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For a decade, Larry Ray maintained control over his various victims — but just how was a balding ex-con 30 years older than the young college students he manipulated able to lure them into a powerful and damaging cult?
Ray, whose case is the subject of the new Peacock documentary "Sex, Lies and the College Cult," manipulated some victims in a way that affected their families financially. “Through his manipulation and abuse, Ray extracted false confessions from the victims to causing purported damages to Ray and his family and associates, and then extorted payment for those purported damages through several means,” federal prosecutors have said. “The victims made payments to Ray by draining their parents’ savings, opening credit lines, soliciting contribution from acquaintances, selling real estate ownership, and at Ray’s direction performing unpaid labor for Ray and earning money through prostitution.”
Authorities have said Ray began his control over the students, whom he met while staying at his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010, by inflating his own image, regaling the students with false war stories from his time as a Marine — despite only having served 19 days in the Air Force — cooking them lavish meals, and boasting of his robust set of powerful political and law enforcement connections. He convinced the students that he cared about them and wanted the best for them, according to a 2019 New York Magazine exposé.
“He told them that he had special training that could help them gain clarity and discipline,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon said during Ray’s trial, according to The Washington Post. “He said if they shared their deepest feelings with him, he could help resolve their problems.”
Using his influence, Ray began hosting “therapy” sessions to purportedly help the students with their problems, convincing the students they were “broken,” isolating them from their families, and indoctrinating them with his own personal philosophies, according to an indictment in the case.
In a Washington Post article, former federal prosecutor Moira Penza compared Ray’s tactics to those of Keith Raniere, the founder of the self-help group-turned-sex cult NXIVM. Penza prosecuted the case against Raniere, who is now serving a 120-year sentence behind bars.
“In addition to violence, Ray used classic techniques of coercion to manipulate his victims, such as isolating people from their friends and family, using means of financial control, taking away basic human agency like food and sleep,” Penza said.
Over the years, some group members were able to break free and leave Ray, but it wasn’t until an exposé was published in New York Magazine in 2019 that a federal investigation was launched into his activities.
Ray was arrested the following year and convicted in April of the 15 counts against him, including racketeering conspiracy, violent crime in aid of racketeering, extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, tax evasion and money laundering offenses.
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