazon warehouse worker, is depicted in Stolen Youth as still being convinced of Larry’s innocence. Prosecutors implicated her as his “top lieutenant” — the Allison Mack to his Keith Raniere, as it were — and the court charged her with extortion, sex trafficking, money laundering, and racketeering, including a 2018 episode in which she and Larry visited Claudia’s hotel room one night because he felt Claudia was not paying him enough in escort earnings. Claudia was forced to strip, tied to a chair, had a plastic bag held over her head, was waterboarded, choked, and struck repeatedly. On camera, Isabella says she has no recollection that this ever occurred.
In court, she sang a different tune, pleading guilty in September 2022 to conspiracy to launder money. Isabella confessed to helping Larry traffic Claudia and launder her approximately $2.5 million in escort earnings. She is still awaiting sentencing, facing a maximum of five years in prison, and is the only other person besides Larry to be charged. Larry’s daughter, Talia, who introduced the students to her father, has escaped any penalties and would not be interviewed for the docuseries.
Last month, in an apparent attempt at a lighter sentence, Isabella’s lawyers told a federal judge that she had fully freed herself from Larry’s grasp, Law & Crime reported, and presented a written testimonial from their client that read, in part:
“I know I committed serious crimes and I fully accept responsibility for my actions. I am not the same person who met Lawrence Ray over 10 years ago. I know this request comes late. Lawrence’s hold over me changed who I was, and it continues to be a healing process. With the help and love of others I have freed myself from the past. I am still a work in progress but know to the extent that I can make amends for the harm I have caused I am willing. I’m now asking for a second chance.”
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