Larry Ray True Crime Doc Creators On How He Started College Cult

The man at the center of an abusive cult-like group that began after he moved into his daughter's dorm room at Sarah Lawrence University is now the subject of a new true crime documentary premiering on Peacock.

“Sex, Lies and the College Cult” details how Larry Ray gained the trust of his daughter's roommates and friends, and began abusing and manipulating them for years — first at the elite New York college, and then in an apartment in Manhattan and a house in North Carolina.

Peacock
Peacock

Robert Palumbo, director and executive producer, and George Waldrum, executive producer, told TODAY there were three questions they asked while making the film: Who is Larry Ray, how did he do it and how did he get away with it?

"I remember when the story came out in 2019 in New York Magazine. I remember reading the story, and just being blown away by how insane it was, first of all, but also how complex it was," Palumbo told TODAY, referring to an article in The Cut that exposed Ray's cult and sparked the federal investigation into Ray.

Ray faced nine federal charges in 2020, including counts of extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor and money laundering, and was convicted of all counts in April.

"Reading a story about these kids at Sarah Lawrence College, who were obviously bright kids to be there, to wonder how they got sucked into this — what exactly happened here? How was this possible? I became more more interested in this man, Larry Ray, and what kind of power he possibly had."

Below, the producers walk us through the three questions that guided the documentary — and the answers where they arrived.

"Who is Larry Ray?"

Prosecutors alleged in the indictment, filed to New York's Southern District, that Ray — who was born Lawrence Grecco, per the indictment — began manipulating a group of students at Sarah Lawrence University after he moved into his daughter, Talia Ray's, sophomore year dorm room in September 2010 days after being released from prison.

The indictment says that Ray positioned himself as a "father figure" to his daughter's male and female roommates and gave them "therapy sessions." Some of the victims moved into Ray's apartment in the summer of 2011. After "gaining their trust," the indictment says, Ray would subject victims to "interrogation sessions that typically involved verbal and physical abuse."

“All I wanted was to be like him. To never be unhappy or unsure about anything, ever again, ” Daniel Levin, a Sarah Lawrence student who lived with Ray in the summer of 2011, wrote in his memoir about the experience, "Slonim Woods 9."

Over the next 10 years, Ray abused the group and forced at least five students to send him a total of about $1 million for more than 10 years, according to the indictment.

He also forced one victim into sex trafficking, and forced three victims to work on a family member's property in North Carolina without pay, according to the indictment.

Father Of Former Sarah Lawrence Student Indicted On Charges Of Sex Trafficking Former Students (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)
Father Of Former Sarah Lawrence Student Indicted On Charges Of Sex Trafficking Former Students (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)

"Sex, Lies and the College Cult" features interviews from three journalists who covered Ray and his federal trial, as well as friends and family close to Ray and his victims, to give close insight into the kind of person Ray was while at Sarah Lawrence and beyond.

One of the principal interviewees is former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik. Kerik and Ray met in 1995, according to The Cut, and became friendly over the years, with Ray serving as Kerik's best man at his wedding.

Palumbo said Kerik was "probably the best person to answer" the question of who Larry Ray is "because he had known him the longest and had a deep history with him."

"He has some great, some great sections and great almost soliloquies in the film, in which he expounds upon, 'Who is Larry Ray?' He says, 'Who was Larry Ray? Nobody really knows.' But then he goes on to tell you a lot about who Larry Ray was," Palumbo told TODAY.

"How did he indoctrinate these kids to be in this cult?"

Palumbo told TODAY the producers spent "a lot of time parsing" through all the evidence in the trial against Ray, as well as the journalists' reporting that they had access to.

"Step by step, we looked at how he got into that dorm and was able to indoctrinate these kids and to close off their world to everything except for him," Palumbo said.

In addition to the interviews in the film, producers Waldrum and Palumbo included video footage shot inside of Ray's residences by Ray himself and other members of the cult, submitted as evidence.

The videos depict his daughter's friends being forced to admit to crimes they did not commit, as well as Ray inflicting violence against them.

"One of our fears and one of the things we’ve been very careful about is not to lead into the sensationalism of the story and of this material, because it is quite sensational and shocking," Palumbo said. "One of the goals that we’ve had is for this to function is somewhat of a warning."

Waldrum added that one of the main things that struck him while producing the film was how he thinks anyone could have been one of Ray's victims.

"The emotions of guilt and shame are really powerful levers that can be pulled to really manipulate and coerce people into doing literally anything you want them to do," Waldrum said. "That was really shocking. And when you pair that with the fact that these are young, bright students who've got the world in their feet and it still happened to them."

The film also explores Ray's relationship with his daughter's former boyfriend from high school, Iban Goicoechea, who Palumbo called "almost the first cult member," even before Ray went to Sarah Lawrence.

Palumbo explained how Ray urged Goicoechea to join the Marines, where he later served in Afghanistan. He came back from the war with PTSD, and was "in Larry's sprawl to be treated for that," Palumbo said. Goicoechea died by suicide shortly before Larry was convicted.

"Of all the people, all the victimizations, of all the horror that happened to these kids, he was the only one didn't make it out alive," Palumbo said.

"How did he get away with it?"

Palumbo credits The Cut's report, written by Ezra Marcus and James D. Walsh, for ending Ray's 10-year span of manipulation and abuse.

"What we discovered early on was that that story in New York Magazine was the catalyst for the investigation into Larry Ray," he said. "This piece of journalism was not only an amazing, unimaginable story, but also became a tool for the families of victims, and then eventually for the FBI to investigate Larry Ray and to bring him to justice."

US Attorney For Southern District Of NY Geoffrey Berman Announces Major Indictment Involving Sex Trafficking Of Sarah Lawrence College Students (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)
US Attorney For Southern District Of NY Geoffrey Berman Announces Major Indictment Involving Sex Trafficking Of Sarah Lawrence College Students (Stephanie Keith / Getty Images)

"So, to us, the journalists in this film are the heroes of the film in a sense, they're the ones who were able to really bring this guy to justice, bring him down," Palumbo continued. "Several people that I interviewed for the film said if the story hadn't come out, this still could be going on today."

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said in a statement in April announcing the jury's guilty verdict "finally brings (Ray) to justice."

“Twelve years ago, Larry Ray moved into his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College. And when he got there, he met a group of friends who had their whole lives ahead of them,” Williams said. “For the next decade, he used violence, threats, and psychological abuse to try to control and destroy their lives.”

Ray, who faces life in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced in a court hearing in December.

"You may think, 'Ah this is a bit of a niche story that doesn't really doesn't really impact me,' but it's these type of cults have a universal commonality to how they unfold," Waldrum said. "It's important to tell those stories, especially when you consider the levels of the crimes that were involved at the end of it, and what Larry Ray was convicted of."

"Sex, Lies and the College Cult" premieres on Peacock on Wednesday, Sept. 28. Peacock is part of TODAY’s parent company, NBC Universal.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com