Sarah Lawrence Parent Who Ran Cult Indicted for Sex Trafficking and More
It is difficult to understand how college students — and some of them also attended even more elite universities — could have been so taken in by this man.
We think it just happens overseas. In places like Russia and Saudi Arabia. Places with a low view of women and a low view of human dignity. But it happens here. Women are sex trafficked in the U.S.
Even (reportedly) at an old, elite college, one of the last places you expect. By the fathers of the young women who go there. If the women aren’t safe at an expensive school for the daughters of wealthy families, where are they safe?
And it wasn’t just young women. Young men weren’t safe either.
Larry Ray’s Cult
The father of a former student at Sarah Lawrence College has been indicted on nine counts. The grand jury charged him with extortion, conspiracy, exploitation, forced labor and sex trafficking. Prosecutors say Larry Ray manipulated and abused some of his daughter’s classmates while living with them, in what one of the victims described later as a cult. He subjected them to psychological abuse to get them to comply.
He made them feel guilty, that they’d hurt him and destroyed his property. Ray also constructed scenarios that required his roommates to pay him. Daniel, one of the victims, said, “His most classic tactic was to claim that people had either stolen things from him or ruined things of value and therefore owed him money.”
Santos, another victim, once got an email from Larry with the subject line “Prices of Your Things I Damaged/Ruined With Preliminary Total.” The email was a five-page accounting of more than 50 items ranging from painting tape ($9.87) to a gas range ($6,780). The total, he calculated, was $47,726.79.
Guilted Into Prostitution
Prosecutors say Ray guilted one of the young women, known as Claudia, into prostitution. She charged $8,000 a night, according to her website. He told her she had tried to poison him and damaged his relative’s property. She owed him. He filmed a video of her confessing to wrongdoing, and took explicit photos of her, which he then used against her to force her to continue prostituting. She earned over half a million dollars for him between 2014 and 2018.
He told her he would give her forced confession to law enforcement if she did not increase her clients. At one point, he tied her to a chair and put a bag over her head, telling her to focus on paying him more money.
In conversation, Ray admitted to taking Claudia’s money from escorting. In fact, he was pleased with Claudia’s efforts to pay him back for the damage he says she did. “I genuinely always believed that Claudia genuinely felt very guilty. I genuinely believed that Yali felt very guilty. And I genuinely believe that Santos felt genuinely guilty. But they didn’t end up doing the right thing. The only one who tried to do something was Claudia.”
What’s clear is that he feels he’s done nothing wrong, that he’s helped guide the young people he took under his wing. “We know what is and is not. We know what’s truth and what’s wrong.”
A ‘Father Figure’
Ray portrayed himself as a father figure to the students and gave them “therapy” sessions, even though he had no training as a therapist. He pretended he was helping them in order to learn their vulnerabilities and use them against them.
According to the indictment, he would watch them having sex and sometimes join in. Ray was physically violent with three of the women, slapping one and grabbing another by the head and shoving her to the ground. He threatened the three with reporting them to law enforcement, and drove each of them to the police station in order to scare them.
He would extract false confessions from the students about how they caused harm to him, his family or associates, then use the confessions to extort money from them. The victims often had to turn to their parents for money. Their parents drained their savings and borrowed money to pay him. One victim’s parents gave him over $200,000, having to sell their house to get the money.
The indictment says he obtained $1 million from at least five victims. Some of the students he forced into labor to pay off their alleged debt. This included installing an irrigation system for a relative of his.
Three of the students attempted suicide after meeting Ray. Ray estimates their cumulative attempts are more than 12. Two of the victims have disappeared since the cult ended. One of the two spent time in a psychiatric hospital and became homeless.
A Pattern of Victimizing Friends
Before this all happened, Ray befriended former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik. They had a falling out and Ray claimed Kerik was out to get him. Ray gave an interview to the Daily News where he revealed improprieties by Kerik in order to enact revenge.
“Larry Ray is a psychotic con man who has victimized every friend he’s ever had,” Kerik says. “It’s been close to 20 years since I last heard from him, yet his reign of terror continues.”
This isn’t the first time Ray has been prosecuted. In the 1990s, he was prosecuted in a federal racketeering and stock fraud case. He served time in prison over a child custody dispute.
The investigation into Ray began after a lengthy article appeared in “The Cut” section of New York magazine, entitled “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence.” The reporters interviewed several of the college students who were victimized, who exposed all the abuse.
The head of the New York F.B.I. office, said at a news conference, “For the better part of the last 10 years, Ray has continued to mentally and physically torture his victims.”
It is difficult to understand how college students — and some of them also attended even more elite universities — could have been so taken in by this man. Especially considering all the information out there nowadays warning against that kind of behavior. It goes to show the power of a cult leader.
If you wish to help fight sex trafficking here in the U.S. and abroad, please consider supporting Rescue LIFE, a mission of our parent organization. For 10 years, Rescue LIFE has worked to Reach, Rescue and Restore those victimized by the sex trade. Read here of one such rescue readers like you made happen.