Sarah Lawrence College dad accused of sex trafficking, abusing daughter's friends
It was a story of a group of young college students at a liberal arts college and their unusual roommate - a then-50-year-old father.
In late 2010, Lawrence Ray moved in with his daughter and her roommates at Sarah Lawrence College when he needed a place to crash after his recent release from prison. Soon enough, he seemingly became a father figure, a confidant, a philosopher, a life coach and therapist - a constant fixture whose presence slowly became alarming, according to an April 2019 New York magazine cover story.
Ten months after the story detailed the disquieting saga, federal prosecutors announced they arrested Ray and charged the now-60-year-old with nine counts that include sex trafficking, extortion and forced labor, among numerous other charges.
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," FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney Jr. said in the announcement of the federal indictment.
When he was arrested Tuesday, authorities said, Ray was with one of the female victims identified in the indictment as well as one of his daughter's college roommates.
The accusations that Ray manipulated several people over multiple years in part underlines the need for schools to warn students about what sex trafficking can look like on a college campus, one expert told The Washington Post.
"Sex trafficking has a much lower threshold than people realize," Iliana Konidaris, founder of civil rights firm Konidaris Law, told The Post in an interview. "When they hear the term, they think there must be a transportation element that involves women being imported from abroad. That it's not something that happens on elite American college campuses."
"College is supposed to be a time of self-discovery and newfound independence - a chance to explore and learn, all within the safety of a college community," Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a Tuesday news conference. "The defendant exploited that vulnerable time in these victims' lives through a course of conduct that shocks the conscience."
Prosecutors say Ray subjected victims he first met at the Yonkers, New York, school to physical abuse and sexual and psychological manipulation in an unsettling series of events over several years.
First while living in on-campus housing and then in a one-bedroom Manhattan apartment where some of the victims later also lived, Ray compelled some of them to participate in "therapy" sessions, per the indictment. During these sessions, the indictment continued, he squeezed out intimate details of their personal lives and lectured them on his own philosophies. He convinced several individuals they were "broken," drawing out details of mental health struggles and saying he would help them, according to the indictment, which did not include the alleged victims' names or ages. He also led interrogation sessions with multiple alleged victims present.
Prosecutors said Ray falsely accused his victims of damaging his property, of trying to harm or poison him, and extracted false confessions. After accusing one male victim of damaging his property, he wielded a knife and threatened to dismember him until that victim falsely confessed, according to the indictment.
To repay him for supposed harm and property damages, one female victim began working as a prostitute at Ray's behest in 2014 through at least about 2018, authorities say. According to the indictment, he took the majority of her earnings, totaling more than a half-million dollars.