The Alleged Mastermind of the Sarah Lawrence ‘Cult’ Has Been Charged

Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

On Tuesday, the father of a former Sarah Lawrence undergrad was arrested and indicted on charges of conspiracy, exploitation, forced labor, and sex trafficking, according to the New York Times. Prosecutors say he moved into his daughter’s dormitory and then began targeting her friends, eventually indoctrinating them and subjecting them to “sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse” for nearly a decade.

The man, Lawrence V. Ray, moved in with his daughter in 2010, after being released from prison, where he’d been serving time on charges related to a custody dispute. There, as outlined in an article that ran in New York Magazine, he allegedly groomed and exploited her roommates, subjecting them to psychological — and in some cases physical — abuse. One of the students later described the group that formed around Ray as “a cult.” (The article, which ran in April, prompted the investigation into Ray, officials said.)

In the New York article, several former classmates of Ray’s daughter, Talia, recall him moving into her shared two-story house on campus in September of 2010, and gradually insinuating himself into her roommates’ lives — often by insisting that they were emotionally fragile or at risk of suicide. At the end of that school year, Talia and four of her friends moved into an apartment in Manhattan with Ray; another young woman, the sister of one of the students, moved in a few months later. There, Ray reportedly began to expose them to intensive “therapy sessions,” forcing them to reveal childhood traumas, and extracting false confessions from them when they failed to reveal any deep, personal truths.

One of the students who moved in with Ray told New York that he would subject the young people who lived with him to humiliating punishments for small “infractions,” like accidentally throwing out his checkbook, and that he instructed some of them to have sex while he watched, sometimes joining in himself. Others interviewed say they witnessed or experienced physical abuse. (Ray, Talia, and two of the young women who lived with him denied “almost every assertion” in the article through a lawyer.)

This abuse went on for nearly a decade, according to the indictment. Prosecutors say that Ray subjected at least seven victims to fake “therapy sessions” in order to learn “intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities and mental health struggles”; extracted false confessions from them and used those confessions to extort them; alienated them from their families; inflicted brutal punishments on them; and laundered about $1 million from them. During “interrogation sessions that typically involved physical and verbal abuse,” the complaint states, Ray would accuse his alleged victims of damaging or stealing his property, of attempting to “sabotage” him and his family, or of attempting to poison him. The sessions would allegedly last hours and involve tactics like sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, and threats of physical violence.

Ray would allegedly blackmail his victims with these confessions — which he had them document in journals and emails — and demand thousands of dollars in retribution. (One email obtained by New York contains “a five-page accounting of more than 50 items” one of the students was accused of damaging or ruining, totaling $47,726.79.) When Ray’s victims were unable to pay him, he allegedly forced them to demand money from their parents, perform unpaid labor for him, or engage in sex work.

Ray “exploited that vulnerable time in these victims’ lives through a course of conduct that shocks the conscience,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney in Manhattan, in a press conference on Tuesday. Ray is expected to appear in Manhattan’s federal court later on Tuesday.

This post has been updated with additional information.

Ex-Student’s Dad Charged With Running Sarah Lawrence ‘Cult’