Bail has been denied for the father of a former college student in Westchester who allegedly ran a sex cult out of his daughter's dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College.
A judge in Manhattan federal court denied the bail appeal of Lawrence Ray, 60, who pleaded not guilty to nine federal charges for allegedly moving into his daughter’s dorm at Sarah Lawrence College near the border of Bronxville and Yonkers and operating a sex cult.
Specifically, Ray is charged with:
- Conspiracy to commit extortion;
- Sex trafficking;
- Obtaining forced labor;
- Forced labor trafficking;
- Conspiracy to obtain forced labor;
- Two counts of violating the travel act;
- Money laundering.
It is estimated that Ray extorted nearly $2 million through the scheme. He's currently being held at the Manhattan Metropolitan Correctional Center. His lawyers allegedly argued that Ray has strong ties to New York and New Jersey and is not a flight risk, despite a criminal history.
Ray’s alleged illicit activities were first brought to light when he was the subject of a cover story for New York Magazine following his release from prison in 2010 and moved into his daughter’s dorm.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey German said that Ray “used physical and psychological threats and coercion to indoctrinate and exploit a group of college students. Ray extorted approximately $1 million from at least five victims; forced certain victims to perform unpaid labor; and caused, through force, fraud, and coercion, at least one victim to engage in commercial sex acts. He laundered the proceeds of his crimes through an internet domain business.”
It is alleged that beginning in 2010, Ray, now of Piscataway, NewJersey, subjected students at Sarah Lawrence and other victims to “sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse.”
Berman said that Ray’s tactics included sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, threats of physical violence, physical violence, threats of criminal legal action, alienating the victims from their families, and exploiting the victims’ mental health vulnerabilities.
Prosecutors said that while manipulating the students and conducting “therapy sessions,” he learned “intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities, and mental health struggles under the pretense of helping them.
“Through this manipulation and abuse, Ray extracted false confessions from the victims to causing purported damages to Ray and his family and associates, and then extorted payment for those purported damages through several means,” Berman said. “The victims made payments to Ray by draining their parents’ savings, opening credit lines, soliciting contributions from acquaintances, selling real estate ownership, and at Ray’s direction, performing unpaid labor for Ray and earning money through prostitution.”
Ray allegedly used that fear and coercion to force at least one female victim to engage in sexual activities to pay damages to Ray she didn’t owe.
“Beginning when she was just a college student, Ray sexually groomed this victim, and collected sexually explicit photographs and other personal information which he then used to coerce her into continued commercial sex acts,” prosecutors said. “Ray also used physical violence. On one occasion, as alleged, Ray tied his victim to a chair, placed a plastic bag over her head, and nearly suffocated her. In total, Ray allegedly collected over $500,000 in forced prostitution proceeds from this victim.
Sarah Lawrence College President Cristle Collins Judd said that the college did not have any knowledge of the alleged sex cult.
“We are a small college, and while it is not unreasonable to expect that we will know when something is happening on our campus, in fact, college officials at the time didn’t know. “Perhaps because the apartment in question was a small townhouse with its own entrance, students in other housing would not necessarily have been aware of the presence (and have told us they were not) of this student’s father.
“What we do know is that no reports about this parent’s presence on campus during that semester, formal or informal, were lodged by students sharing that small living space, by their student neighbors, or by anyone else.”
Judd noted that “the acts charged in the indictment began in 2011—after Ray had stayed with his daughter; they spanned nearly a decade and are not alleged to have taken place on the Sarah Lawrence campus.
“That makes the acts as alleged no less horrific, nor our heartache for the victims of those misdeeds any less deep, but it is important to reiterate that 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.”
Ray is also charged with forcing three women to perform unpaid labor on a family member’s property in North Carolina by using psychological and physical abuse. Ray then laundered the money through an Internet domain business.
If convicted, Ray faces life in prison.
“As alleged, for nearly a decade, Lawrence Ray exploited and abused young women and men emotionally, physically, and sexually for his own financial gain,” Berman stated. “College is supposed to be a time of self-discovery and new-found independence. But as alleged, Lawrence Ray exploited that vulnerable time in his victims’ lives through a course of conduct that shocks the conscience.
“Through his manipulative interrogation sessions, Ray made his victims confess to alleged wrongdoing and then compelled them to repay Ray alleged damages owed to him, through payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars, or worse, forced labor and sex trafficking.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. added, “Mr. Ray allegedly used his proximity to his victims to lay the groundwork for psychological conditioning, eventually leading several young adults to become unwitting victims of sexual exploitation, verbal and physical abuse, extortion, forced labor, and an egregious case of prostitution.
“For the better part of the last decade, we allege there was no limit to the abuse Ray’s victims received, and there is no way of knowing the amount of damage he may have caused them in the years to come.”
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