College baffled as to how accused sex trafficker lived in daughter's dorm

Peter D. Kramer and Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, The Journal News
College baffled as to how accused sex trafficker lived in daughter's dorm

The indictment accusing Larry Ray of preying on Sarah Lawrence College students – in a web of manipulation, extortion, sex-trafficking and money-laundering – answered many questions but not THE question.

Sarah Lawrence alumni and even its president have tried to figure out how a dad could move into his daughter's on-campus apartment without the college knowing about it. 

They pointed to the private, apartment-style setup of his daughter's Slonim Woods dorm where Ray arrived – straight from prison – in late September 2010 and stayed through the spring semester of 2011.

They said the decentralized layout of the woodsy Yonkers school and the accepting, find-your-way culture at Sarah Lawrence could have helped Ray live under the radar.

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Prosecutors said Ray's criminal enterprise began on campus in 2010 and spread to New York City and North Carolina over the decade that followed.

According to a New York magazine article last April  – "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence" by Ezra Marcus and James D. Walsh – at least one administrator knew about Ray in the spring of 2011.

New York reported that Dean of Students Allen Green met twice with parents who were alarmed by Ray's presence on campus.

The Slonim Woods dorm is set up like apartments.

The magazine reported that in the spring of 2011, Green received an email from one of Ray's alleged victims, titled "The Truth," that expressed "fears and concerns about Larry Ray being a bad, dangerous, manipulative, and sexually deviant man."

Green's role in the Ray case was cited in a sexual discrimination and retaliation lawsuit last October against the college involving a former student who claimed the college failed to protect her from a fellow student she accused of rape. 

The plaintiff, listed as Jane Doe to protect her identity, lives in Dallas.

The suit says Green's actions, including brushing aside parents' concerns in two meetings and being aware of "The Truth" email, suggest a history of mishandling accusations that came to the college's attention. Green is among the defendants in that suit. 

"The conduct alleged here is outrageous," William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI in New York, said in announcing the case against Ray, 60. "It makes you angry. If you're not angry, you don't have a soul."

Sweeney and U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman laid out a litany of charges against Ray, including:

  • Psychologically manipulating and physically abusing a half-dozen victims.
  • Bilking them and their families out of nearly $1 million.
  • Holding a knife to the neck of one male victim and to the genitals of another.
  • Forcing three female victims to do unpaid labor.
  • Pushing a female victim into prostitution and splitting nearly $500,000 in proceeds with at least two associates.

Ray pleaded not guilty. Assistant Federal Defender Marne Lenox told U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman that her client might make a bail application at a hearing this month.

"Virtually everybody has got policies that prohibit the student from moving somebody into his or her dorm room, whether it's a relative or not," Dan King, president of the American Association of University Administrators, told The Associated Press.

Enforcing the policies by trying to keep track of everyone staying in every room is a challenge.

"It still doesn't mean somebody can't let them in a door," he said. "That's a perennial problem everywhere. It's unusual to have a family member, but it's not unusual to have a boyfriend or girlfriend."

Sarah Lawrence's 2019-20 student handbook is clear: Guests must register in the Westlands (administration) building.

"Students who have roommates must obtain the permission of the roommate(s) to have an overnight guest," the handbook policy reads. "Guest passes are valid for up to four consecutive days. A guest may not be registered more than twice in a 30-day period, and there must be at least seven days between each pass period."

It is not clear what policy was in place when Ray moved into Slonim Woods, but Mariah Smith, a 2013 Sarah Lawrence graduate who was a resident assistant, wrote on Twitter, "I know a lot about housing/the standards the campus held for visitors. While I was there, the max someone could technically stay was three days."

'Larry's Spell'

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces the indictment against Lawrence Ray aka "Lawrence Grecco" on Feb. 11.

How Ray was able to outstay his official welcome at Sarah Lawrence is captured in red type on the cover of New York magazine over a black-and-white closeup photo of Ray.

It reads, "Larry's Spell." 

The story tells of "therapy sessions" Ray held with his daughter's roommates, of limo rides and "dinners at upscale steakhouses, always paid for with a wad of cash he kept in a backpack that he carried with him at all times." 

He went from cooking and cleaning for them to sharing a bedroom before moving into an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan for the winter break of 2010-11 where the scheme began to take shape, prosecutors said. He was back on campus in the spring and stayed till students went home for the summer, the article says.

Marcus, co-author of the New York article, was a student at Sarah Lawrence when Ray was on campus and went to school with the alleged victims, though he did not know Ray's daughter and never saw Ray on campus.

“It’s as mind-boggling to me as anyone else that this happened," Marcus said in an interview with The Journal News. “I think a lot of it just had to do with the fact that the people that he was talking to and manipulating were just very vulnerable. And his daughter was kind of his entree into their social group and that, I guessed, greased the wheels for him to just move in.”

Marcus interviewed dozens of sources in reporting the story with Walsh.

“I think there were people living there who felt uncomfortable with it," he said. "I mean, that's in our story, but as to how he was able to stay there for as long as he did, I honestly don't know.”

Ray saw an opening in Slonim Woods, Marcus said.

"They (students) had no reason to be distrustful of a friend’s parent," he said. "If you talk to any of them, you will see very quickly how normal and how smart they are. That’s why this story is so scary. He was able to find their vulnerabilities and exploit them."

A letter to Sarah Lawrence

Sarah Lawrence President Cristle Collins Judd responded to Ray's indictment and arrest the next day in a letter to the campus community

The letter is the only official response from the college in the wake of the indictment. For more than a week, Brendan O'Callaghan, the college's director of public affairs, has not responded to repeated calls and emails seeking clarification and comment.

In the letter, Judd said she wrestled with how Ray was able to live on campus, “not only as a president, but as a parent" of three daughters of college age.

"How could the college not know this?, has been asked by many, including myself,” Judd wrote. “We are a small college, and while it is not unreasonable to expect that we will know when something is happening on our campus, in fact college officials at the time didn’t know.

"Perhaps because the apartment in question was a small townhouse with its own entrance, students in other housing would not necessarily have been aware of the presence (and have told us they were not) of this student’s father," said Judd, who took her post at the college in 2017.

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Judd was adamant that the crimes did not happen at Sarah Lawrence.

"The acts charged in the indictment allegedly started in 2011 – after Ray had stayed with his daughter; they spanned nearly a decade and are not alleged to have taken place on the Sarah Lawrence campus," she wrote.

Judd wrote that the college is different than it was when Ray was on campus. She said one of the college's primary values, "a firm belief in the basic goodness of others," will continue but will need to be tempered "with a clear-eyed and critical assessment of the world around us."

Dads allowed on campus

The magazine reported (and Marcus reiterated) that suspicious parents met with Green in the spring semester of 2011. "The Truth" email was sent just before classes ended for the summer in 2011.

"They met with Allen Green, Sarah Lawrence’s dean of student life," the story says. "Green told them he’d received other complaints about Larry but his hands were tied; a father had a right to visit his daughter on campus, he explained. A second meeting ended similarly."

Repeated efforts to reach Green were unsuccessful. The college did not respond to calls and emails to determine whether Green documented the claims made by the parents and in "The Truth" email. 

Green was dean of studies and student life and chief diversity officer from 1999 to 2015, when he was named dean of equity and inclusion and Title IX coordinator, according to his LinkedIn profile. He retired at 65 in May 2019.

'There's no security guard'

The culture of Sarah Lawrence could have abetted Ray, said Kristin Maffei, who graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 2008. She grew up in Mahopac and lived in Slonim Woods in her last year there, three years before Ray moved on campus.

"I keep hearing, 'How could the school not have known about this?' I would just say, having lived in those dorms, it's not a normal dorm," Maffei said. "There's no security guard. They're sort of set up like little houses, almost." 

The two-story "cooperative living" units of Slonim Woods have four bedrooms downstairs and four upstairs, with two bathrooms, a large common area and a kitchenette, according to the college's website.

"Obviously, I knew what was going on in mine, and I like to think that if somebody's parent had moved in, I definitely would have said something – or you hope that you would say something," Maffei said. "But I can say I had no idea what was going on in any of the other ones around us."

Maffei, assistant director of marketing and communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, said there's a particular mindset at Sarah Lawrence – where one of the slogans is "We’re different, so are you." 

"I do think it has something to do with people are happy to let you have your focus, that there's space there to be who you are," Maffei said. "I wonder if that led to things getting missed that absolutely shouldn't have been missed."

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow Peter Kramer and Swapna Venugopal on Twitter: @peterkramer and @SwapnaVenugopal 

This article originally appeared on The Journal News: How did ex-convict Larry Ray live at Sarah Lawrence College unnoticed?