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New York College Father Faces Life in Prison for Abuse, Extortion, and Sex Trafficking

When Lawrence Ray was released from a New Jersey prison in 2010, he sought the comfort of family. However, his choice in living arrangements was unconventional: He moved into on-campus housing with his daughter and her roommates. And from there, Ray’s choices and his actions towards students and other young adults became manipulative, exploitative, and abusive. On 6 April 2022, he was finally found guilty of 15 counts, including extortion, sex trafficking, and forced labor.

When Ray, who at the time was 50 years old, moved in with his new roommates, who were at the time sophomores attending Sarah Lawrence College, he established himself “as a father figure” to them, according to the sealed indictment. Ray also “began ‘therapy’ sessions with some roommates purportedly to help them with their psychological problems,” the document said.

By the following summer, several of those roommates had moved into a one-bedroom apartment in the Upper East Side neighborhood of Manhattan, New York.

But at both the dorm and the apartment, Ray indoctrinated the young adults, as well as others the roommates brought in, lecturing them on his personal philosophy and continuing “therapy” with 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 said. He likened himself to a Roman emperor and philosopher and told them false tales of his heroic deeds and powerful enemies. In a nutshell, he leveraged his presence to groom students and their friends, laying the foundation of psychological conditioning.

Once he had their trust, Ray interrogated them, sometimes with the help of other victims. Ray used various means to extract information, cooperation, or false confessions, including physical violence, psychological and sexual humiliation, sleep deprivation, threats of criminal legal action or physical violence, and verbal abuse. In one instance, Ray falsely accused one man of damaging Ray’s property and threatened to dismember him with a knife until the man falsely confessed.

Such false accusations of damages to Ray’s property were common and were used to extort money from those accused of causing the damage. “The victims resorted to various measures to repay their supposed debts to Ray, including draining their parents’ savings in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars, opening lines of credit, soliciting contributions from acquaintances, selling real estate ownership, and—at Ray’s direction—performing unpaid labor for Ray and earning money through prostitution,” according to court documents. All together, Ray managed to extort a total of $1 million from at least five victims.

Along with extortion, Ray also leveraged his position to have some of the victims perform unpaid labor, including building an irrigation system on a family member’s property, plus coercing one female victim into prostitution and taking everything she earned from this work—roughly $2.5 million over the course of about four years.

Over the course of the month-long trial, Ray’s “lawyers argued that [Ray] had become caught up in a group delusion created by his daughter’s friends and roommates, some of whom suffered from mental illness,” The New York Times reported.

However, along with witness testimony from several of Ray’s victims, prosecutors also presented evidence from victims’ journal entries, emails, and written confessions. CBS News also reported that audio recordings of some of the abuse was played in the courtroom. Perhaps most damning for Ray’s case was the discovery of various academic articles found on his hard drives that depicted an intent to control the young adults, including ones titled, “Cult Membership: What Factors Contribute to Joining or Leaving?” and “Mind Control: The Ultimate Terror.”

Ray’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for September. While most of the charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the count of sex trafficking has a maximum sentence of life in prison and a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

(The case is United States v. Lawrence Ray, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 20-cr-110-LJL, 2022.)