The leader accused in the Sarah Lawrence Cult case is set to stand trial

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.

Many of these students would never be the same again.

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

Over the next 10 years, prosecutors said, he subjected students and others around him to abuse: he extorted money from them, coerced some into having 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 Children of Sarah Lawrence”, revealed Mr. Ray’s cult leader tactics, he will face trial in federal court for the District of Manhattan. Mr Ray, indicted in 2020, will stand trial on 17 counts, including sex trafficking, extortion, racketeering conspiracy and violent crime for racketeering. Jury selection is due 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,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, then United States Attorney in Manhattan, after the arrest of Mr. Ray.

The lawsuit could shed new light on the bizarre saga of an ex-con who became a pied piper figure on a leafy liberal arts campus in Bronxville, an affluent New York suburb. Prosecutors said in court filings that they plan to present statements from Mr Ray’s accused co-conspirators, including Isabella Pollok, a former student of Sarah Lawrence who prosecutors say became the “Lieutenant of Trust” of Mr. Ray, as well as Mr. Ray’s daughter.

Ms Pollok, who has been charged with conspiracy relating 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 an accomplice in a recent court filing. Prosecutors wrote that she profited from and supported Mr. Ray’s wrongdoings and cited an email they allegedly sent to her in 2013 that said: ‘What you did with my friends is the most amazing and the most beautiful I have ever seen.”

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

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

Dr. Janja Lalichprofessor emeritus of sociology at California State University at Chico and author of several books on cults, said Mr. Ray’s behavior was typical of cult leaders, who throw followers into emotional crises and then offer salvation.

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

Court documents say some of those identified as Mr Ray’s victims will testify at his trial. Prosecutors said they would draw on the notes and diaries of former students. They also plan to show jurors a board containing descriptions of videos showing a woman “providing sexual services to strangers.”

They added that Mr. Ray and Ms. Pollok forced the woman – identified by the judge handling the case only as Felicia – into these meetings and forced her to provide recordings of them to Mr. Ray. When angry with the woman, prosecutors said, Mr. Ray threatened to release the tapes.

Mr Ray’s lawyers said they could present evidence to shed light on his state of mind during the years described in his indictment. They wrote in a court filing that Mr. Ray had sent several messages to law enforcement officials complaining that students had intentionally poisoned him at the request of former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, and others.

Defense lawyers said these communications show Mr Ray believed the conspiracy allegations when he made them.

Mr. Ray had a long relationship with law enforcement officials and accused criminals – some of them, one and the same. He befriended in the 1990s Mr. Kerik, who was appointed by Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani to serve as New York City Commissioner of Corrections before becoming Commissioner of Police.

In 1997, Mr. Ray arranged a town hall meeting for Mr. Giuliani with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Shortly after, he witnessed Mr. Kerik’s wedding.

Mr. Kerik then helped Mr. Ray get a $100,000 a year job at a construction company, Interstate Industrial Corp. Part of Mr. Ray’s role was to help the company obtain a license from city regulators, despite allegations that it was linked to organized activities. criminality.

Mr. Ray himself was linked to organized crime in 2000 when he was charged by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn with participating in a scheme in which mobsters and stockbrokers were accused of defrauding investors from $40 million.

Around this time, Mr. Ray cooperated with prosecutors investigating Mr. Kerik, who ultimately pleaded guilty to state and federal charges stemming from ties to the Interstate. Mr Ray pleaded guilty in the Brooklyn case and, according to court records, was placed on probation for five years and sentenced to nine months house arrest.

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

When he was released from prison at the end of 2010, Mr Ray started living at Sarah Lawrence’s dormitory, called Slonim House. Over the years, prosecutors said, he also lived with some of his victims in Manhattan, New Jersey and North Carolina, where an indictment says he threatened “several female victims” to that they “perform physical work”.

Prosecutors said they plan to call as a witness a police officer from Pinehurst, North Carolina, who will testify that she spoke with a victim of Mr. Ray who was hospitalized after a suicide attempt and had bruises all over her body, but denied that Mr. Ray had abused her.

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

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

“No one is going after my son,” Mr. Ray’s father reportedly told him. “I am 82 years old. I don’t care if they can give me 15 to 20 years.

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