Larry Ray, the master manipulator at the center of New York Magazine’s story “The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” was arrested this morning in Piscataway, New Jersey, and appeared before a federal judge in the Southern District of Manhattan. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for the nine charges against him, including sex trafficking, extortion, and forced labor.
“After gaining his victims’ trust, Ray turned on them, falsely accusing them of harming him by attempting to poison him or to deliberately damage his property,” said Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Ray then subjected his victims to grueling psychologically and physically abusive interrogations to force them to confess to his baseless allegations. During these interrogations which spanned hours, and involved sleep and food deprivation, Ray subjected his victims to almost unspeakable abuse.”
Ray, 60, moved into his daughter’s dorm room at Sarah Lawrence College in 2010 and proceeded to subject her sophomore roommates to “therapy” sessions, convincing them that they had psychological problems that only he could fix. The indictment also alleges that Ray extorted them for about $1 million collectively, including $500,000 from one victim whom Ray pressured into doing sex work in order to repay debts he claimed that she owed him.
Ray’s arrest marks the end of a decade-long nightmare for many of his victims and their families. “I am so happy and relieved, because he did a lot of damage,” said one mother, who had three children fall under Ray’s spell. The mother — who has not spoken to her children in years — described to New York the frustration and pain that came from watching Ray drive a wedge between her and her children. She and her husband said that they went to the NYPD three times with their story and estimate that they gave Ray more than $200,000 over three years in the hopes that they could pry their children away from him.
“We are ecstatic,” said the aunt of Isabella, who was Ray’s daughter’s roommate at Sarah Lawrence. “We’re just so happy and grateful. Our plan is to get up there as soon as possible so that Isabella is not by herself. We still have work to do, but we’re so happy that the biggest obstacle is in jail.”
The indictment lays out how Ray deployed a range of manipulative schemes to extort the students. He took explicit photos of them; he convinced them that they had tried to poison him and threatened to call the police; and he convinced them that they had damaged his property. The students turned to their parents, who gave them hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay their “debts” to Ray. In one case, Ray coerced one of his victims into becoming a high-end escort — Ray reaped the profits of her prostitution.
On Tuesday, Sarah Lawrence College president, Cristle Collins Judd, issued a statement to the university’s community saying the school had not been contacted by investigators, but that an internal investigation “did not substantiate those specific claims” made in New York’s story. The school has not responded to a request for comment on Ray’s arrest.
In the 1990s, Ray cultivated a close friendship with Bernie Kerik, who would eventually become police commissioner under Rudy Giuliani. The two had a falling out and Ray seemingly exacted revenge on Kerik, spilling Kerik’s secrets to the Daily News and the FBI. In 2009, Kerik pleaded guilty to felony tax and false-statement charges and served three years in prison.
“I only wish that the FBI and the Department of Justice realized what a con man Larry was prior to making him their superstar witness against me,” Kerik said. “They were so adamant in destroying me, they ignored his lies, deceit, and inconsistencies. Hopefully, this will be the end of his reign of terror.”
Ray is comfortable in a courtroom. Over the past two decades he’s been a plaintiff, defendant, informant, and star witness in various federal and local cases. Last week he failed to appear for a deposition in a lawsuit he’d brought against Frank DiTommaso, a construction executive caught on camera punching Ray in 2015. He is also suing his former landlord, Lee Chen, and is due in New York Supreme Court in March.
Ray spent three years in prison following an arrest during a custody dispute in 2007, stemming from an earlier arrest for securities fraud. He moved in with his daughter on Sarah Lawrence College’s campus shortly after.
Ray was arraigned in front of a judge early Tuesday evening. He wore a red checked shirt and was led into the room wearing shackles on his ankles. Isabella and Felicia were there to support him, a legal document case in tow.
“As alleged for the better part of the last ten years, Ray has continued to mentally and physically torture his victims,” said William Sweeney Jr., assistant director of the New York branch of the FBI. “There was no limit to the abuse that Ray’s victims received, and there’s no knowing the amount of damage he may have caused them in the years to come. To the victims of human trafficking, I’m not sure justice ever served is easily defined.”
“There is no excuse for the kind of behavior alleged here, and society as a whole should loudly reject it,” Sweeney added. “If you’re not angry, you don’t have a soul.”
Additional reporting by Bridget Read