NEW YORK — A Manhattan federal court judge sentenced convicted sex cult leader Lawrence Ray to 60 years in prison Friday for inflicting a campaign of terror on Sarah Lawrence college students, describing him as a “sadistic” abuser beyond redemption.
Ray — who was convicted in April of 17 racketeering counts for mentally and physically abusing his daughter’s classmates at the prestigious Westchester County school between 2010 and 2020 — showed little emotion during the proceeding other than complain about his time in jail.
In handing down the effective life sentence, U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman described Ray as “evil” and said his “distinctive” crimes were carried out with “particular cruelty and sophistication.” Liman said he wanted to make sure the 63-year-old spends the rest of his years in prison and “is never released.”
“He degraded them sexually to the point where they lost any sense of self worth,” the judge said. “He extorted them, he forced them to engage in labor, and he sex trafficked one of them all for his profit and sadistic and perverse sexual pleasure.”
“It was sadism. Pure and simple,” the judge said.
Three of Ray’s victims asked the judge to send their tormentor to prison for as long as possible. They were among the witnesses jurors heard from during the month-long trial. Ray earned their trust under the guise of therapy, subjected them to violence and forced them into sex, which he often made them record.
Ray met many victims through his daughter, Talia Ray, when she was a sophomore at the small liberal arts college, where the father moved into the dorm. He forced victims in his so-called “Ray Family” cult to tape false confessions about how they had wronged him. He then used those admissions as blackmail fuel if they ever considered leaving his orbit, trial testimony showed.
He often threatened to leverage his connections in law enforcement against his victims. He served as best man at former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik’s 1998 wedding, decades before they fell out after he testified in 2016 against the ex-top cop in a federal tax fraud case.
The same day Ray suffered a medical episode during his trial and was carted out of the courthouse in a stretcher, the Justice Department mistakenly released a list of well-heeled johns who paid to have sex with Ray’s followers.
The list compiled by Ray’s victim Claudia Drury in 2018 included a retired New York judge, a hedge fund manager, a celebrity dating coach and an executive at Gap and her husband.
Prosecutors said Ray extracted millions in extortion and sex trafficking proceeds from Drury.
When she took the stand in March, Drury described a night of brutal abuse in October 2018 when Ray handcuffed her naked to a chair over a perceived betrayal and suffocated her with a plastic bag.
“I pushed myself past every limit. I didn’t think that I deserved boundaries or rest or choice or privacy or care. The exhaustion I experienced was extreme and indescribable,” Drury said in a letter read aloud by her lawyer, Brooke Cucinella, in court Friday. “His evil has withered us.”
Victim Santos Rosario described meeting Ray when he was 19 years old and the ensuing decade of “absolute misery.”
“He systematically cut me off from everyone I’ve ever cared about. He drove me to attempt suicide more than once,” said Rosario. “I lost trust in my own thoughts, my own memories, and my own desires and intentions.”
Daniel Levin, who was 17 when he met Ray, said the cult leader physically tortured him by hitting his ribs with a sledgehammer and pulling his tongue with pliers.
“What that man went on to do to me and my friends, there is no language for it,” Levin said in his victim’s impact statement. “Imagine living in a world where what you think doesn’t matter. What you believe doesn’t matter. You can’t go outside. You can’t go to the bathroom. You can’t stand up from where you’re sitting. You’ve learned that the second you move without asking, you might do something that warrants punishment.”
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams described Ray as “a monster.”
“Through physical and psychological abuse, he took control over his victims’ minds and bodies and then extracted millions of dollars from them,” Williams said.
Ray’s lawyer Marne Lenox asked the judge to give him 15 years and exercise leniency based on abuse he allegedly suffered as a child and said he believed he’d been poisoned by his victims. Wearing beige prison garb and headphones at sentencing, Ray welled up as he described his experience in jail without mentioning his victims. He said his father, who attended much of his trial, stepfather, and stepmother had all died within a week of one another while he was locked up.
“These three years I have spent in jail have been hard. I have had COVID twice. I am in pain all the time. It’s hard to describe how hard it is to be in pain all the time,” Ray said.
Judge Liman commended Ray’s victims and said their contributions at trial spoke volumes about the resiliency of the human spirit.
“He never believed his victims would have the courage to testify against him. He went to great lengths to make sure they never would,” the jurist said.
“But they did.”