Man Gets 60 Years in Prison for Operating Sex Cult at NY’s Sarah Lawrence College - The Jewish Voice
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Man Gets 60 Years in Prison for Operating Sex Cult at NY’s Sarah Lawrence College

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Man Gets 60 Years in Prison for Operating Sex Cult at NY’s Sarah Lawrence College

By:  Ellen Cans

On Friday, Judge Lewis J. Liman of Federal District Court in Manhattan sentenced Lawrence Ray to 60 years in prison.

As reported by the NY Times, testimony in the trial, which ended in December, said that in 2010, Ray, then 50, had shown up on campus at Sarah Lawrence College, in Westchester County, in the dormitory where his daughter was staying.  He first befriended the young men and women who lived in the ‌dorms, acting as a mentor.  Over the next decade, however, he abused a group of young people, gaining their trust and then making them feel worthless and isolating them from their parents, prosecutors said.  He allegedly coerced them to have sex with each other and with strangers, to practice prostitution and pay him millions.  Testimony said he forced them to make false confessions, in once case about “poisoning” him, and then he used ‌the confessions to extort millions of dollars from them.  During the trial, prosecutors said Ray studied cults and mind control, and groomed his victims until he broke their will.

He was arrested in 2020 after an expose’ article about him by New York magazine.  Four of Ray’s former followers testified at the trial. One of the girls said he had coerced her into prostitution and on at least one occasion had touched her sexually. The trial did not accuse Ray of sexual assault. Prosecutors told the judge that several of the students which Ray had asserted control over attempted to kill themselves, with one student actually committing suicide in 2020.  Ray was convicted of extortion, sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and other charges.

As per The NY Times, prosecutors had asked the court to sentence Ray with life in prison, writing that Mr. Ray was “incapable of contrition” and would present a serious danger even at an advanced age.  “While the defendant’s victims descended into self-hatred, self-harm, and suicidal attempts under his coercive control,” prosecutors wrote, “the evidence showed that the defendant took sadistic pleasure in their pain and enjoyed the fruits of their suffering.”

The defense asked that Ray be sentenced to just 15 years, saying that Ray himself had been a victim of physical, verbal and sexual abuse when growing up in Brooklyn.   The defense added that Ray had already endured enough punishment, becoming the subject of “derisive news articles, salacious television miniseries, and sensational documentaries”, and held for three years in federal jails during the COVID-19 pandemic.  “Mr. Ray will never again be in a position to form the relationships that led to the conduct underlying his convictions,” his lawyers wrote, adding that he “has effectively been incapacitated by virtue of the very public nature of his trial.”  For his part, Ray, now 63, addressed the court just before being sentenced saying:  “It’s frightening to feel this bad…Being in jail has been horrible.”

Judge Liman didn’t express sympathy.  “He preyed on his victims’ vulnerabilities and took pleasure in degrading them,” Judge Liman said of Ray. “He sought to take every bit of light from his victims’ lives.”  The judge added praise for the former followers who had testified in the trial, saying they “exhibited a courage that was extraordinary” in standing up to a man who had verbally abused, beat and tortured them.

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