New York man accused of manipulating daughter's college friends charged with sex trafficking

David Propper and Matt Spillane, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
New York man accused of manipulating daughter's college friends charged with sex trafficking

NEW YORK – The father of a former student at Sarah Lawrence College –accused of manipulating her school friends, extorting nearly $1 million from them, and profiting from their work as prostitutes – was charged with sex trafficking, forced labor and extortion, in a federal indictment released today.

Lawrence Ray, 60, was arrested Tuesday morning at his home in Piscataway, New Jersey, and was expected to be arraigned Tuesday night in Manhattan federal court. One of the victims was with Ray when he was arrested, authorities said.

The exploitation began in 2010 when Ray moved into an on-campus dorm with a group of sophomores – including his daughter – at Sarah Lawrence, William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI in New York, said at a news conference Tuesday in New York City.

"Ray began 'therapy' sessions with some roommates purportedly to help them with their psychological problems, and presented himself as a father figure to the roommates," reads an indictment unsealed Tuesday.

"The arrangement was anything but traditional," Sweeney said.

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman announces an indictment against Lawrence Ray on Feb. 11 in New York City.

'If you're not angry, you don't have a soul'

Ray spent about a decade sexually and psychologically manipulating his victims and physically abusing them, according to the indictment.

Until at least 2018, he forced his victims to perform unpaid labor and prostitute themselves for his financial benefit, authorities said. He's accused of laundering about $1 million from the young people, some of whom drained their parents' bank accounts.

Ray, who has a previous conviction for securities fraud, is facing nine counts and could face more than 100 years behind bars if found guilty, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

Lawrence Ray: Charged with sex trafficking, he has rap sheet of crime

Ray had previously denied the allegations, saying they were the result of a conspiracy against him. It was not clear whether he had a defense attorney who could comment on the charges.

"The conduct alleged here is outrageous," Sweeney said. "It makes you angry. If you're not angry, you don't have a soul."

New Jersey resident Lawrence Ray is accused of extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor and money laundering involving college students. He was arrested Feb. 11.

Ray had at least five alleged victims, and authorities said there could be more.

The crimes allegedly occurred in Westchester County, Manhattan, and Pinehurst, North Carolina.

"Sarah Lawrence College has just learned of the indictment of a former parent in the Southern District of New York," the college said in a statement. "The charges contained in the indictment are serious, wide-ranging, disturbing and upsetting. As always, the safety and well-being of our students and alumni is a priority for the College.

"In April 2019, New York Magazine published a range of accusations about this former parent. At that time, the College undertook an internal investigation regarding the specific activities alleged in the article to have occurred on our campus in 2011; the investigation did not substantiate those specific claims.

"We have not been contacted by the Southern District of New York, but will, of course, cooperate in their investigation to the full extent of the law if invited to do so."

Therapy sessions led to 'unwitting victims'

Ray "made himself at home among the group of teens and young adults," Sweeney said.

The students later lived with Ray in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and in Pinehurst, he said. Sweeney said the "therapy sessions" led to the students becoming "unwitting victims."

“Ray alienated several of the victims from their parents, and convinced several of the victims that they were ‘broken’ and in need of fixing,” the indictment reads.

Once Ray gained the victims' trust, he leveled false accusations against each of them, including that he and his family had been poisoned by someone, according to the indictment.

He also used their coerced confessions — some in writing, others via video — against them, threatening to expose them to their parents and law enforcement.

Ray, who was also known as "Lawrence Grecco," had friends in high places. He was the best man at the wedding of former NYC Police top cop Bernard Kerik.

Ray threatened to dismember a male victim, placed a knife to another male victim’s neck and grabbed and threw a female victim to the ground, according to the indictment. He also threatened to report two female victims to law enforcement for alleged crimes

"For the better part of the last 10 years, Ray has continued to mentally and physically torture his victims," Sweeney said. "There was no limit to the abuse that Ray's victims received, and there's no knowing the amount of damage he may have caused them in the years to come."

Ray is accused of using tactics such as sleep deprivation, psychological and sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, violence, threats of legal action, alienating youths from their families and exploiting mental health issues.

Ray used those methods to convince the victims to falsely confess to damaging Ray and his family, then he extorted the victims for those purported damages, authorities said. He is accused of videotaping and documenting those false confessions.

Unpaid labor, prostitution, sleep deprivation

Victims drained their parents' savings, opened credit lines, solicited money from friends, sold real estate ownership and, at Ray's direction, performed unpaid labor and made money through prostitution to pay him, authorities said.

Ray is accused of taking sexually explicit photographs of victims and using that as leverage. One time he tied a victim to a chair, placed a plastic bag over her head and nearly suffocated her, then took more than $500,000 that she made in forced prostitution, authorities said.

Three victims traveled with Ray to Pinehurst to make physical improvements to a property owned by Ray’s family member, sometimes in the middle of the night, according to the indictment.

They were forced to sleep outside in the summer heat and didn’t always have access to food because Ray put a lock on the refrigerator, authorities said in the indictment.

Ray and at least two associates, who were not named by authorities, laundered the money through an internet domain business, officials said.

Ties to organized crime, former NYC corrections commissioner Kerik

Ray's criminal record includes pleading guilty in 2003 to a federal securities fraud charge in the Eastern District of New York. That case stemmed from a pump-and-dump scheme that was tied to organized crime.

Ray, then a resident of Warren, New Jersey, was sentenced to five years of probation and nine months of home confinement.

Ray previously played a role in a scandal involving Bernard Kerik, a former police driver for Mayor Rudy Giuliani who became New York City’s corrections commissioner in 1998 and then its police commissioner from 2000 to 2001, serving during the 9/11 attacks.

Hours after the indictment, Kerik took to Twitter to retweet writer Ezra Marcus' link to his New York Magazine piece. Kerik added: "Outstanding investigative work!"

Contributing: The Associated Press

Follow reporters David Propper (@dg_props) and Matt Spillane (@MattSpillane) on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Sarah Lawrence College: Lawrence Ray accused of sex trafficking