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Authorities seized up to 40 electronic devices from the home of a former Sarah Lawrence College dad accused of moving into his daughter’s student housing and then sex trafficking and extorting her friends in a bizarre, years-long case of manipulation and control.
Lawrence Ray, 60, made his first court appearance Wednesday after being charged by federal prosecutors with nine counts of sex trafficking, extortion, forced labor and money laundering, the New York Post reports.
Ray, a former FBI informant who once rubbed elbows with top politicians and military leaders including Patrick Kennedy, Mikhail Gorbachev and former New York police commissioner Bernie Kerik, has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him.
After seizing the electronic devices from Ray’s Piscataway, New Jersey home Tuesday, prosecutors asked for two weeks for investigators to delve into the evidence and request any necessary warrants in their investigation, the news outlet reports.
Prosecutors believe the devices may hold key evidence in the case after some of the 17 people they interviewed said Ray often berated his victims on video, local station WCBS reports.
A federal indictment in the case also said Ray kept “sexually explicit photos of some of his victims” and recorded “false confessions” from his victims that he later used to extort them for money they didn’t have.
To pay off the supposed debts the victims owed to Ray, authorities said he forced some to drain their parents' savings accounts, take out lines of credit or participate in forced labor.
He’s accused of extorting at least five victims, in an amount totaling more than $1 million.
In one instance, he forced a female victim to work as a prostitute to pay off her debts, authorities said.
“As alleged, through fear, violence, and coercion, Ray forced one female victim to engage in commercial sex acts to pay damages to Ray that she did not actually owe,” prosecutors said in a press release announcing the charges. “Beginning when she was just a college student, Ray sexually groomed this victim, and collected sexually explicit photographs and other personal information which he then used to coerce her into continued commercial sex acts.”
Ray is accused of using tactics such as sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, verbal abuse, physical violence and threats of criminal action as he isolated the victims from their families and exploited their mental health, authorities said.
The investigation into Ray’s alleged behaviors began after an article detailing the disturbing details of the alleged abuse was published in New York Magazine.
Ray moved into his daughter’s on-campus housing in 2010 after he had been released from prison and needed a place to stay. He later moved to an Upper East Side apartment, where the manipulation of the students continued, authorities said.
In a letter released Wednesday to the Sarah Lawrence College community, school president Cristle Collins Judd said school officials “didn’t know” Ray was living in his daughter’s student housing townhouse.
“From the indictment, it appears that for some part of the fall semester in 2010, this parent stayed in his daughter’s on-campus apartment, in a clear violation of the College’s written policy on-campus visits,” she said, according to WCBS. “The question, How could the College not know this?, has been asked by many, including myself … What we do know is that no reports about this parent’s presence on campus during that semester, formal or informal, were lodged by students sharing that small living space, by their student neighbors, or by anyone else.”
She went on to say that many of the accusations against Ray occurred after he had moved out of the on-campus housing.
“The acts charged in the indictment allegedly started in 2011 – after Ray had stayed with his daughter; they spanned nearly a decade and are not alleged to have taken place on the Sarah Lawrence campus,” she said.
Judd wrote that it did not make the acts any “less horrific, nor the heartache for the victims of those misdeeds any less deep,” according to The New York Post.
Ray’s next hearing has been scheduled for Feb. 26.
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