Under his spell: Lawrence Ray abuse victims speak out

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- For years, Daniel Levin and Felicia Rosario suffered cruel physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hands of Lawrence Ray – much of the terror disturbingly recorded by Ray or at his behest.

Ray was sentenced to 60 years in prison in January for manipulating Levin, Rosario and a group of their friends in a New York home they shared, and exploiting them for extortion, sex trafficking and forced labor. Levin and Rosario said they can now rebuild their lives with the knowledge that justice has been served.

"I was just reeling, taking it in that I live in a world where my abuser is no longer a threat," Levin, who left Ray in 2013, told ABC News' Linsey Davis.

Levin and Rosario spoke candidly with "Impact x Nightline" for an episode now streaming on Hulu and shared details about their abuse and how they mustered the courage to speak out against him. Their stories also documented in the new Hulu series "Stolen Youth: Inside the Cult at Sarah Lawrence."

Levin was starting his sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010 when his roommate Talia Ray introduced him to her father. Talia had mentioned Ray to Levin and their group of friends before, saying he was leaving prison soon after being wrongfully imprisoned and needed a place to stay. Levin would later learn that Ray had been sentenced for security fraud.

When Ray first moved into his daughter's dorm house, the friends thought he was odd but harmless. But slowly, he grew close to some of them, often spending all night speaking with them and offering advice. Levin eventually sought Ray out at the end of his sophomore year to talk about his fracturing relationship with a girlfriend.

"He seemed to understand the things I struggled with, that I was insecure about my body, that I was unsure about my sexuality," Levin said.

Not only did Levin appreciate the conversation at the time, he says Ray also offered him a free place to stay in the city during the summer. Soon he was living in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side with Ray and four friends. The group celebrating birthdays and the holidays together.

More friends would move in with the housemates including Felicia Rosario, the older sister of one of Levin's college housemates, who was living in Los Angeles completing a psychiatry residency after graduating Harvard and Columbia Med School.

Rosario was visiting her brother Santos at that Upper East Side apartment, and told "Impact" that she was immediately taken in by Ray's charm. The two started a long-distance relationship that initially seemed to be full of love. But soon Ray was manipulating Rosario, convincing her that people were coming after her and that she would only be safe living with him in New York.

That kind of coercion was only the tip of the iceberg. For years, the friends were violently abused mentally, physically and sexually, and constantly threatened by Ray.

"He wouldn't let me sleep. He controlled what I was eating. He would yell at me. He would beat me," Rosario said. "He took away everything that made me and this was the most painful part of all is really the hold he had on my siblings and my family. I knew that if I left him, he would just come after all of us harder."

Ray went as far as to force one of the roommates into prostitution and raked in nearly $2.5 million for her escort services, according to investigators. He also coerced Rosario's brother to pay him hundreds of thousands of dollars for supposed damage to property, much of the payments coming from Rosario's parents.

Levin stayed with Larry for two years before making the decision to leave.

"It reached a point where I did feel as if I stay any longer, I think I might die. It starts to feel like this might be a mortal threat. Whether that's because he will kill me or I will kill myself," he said.

"Just something in me felt like if I want to live, I need to leave. And I did…I just stopped answering calls-- and just hoped that they wouldn't pursue me."

But even after he left, Levin said he was still living in Ray's shadow.

"I was in a constant state of disassociation. I felt like the world was gray," he said.

Meanwhile, Ray brought the roommates to North Carolina and then New Jersey where he continued his abuse. And rumors started swirling among other Sarah Lawrence students about what was happening, prompting two New York Magazine reporters to reach out to Levin about his experience.

"I was thinking about my friends who were still being abused and what effect it would have," Levin said. "What it became for me was, they needed to get it right, because if they got it wrong, it would cause the most possible harm."

In 2019, the magazine published an expose using interviews with Levin and others. Rosario and one other friend were still living with Ray at the time and also met the reporters after Ray wanted his side told.

Rosario said Ray was furious over the piece, even though she knew it was telling the truth.

The article triggered an official investigation into Ray, and in 2020 the FBI arrested Ray.

Rosario at first defended Ray, but began to reconsider after she lived in their home without his presence and eventually moved out.

"It took them coming to get him for me to be able to even consider having-- a life again," Rosario said.

"I had to sit alone and I didn't have him yelling at me every day. It kind of just clicked that this is horrible and I need to do something."

Ray went on trial in 2022 for 15 counts including sex trafficking, extortion and forced labor. Last month, the 63-year-old was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Levin and Rosario both gave victim impact statements to the judge, never looking at Larry in the courthouse

"I try not to waste too much energy on imagining the interior of Lawrence Ray's mind. But I suspect that he is not capable of feeling bad about anything he's done," Levin said.

At the time Ray was arrested in 2020, Sarah Lawrence College issued a statement.

"It appears that for some part of the fall semester in 2010, this parent stayed in his daughter's on-campus apartment, in a clear violation of the College's written policy" Cristle Collins Judd, the school's president, said and added that school officials at the time didn't know the situation was taking place.

"The crimes for which this man has been indicted did not occur at Sarah Lawrence, even though he appears to have met certain of his victims while they were students here," she wrote.

The school put out another statement following Ray's sentencing, stating the judge's ruling was "the final stage of holding him accountable for his crimes."

"We hope this reckoning brings some sense of closure to his victims," the school said.

Levin and Rosario said they are feeling more confident that they can live enriched full lives that won't be defined by their trauma. In 2021, Levin published a memoir "Slonim Woods 9" named after the dorm where he met Ray. And he now lives in Los Angeles where he teaches writing.

Rosario, who is only a few years into her healing journey, also hopes to accomplish her delayed dreams and become a forensic psychiatrist.

"Watching Daniel's recovery and success really gives me hope for my life and my future and my dreams, the dreams that were stolen from me. And I think I'm going to do them," Rosario said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. Visit https://findahelpline.com to find support

Thursday, February 16, 2023 at 3:49PM by Knez Walker, Deborah Kim, Anneke Ball, Ashley Riegle, and Ivan Pereira, ABC News Permalink