A 60-year-old man accused of running a cult-like extortion ring at his daughter’s college is facing life in jail after being charged with a string of offences including sex trafficking, money laundering and forced labour.
The bizarre details of how Lawrence Ray manipulated and abused at least seven of his daughter’s college friends were read out by federal prosecutors in a US court on Tuesday.
It is alleged that after being released from prison in 2010, Ray moved into his daughter’s campus room at the prestigious Sarah Lawrence College in New York and used ‘therapy sessions’ to coerce false confessions from students.
He then allegedly used the false information to extort about US$1 million (AU$1.5 million) from them.
“It was there he laid the ground work for psychological conditioning that would eventually lead these young adults to become unwitting victims,” prosecutors said.
New York Magazine exposes abuse
The FBI launched an investigation after New York Magazine reported details in April 2019 of Ray’s alleged grooming and exploitation of his daughter’s roommates.
“Some victims drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from their parents’ savings accounts at Ray’s direction, others opened lines of credit or solicited contributions from acquaintances,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said.
It is alleged Ray threatened his victims, deprived them of food and sleep, and took explicit photos.
He is accused of forcing at least one victim into prostitution and using physical violence others.
“Ray tied his victim to a chair, placed a plastic bag over her head and almost suffocated her,” Mr Berman said.
It is alleged he also targeted male students and threatened them with weapons.
“Ray put a knife to one male victim’s throat, brandished a knife and threatened to dismember another male victim,” Mr Berman said.
One alleged victim spoke with ABC News last year describing the cult-like atmosphere Ray created by isolating his targets.
“He very deliberately tried to seperate you from your family and your friends and your loved ones because that’s your support network,” Daniel Levin said.
“He put me in a lot of situations that involved being sexual in ways that I wouldn’t have chosen.”
It is believed the abuse went on for more than a decade, with Ray moving into private apartments with his victims after they left college.
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