Sarah Lawrence ‘sex cult’ trial gets off to disturbing start in NYC

Accused Sarah Lawrence College sex cult leader Lawrence Ray once handcuffed a naked woman to a chair, then repeatedly suffocated her with a plastic bag because he felt her slipping from his sadistic control, a federal prosecutor charged Thursday. 

The sordid details were laid out in Manhattan federal court by Assistant US Attorney Lindsey Keenan as she told jurors about the alleged abuse Ray inflicted on his victims to further a criminal enterprise she called the “Ray Family.”

The horrific scene allegedly happened in a New York City hotel room in 2018, Keenan said.

“He took the bag off of her face. He towered over her as she was handcuffed to that chair, gasping,” Keenan said in opening statements. “She was helpless. Unable to move, unable to breathe, unable to scream for help. 

“For hours he tormented her, putting it over her head again and again and again,” Keenan went on. “The defendant’s message was clear: He told her to behave. Keep making money.”

Within hours, Keenan said, the woman whom Ray had forced into prostitution had gone back to meeting johns. The money she earned, which eventually totaled some $2 million, was passed up to Ray and used to fund his criminal operation, Keenan said. 

“He ruthlessly threatened and extorted his victims to get what he wanted — sex, money and power,” Keenan said. 

Ray is charged in a 17-count indictment for allegedly forcing a group of young men and women to perform unpaid labor, extorting money from them and forcing one of them into prostitution for more than a year. 

Lawrence Ray in a 2005 mugshot.
Ray is charged in a 17-count indictment for allegedly forcing a group of young men and women to perform unpaid labor, extorting money from them and forcing one of them into prostitution for more than a year. 

The accused madman began his criminal operation after moving into his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College in suburban Westchester County, prosecutors charge. 

At the school, he enticed a group of his daughter’s friends with wild tales about his life, which he claimed included hobnobbing with a former Soviet president and disgraced ex-NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik. 

He convinced a group of the students to move into his one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side and began asserting control over them by coaxing them into making false, video-recorded confessions about them trying to poison him and hurt his family, prosecutors charge. 

Over the course of 10 years, Ray extorted more than $2 million from his victims while he also physically abused them at times in his pursuit of his goals, the feds allege. 

But Ray’s defense team claim prosecutors’ case against him is more nuanced than presented in the indictment against the 62-year-old former Wall Street stock trader. 

“This was not a criminal enterprise. This was a group of storytellers,” attorney Allegra Glashausser told the jury in her opening statement on behalf of Ray. 

When Ray first enticed the group of students with fantastical tales of his life, they were captivated by the strange, fascinating man, she said. 

Sarah Lawrence  Barabara Walters building
Sarah Lawrence College

“Larry’s stories were full of mystery, intrigue and excitement. They wanted to hear more,” Glashausser said, adding that jurors would have to peer “through the looking glass” during the trial. 

The students eventually created their own stories, some of which included tales of poisoning Ray at the behest of Kerik, the former NYPD commissioner who had fallen out with his former friend. 

Ray believed the tales, Glashausser claimed, and documented them in his video recordings of the students, which the defense plans to use as evidence of his innocence. 

“You will hear some of these stories because Larry recorded them. Larry filmed it,” she told the jury. 

One of the students Ray met on the campus, Isabella Pollok, is now charged alongside the accused sex cult leader. 

Pollok, the one-time best friend of Ray’s daughter, will face a separate trial in Manhattan federal court this summer. 

Ray is charged with counts including, racketeering, sex trafficking and money laundering. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

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