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Sarah Lawrence Cult Case: Larry Ray Is Set to Stand Trial

Sarah Lawrence Cult Case: Larry Ray Is Set to Stand Trial
Written by publisher team

In 2010, Lawrence V. Ray walked out of a New Jersey prison and into the lives of a group of students at Sarah Lawrence College, a small school just north of New York City.

Many of those students would never be the same.

Mr. Ray, who was then 50, moved into the dormitory of his daughter, Talia Ray, telling her friends stories of his wild life and manipulating them with what prosecutors would later describe as bogus “therapy” sessions, where he pretended to solve their psychological problems .

Over the next 10 years, prosecutors said, he subjected the students and others in his circle to abuse: He extorted money from them, compelled some to have sex with strangers, and forced a young woman into prostitution — on one occasion, inside a Midtown Manhattan hotel, Mr. Ray placed a plastic bag over her head, restricting her breathing.

Now, nearly three years after an article in New York magazine, “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” revealed Mr. Ray’s cult-leader tactics, he will stand trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan. Mr. Ray, indicted in 2020, will be tried on 17 counts, including sex trafficking violent, extortion, racketeering conspiracy and crime in aid of racketeering. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Monday.

“For nearly a decade, Lawrence Ray exploited and abused young women and men emotionally, physically, and sexually for his own financial gain,” Geoffrey S. Berman, then the United States Attorney in Manhattan, said after Mr. Ray was arrested.

The trial could shed new light on the bizarre saga of an ex-convict who became a Pied Piper figure on a leafy liberal arts campus in Bronxville, an affluent New York City suburb. Prosecutors said in court filings that they planned to introduce statements by Mr. Ray’s accused co-conspirators, including Isabella Pollok, a former Sarah Lawrence student who prosecutors said became Mr. Ray’s “trusted lieutenant,” as well as Mr. Ray’s daughter.

Ms. Pollok, who has been charged with conspiracy related to sex trafficking, extortion and racketeering, has pleaded not guilty and will be tried separately.

Mr. Ray’s daughter, who has not been charged, was first described as a co-conspirator in a recent court filing. Prosecutors wrote that she had profited from and supported Mr. Ray’s misdeeds and cited an email they said she sent him in 2013 that said: “What you have done with my friends is the most amazing and beautiful thing I have ever seen.”

Actions described by prosecutors show that Mr. Ray used methods of control similar to those employed by cult leaders like Keith Raniere of Nxivm. Both men were said to have led others to believe they were broken, then isolated them from their families while indoctrinating them. While under Mr. Ray’s influence, several of the students were said to have stopped communicating with their parents.

Mr. Ray, like Mr. Raniere, is also accused of sexually exploiting people who fell under his sway, and using fake confessions from followers to ensure obedience.

Dr. Janja Lalich, a professor emerita of sociology at California State University at Chico and the author of several books on cults, said Mr. Ray’s behavior was typical of cult leaders, who plunged followers into emotional crises, then offer salvation.

“They are prey on people’s emotions, love and fear and guilt and shame,” she said. “You become more and more dependent upon the leader because you think he’s the only one who can save you.”

Court filings indicate that some of the people identified as Mr. Ray’s victims will testify at his trial. Prosecutors said they will draw upon notes and journals from former students. They also plan to show jurors a chart containing descriptions of videos that depicts a woman “providing sexual services to strangers.”

They added that Mr. Ray and Ms. Pollok forced the woman — identified by the judge overseeing the case only as Felicia — into those encounters, and required her to provide recordings of them to Mr. Ray. When he was angry with the woman, prosecutors said, Mr. Ray threatened to disseminate the recordings.

Mr. Ray’s lawyers have said they might introduce evidence to shed light on his state of mind during the years described in his indictment. They wrote in one court filing that Mr. Ray had sent several messages to law enforcement officials complaining that college students had intentionally poisoned him at the behest of the former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik and others.

Defense lawyers said those communications show that Mr. Ray believed the conspiratorial claims when he made them.

Mr. Ray had long cultivated relationships with both law enforcement officials and accused criminals — some of them, one and the same. He became friendly in the 1990s with Mr. Kerik, who was appointed by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as New York’s City’s correction commissioner before becoming police commissioner.

In 1997 Ray arranged a City Hall meeting for Mr. Giuliani with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Soon afterward he was the best man at Mr. Kerik’s wedding.

Mr. Kerik then helped Mr. Ray get a $100,000-a-year job with a construction company, Interstate Industrial Corp. Part of Mr. Ray’s role was helping the business get a license from city regulators, despite allegations that he was tied to organized crime.

Mr. Ray himself was tied to organized crime in 2000 when he was charged by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn with taking part in a scheme in which mobsters and stockbrokers were accused of cheating investors out of $40 million.

Around that time Ray cooperated with prosecutors investigating Mr. Kerik, who ultimately pleaded guilty to state and federal charges stemming from connections to Interstate. Mr. Ray entered a guilty plea in the Brooklyn case and, according to court records, was placed on probation for five years and ordered to serve nine months of home confinement.

Mr. Ray later served time in Northern State Prison in New Jersey on charges stemming from a child custody dispute.

When he emerged from prison in late 2010 Ray began living at the Sarah Lawrence dormitory, called Slonim Woods. Over the years, prosecutors said, he also lived with some of his victims in Manhattan, New Jersey and North Carolina, where an indictment said he threatened “several female victims” to get them to “perform physical labor.”

Prosecutors said they planned to call as a witness a police officer in Pinehurst, NC, who would testify that she spoke with a victim of Mr. Ray who had been hospitalized after a suicide attempt and had bruises all over her body but denied that Mr. Ray had mistreated her.

Even after his arrest, Mr. Ray tried to maintain control of some former students, according to court documents. Prosecutors said that while in custody Mr. Ray asked his father to let Ms. Pollok know that “they signed on forever.”

Months later, according to court papers, Mr. Ray’s father, not named in court papers, communicated a message to Felicia, who is expected to testify as a government witness.

“Nobody turns on my son,” Mr. Ray’s father is said to have told her. “I’m 82 years old. I don’t care they could give me 15 to 20 years.”

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