Lawrence Ray has been charged with forcing a college student into prostitution after moving in on campus with his daughter. Picture: US Attorney's office via AP.
Lawrence Ray has been charged with forcing a college student into prostitution after moving in on campus with his daughter. Picture: US Attorney's office via AP.

Student's father accused of trafficking 'sex cult'

A FATHER who moved into his daughter's college campus dorm allegedly used physical violence and psychological torture on her classmates to pimp one out and extort others, according to US authorities.

On Tuesday, Manhattan Federal Court heard that Lawrence Ray, 60, was found in bed with one of his alleged victims, who had been his daughter's roommate at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, when he was arrested last month. Ray was arrested at his New Jersey home for allegedly sexually and physically abusing at least seven victims and extorting them.

He was later charged with federal sex trafficking, extortion, labour trafficking and money laundering nine months after allegations surfaced in a New York Magazine article that he lured his daughter's college friends into a sex cult. He has previously pleaded not guilty to all charges and was today refused bail.

Federal prosecutors alleged in the indictment that Ray made half a million dollars by trafficking the young woman for sex after he allegedly started pimping her out in 2014 - a year after she graduated from Sarah Lawrence College.

Ray told investigators that he was like a father figure to her, according to Assistant US Attorney Danielle Sassoon. Investigators have evidence, including videos, showing that Ray had "sexually groomed" the woman and filmed her having sex with other men while he watched, Ms Sassoon said. He also filmed himself berating and threatening her when she sobbed, prosecutors claimed.

Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman told reporters that Ray once "tied this victim to a chair, put a plastic bag over her hair and almost suffocated her'' to keep her in line.

Ray accused the victim of poisoning him during their time together - and made her "confess'' on video to doing so, using the footage as blackmail, officials said.

Ray confiscated another $US500,000 ($A766,000) from at least five victims with threats and bogus claims that they either damaged his property or had somehow hurt him and his relatives, the indictment said.

"He belittled and humiliated them. He broke their spirits," Ms Sassoon said, describing how Ray controlled his alleged victims.

 

The terrified victims were reduced to "draining their parents' savings in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars, opening lines of credit … (and) selling real-estate ownership'' to appease him, according to the document.

"If you're not angry, you don't have a soul,'' William Sweeney, assistant director of the FBI's New York office, said of the case at a Manhattan press conference on Tuesday.

Ray allegedly embarked on the scheme in 2010 when he moved into the on-campus pad where his daughter, then a sophomore at the prestigious school - which costs upwards of $US70,000 a year ($A107,000) - lived with seven female and male roommates. The private liberal arts college has about 1700 students and is located in Yonkers, New York.

The suspect - who was convicted in 2001 in a pump-and-dump stock fraud scheme - had been released from prison in a separate child-custody-battle case just days earlier.

At first, he presented himself as a caring "father figure'', according to the indictment.

He soon began lecturing the young group "on his personal philosophy and conducted his 'therapy' sessions … during which he learned intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities and mental health struggles with the pretence of helping them'', the document said.

Ray, who was born in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, then launched what amounted to a decade-long reign of terror over his victims - including for several years from a one-bedroom Upper East Side apartment, authorities said.

In the summer of 2011, several of the roommates lived with Ray at his Manhattan apartment, where he worked to gain their trust and alienate them from their parents, the indictment says.

Mr Berman said Ray allegedly used "physical, psychological, and sexual abuse" to keep them under his control.

"Over nearly a decade Ray coerced and extorted nearly $1 million in payments from five different victims," Mr Berman said.

One female student's parents told New York Magazine that they were duped out of $200,000 and had to sell their house to cover the debt.

Ray then laundered the money through unnamed associates' accounts and even those of some of his victims as well as by buying up internet domain names and then reselling them at a profit, authorities said.

In one particular instance, he allegedly used fear, violence and coercion to force one victim to engage in commercial sex acts to repay debts she didn't actually owe, Mr Berman said. That victim allegedly was forced to work as a prostitute for more than four years

A sign along a hedge row marks the campus of Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. Picture: AP /Luke Sheridan.
A sign along a hedge row marks the campus of Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers, New York. Picture: AP /Luke Sheridan.

A police source told the NY Post that authorities only learned of Ray's alleged scheme through the New York Magazine's expose titled The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence.

"That's the first time they ever heard of (it),'' the source said.

A Sarah Lawrence College spokesperon previously issued a statement regarding the matter.

"The charges contained in the indictment are serious, wide-ranging, disturbing and upsetting,'' it read, according to CBS TV. "As always the safety and wellbeing of our students and alumni is a priority for the college.

"In April 2019, New York Magazine published a range of accusations about this former parent. At that time, the college undertook an internal investigation regarding the specific activities alleged in the article to have occurred on our campus in 2011; the investigation did not substantiate those claims."

The school said it hadn't been contacted by federal authorities "but of course will co-operate in their investigation to the full extent of the law if invited to do so".

Ray was a former close friend of disgraced NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik and served as the best man at his wedding.

 

megan.palin@news.com.au | @Megan_Palin



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