After a tense trial, the man behind a disturbing sex cult at Sarah Lawrence College has been convicted by a federal jury on sex trafficking, extortion, fraud, and abuse charges.
Larry Ray now faces life in prison after being convicted of all 15 counts against him on Wednesday afternoon in federal court in New York City. According to media reports from the Manhattan courtroom, the 62-year-old was “emotionless” while standing in front of the judge as the jury foreperson relayed the group’s “guilty” verdict for every count on the docket after a five-hour deliberation.
Ray was at the forefront of what prosecutors termed “The Ray Family,” an informal group of Sarah Lawrence students over whom he wielded unusual and disturbing influence. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mollie Bracewell told jurors about the government’s findings of wrongdoing during the trial, asserting that Ray manically controlled a group of young, eager students and took advantage of them physically, emotionally, and financially.
Bracewell said at one point during courtroom arguments (below):
“When his victims were completely subdued, when they were under his control, he committed crimes to get them to pay — extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking, obstruction of justice, financial crimes. The defendant did all of this for control, for his own greed, and to increase his power, to cement his position in the organized group that he led.”
The government’s case argued that Ray had started his “sex cult” in 2010, when he moved into his daughter’s on-campus dorm room at the prestigious Westchester County-based college. He had just been released from prison in an unrelated case, and almost immediately, he began grooming his daughter’s friends with fabricated tales about his alleged involvement in dangerous foreign military operations and law enforcement endeavors.
Federal investigators determined that by the summer of 2011, the New York Post reports, Ray was able to convince “a number of the students” to move into a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side of New York City. There, for almost a full decade, the convicted sex trafficker extorted his young charges, and forced at least one of them to go into prostitution. He laundered the proceeds of his illegal scheme, too, and reportedly took home millions of dollars through these activities.
To keep the former Sarah Lawrence College students under his rule, prosecutors said during the trial that Ray subjected his victims “to physical, mental, and sexual abuse.” He also apparently recorded coerced confessions made by the young people, in which they were forced to admit wrongdoings against him — which he then turned around and used as blackmail.
Prosecutors argued that Ray’s most lucrative scheme was overseeing the prostitution of one former student, Claudia Drury. The young woman testified on the stand at trial that she worked seven days a week for about five years meeting rich clients who “paid her exorbitant amounts of money in exchange for sex,” per the Post. In total, Drury testified that she gave more than $2.5 million to Ray from her forced escorting work throughout New York City.
At one point, Ray felt that Drury was “slipping from his control,” and he and alleged co-conspirator Isabella Pollok reportedly confronted her at a swanky NYC hotel. Throughout that night, the two allegedly tortured Drury for “hours,” stripping her naked, handcuffing her to a chair, and suffocating her “repeatedly” with a plastic bag.
The traumatized young woman testified about the abuse on the stand at Ray’s trial, emotionally recalling:
“I was terrified. I was trembling. You can’t breathe. You want to breathe a lot. That just makes it much worse.”
In a statement following the guilty verdict, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams said:
“Let me be very clear. Larry Ray is a predator. An evil man who did evil things. Today’s verdict finally brings him to justice. This verdict would not have been possible without the victims who testified in court. We are in awe of their bravery in the face of incredible trauma.”
Ray will be sentenced later this year.
His daughter, Talia, whose Sarah Lawrence College dorm he first moved into in 2010, has not been charged as a co-conspirator in the crimes. Ray’s alleged accomplice Pollok has been charged for her alleged role, and has pleaded not guilty. She is scheduled to go to trial later this year.
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