Update: He may have enjoyed almost total control over the much younger Sarah Lawrence College students he pulled into his web after moving into their dorm, but Lawrence Ray can't say the same of the jury who heard his case. The 62-year-old was on Wednesday found guilty of all 15 counts he faced, including extortion, sex trafficking, and racketeering conspiracy. The New York Times reports the "most powerful evidence" in the weeks-long trial came from former followers, who say Ray convinced them they had poisoned or harmed him in some way and needed to repay him. The AP reports one woman testified that she turned to prostitution to repay him, working every day for four years and handing Ray $2.5 million in the process. Our original story from March 11 follows:
Upon his release from a New Jersey prison in 2010, the 50-year-old father of a Sarah Lawrence College student moved into his daughter's dorm. It was the start of a yearslong violent and cult-like criminal enterprise with his daughter's friends as victims, prosecutors said at the start of Lawrence Ray's trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan on Thursday. He "used violence, fear, sex and manipulation to get what he wanted—power and money," said prosecutor Lindsey Keenan, per the New York Times. She described how Ray had placed a plastic bag over the head of a naked woman he'd forced into prostitution, then "watched as she suffocated."
The woman survived, only to be ordered to "behave" and to "keep making money for him," Keenan said. After gaining the students' trust through counselling sessions and tales of life adventures, he allegedly used threats, sleep deprivation, and verbal, physical, sexual, and psychological abuse to elicit false confessions to crimes, then demanded hundreds of thousands of dollars. Prosecutors said he also forced students to have sex with each other, took explicit photos of them, and ordered them to perform unpaid labor. Former Sarah Lawrence student Santos Rosario testified Thursday that Ray was "attentive and friendly" when he first met him at the college, but a year later, he turned abusive.
"He would hit me, he would slap me," and at one point "held a knife to my genitals," the 30-year-old said, per the Times. "He made me believe that I deserved the treatment and that it was my fault," he added, per the Daily Beast. Keenan said Ray, who lived with the students after leaving the dorm, also "threatened to shatter a victim's skull while hitting him with a hammer." Arrested in 2020 following an expose from the Cut, he's accused of crimes including racketeering conspiracy, extortion, and sex trafficking. Defense lawyer Allegra Glashausser acknowledged Thursday that Ray, now 63, became absorbed by a "fantastic conspiracy." But "this is not a criminal enterprise, this was a group of storytellers," she said. (One student also is charged.)