Accused NYC sex cult leader Lawrence Ray preyed on his daughter's classmates at Sarah Lawrence College, using psychological torture and physical violence to lure them into his web and exploit them, a federal prosecutor said Thursday at his trial.
Assistant United States Attorney Lindsey Keenan told jurors in opening statements that Ray forced one woman into prostitution when she was 19, making her earn $2 million for him in two years.
Ray and another woman who served as his "trusted lieutenant" found the victim at a Manhattan hotel in October 2018 and allegedly tortured her for hours to ensure she kept working, the prosecutor said, describing the ordeal in disturbing detail.
Once in the room, Ray allegedly pushed her into a chair and handcuffed her, keeping her there for hours before suffocating her with a plastic bag.
"She was helpless," Keenan told jurors in Manhattan federal court, as Ray watched from the defense table, wearing a cream-colored sweated over a blue shirt.
"Within hours, this woman was back into prostitution, making money for the defendant," Keenan said. "[Ray] used violence, fear, sex and manipulation to get what he wanted: power and money."
Ray is charged in a 17-count indictment that includes charges of racketeering, sex trafficking and conspiracy for conduct related to at least five victims. If convicted of all counts, he faces life in prison.
The NXIVM-like cult began in 2010 when Ray’s daughter was a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College, and he began living in her dormitory about 30 minutes north of Manhattan. He persuaded his daughter’s friends to stay with him the following summer in New York City, learning their secrets and fears to control them, Keenan said.
He convinced several women and at least one man that they owed him money for damaging his belongings, trying to poison them and then had their false confessions videotaped.
If they didn’t do as he said, he’d threaten to release the humiliating footage to their friends and family. Ray used this strategy to persuade his victims to drain their parents’ savings and coerce them into doing manual labor for him, according to prosecutors.
"When shame and embarrassment weren’t enough, he relied on violence," Keenan said. "The victims had no choice. They lived in fear of the defendant."
A male victim nervously took the stand Thursday and testified against Ray as he avoided looking in his direction. He was a sophomore when he met Ray and was dating his daughter. They all began hanging out, and the victim thought Ray was "very cool, very smart" and "very inspirational."
The abuse began in 2011 with name-calling and soon escalated to physical violence. Jurors were shown a video that those in the gallery could only hear.
Ray could be heard berating the victim and hitting him. The witness said on other occasions, Ray had struck him with a hammer, threatened him with a knife and put him in a choke-hold.
The defendant, who once served as the best man at former New York Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik's wedding, was arrested in February 2020 and has been jailed ever since.
Defense lawyer Allegra Glashausser said in opening statements that her client impressed his daughter’s college friends with stories about hanging out with Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev, Kerik and U.S. military generals. They, in turn, shared their own adventures with him.
"This was a group of storytellers," she told jurors.
"I’m not saying Larry Ray is a saint, but these things are not federal crimes," she added. "At the end of this story, you will see Larry Ray is not guilty."
The Associated Press contributed to this report