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Lawrence Ray, 60, an ex-convict whose best man at his wedding was former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, was charged with nine counts of sex trafficking, extortion, forced labor and money laundering, authorities said. He was arrested at his home in Piscataway, New Jersey. He faces life behind bars.
Authorities said at a morning news conference that Ray drained $1 million from the bank accounts of college kids, while subjecting them to psychological torture. The cult included forced labor, prostitution, and mentally and physically abusing his male and female victims.
“Ray put a knife to one male victim’s throat, brandished a knife and threatened to dismember another male victim, grabbed a third male victim around the neck until he passed out, slapped a female victim and grabbed another female victim by her head before shoving her to the ground,” Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, said. “After enduring Ray’s abuse, seven of his victims falsely confessed to having harmed or attempted to harm Ray. Ray, who sometimes recorded these false confessions, then used these false confessions to extort money from his victims.”
Authorities said some of Ray’s victims “drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from their parents savings accounts at Ray’s direction” while others opened lines of credit or solicited contributions from acquaintances.
“Ray used fear, violence and coercion to induce one young victim to engage in commercial sex acts to repay debts she did not actually owe,” Berman said. The victim worked as a prostitute for more than four years while giving Ray the proceeds from her forced prostitution, exceeding more than $500,000.
“Beginning when she was just a college student, Ray sexually groomed this victim, collecting sexually explicit photographs and other personal information he then used to coerce her into engaging in commercial sex acts,” Berman said, adding that Ray also used physical violence.
“Ray sexually groomed this victim, collecting sexually explicit photographs and other personal information he then used to coerce her into engaging in commercial sex acts.”
— Geoffrey Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York
“Ray tied this victim to a chair, placed a plastic bag over her head and almost suffocated her,” he said.
Prosecutors allege Ray also used violence, food and sleep deprivation against three female victims and forced them to perform extensive physical labor on a family member’s property in North Carolina, “sometimes forcing them to work in the middle of the night, all for no pay.”
“The conduct alleged here is outrageous,” William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI in New York, said. “It makes you angry. If you’re not angry, you don’t have a soul.”
Though much of Ray’s 1998 wedding was paid for by his best man, Kerik, Ray quickly turned on the former commissioner and worked with state and federal prosecutors against him.
The investigation that led to the latest charges against Ray was prompted by an article in New York magazine called “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence” that takes a look at what happened to the college students Ray is accused of manipulating.
In it, Ray’s daughter, Talia Ray, had been in charge of organizing housing for a group of her friends during their sophomore year at Sarah Lawrence. They settled on Slonim Woods 9, a two-story brick dorm in the middle of campus.
In September 2010, Talia told her roommates at the private Westchester County university that her father was getting out of prison and needed a play to stay. They agreed and soon Ray became a very dominant part of their lives, presenting himself as a “father figure,” preaching about his “personal philosophy” and conducting bizarre therapy sessions.
Last year, it was reported that Mark Walhberg had secured the rights to the story and would be starring in a film adaptation.