The father of a former student at New York’s elite Sarah Lawrence College has been charged with starting a sex cult in his daughter’s dorm room, eventually forcing one woman into prostitution and holding a knife to a male victim’s throat until he confessed to a crime he didn’t do, authorities said Tuesday.
Lawrence Ray, 60, faces nine federal charges, including sex trafficking, extortion, and forced labor for allegedly subjecting “his victims to sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse,” and laundering about $1 million from five different victims under the guise of self-help. One of the victims, identified in the indictment as Female Victim-2, was present at his New Jersey residence at the time of his arrest, authorities said.
Beginning in 2010, prosecutors allege Ray “targeted a group of college students and others for indoctrination and criminal exploitation,” using “fear, violence, and coercion” to commit “unspeakable abuse,” Geoffrey Berman, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said during a Tuesday press conference.
“If you’re not angry, you don’t have a soul,” added William Sweeney Jr., assistant director-in-charge of the FBI in New York.
Prosecutors allege that shortly after his release from a New Jersey prison in 2010, Ray moved into his daughter’s on-campus housing at the private Westchester County university and began manipulating her friends—preaching about “his personal philosophy” and conducting “therapy sessions” all while presenting himself “as a father figure.”
The alleged abuse later continued in his Manhattan apartment, North Carolina, and other locations.
During the “therapy” sessions, the 60-year-old learned “intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities, and mental-health struggles under the pretense of helping them. Ray alienated several of the victims from their parents and convinced several of the victims that they were ‘broken’ and in need of fixing by Ray,” the indictment states.
To ensure his victims’ silence, Ray allegedly extracted false confessions using sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, physical violence, and threats of legal action.
“Ray ultimately extracted false confessions from at least seven victims that they had intentionally damaged Ray’s and his family members’ and other associates’ property,” the indictment said, adding other erroneous confessions including that they had “poisoned Ray and his family members.”
The father, who also allegedly took “explicit photographs of some of the victims” to ensure their silence, documented these false confessions with video recordings, doctored journal entries, and copies of emails. He also forced students to give him thousands of dollars, often making them drain their parents’ bank accounts, to ensure their loyalty, authorities said.
At least one of the college students also engaged in prostitution for four years to pay back debts to Ray that she was manipulated into believing she owed, prosecutors allege. She allegedly earned more than $500,000 for Ray, prosecutors allege.
Prosecutors also said that if any of these students made a mistake, or went against Ray’s teachings, he would accuse them of “sabotage”—which often led to cruel physical and emotional punishment.
After Ray falsely accused one male victim of damaging his property, he allegedly “placed a knife to his throat until he confessed,” before grabbing another man’s neck until he was unconscious.
When two of the female students came home with cold food, “Ray accused them of wrongdoing” and grabbed one of the women “by the face and neck” before shoving her to the floor, according to authorities. On another occasion, Ray put a plastic bag over one victim’s head until she almost passed out, Berman said.
According to the indictment, Ray coerced several victims, including the woman present at his arrest—into forced labor, silencing them by accusing them of intentionally damaging his New Jersey property and threatening to alert the authorities or Sarah Lawrence of the misdeeds detailed in their false confessions.
Ray’s alleged extortion and sex-trafficking scheme was first detailed in a New York magazine exposé last April—which authorities said Tuesday prompted their investigation. While Ray was once a close friend of ex-New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, he played a central role in the top cop’s prosecution and previously acted as an FBI informant.
“I haven’t spoken to Larry Ray in over 19 years. I only wish that the FBI and the Justice Department realized what a conman he was prior to making him their superstar witness against me,” Kerik told The Daily Beast after Ray’s arrest. “They were so adamant in destroying me and my family, they ignored his lies, deceit, and inconsistencies. Hopefully, this indictment will be the end of his reign of terror on every friend he has conned, manipulated, or deceived.”
A spokesperson for Sarah Lawrence College called the charges “serious, wide-ranging, disturbing, and upsetting.”
“As always the safety and well-being of our students and alumni is a priority for the College,” the statement says, adding that Sarah Lawrence previously conducted its own investigation last year which “did not substantiate those specific claims” alleged in the indictment.
- Additional reporting by Harry Siegel