court appearances

Larry Ray, Accused Cult Leader, Found Guilty on All Counts

Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer. Sketch: Jane Rosenberg

Larry Ray, the man accused of controlling and abusing a group of students at Sarah Lawrence College, was convicted by a federal jury in lower Manhattan on Wednesday.

“Larry Ray is a predator. An evil man who did evil things. Today’s verdict finally brings him to justice,” said Damian Williams, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in a statement. “This verdict would not have been possible without the victims who testified in court. We are in awe of their bravery in the face of incredible trauma.”

Ray, 62, was convicted on all counts related to his alleged role as a cult leader, including racketeering, extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor, use of interstate commerce to promote unlawful activity, money laundering, and tax evasion. FBI agents arrested him less than a year after a 2019 investigation by New York that revealed the allegations that led to his conviction this week. 

In a trial spanning three weeks, Ray’s victims testified at length about how he subjected them to violence, mind control, forced labor, and forced prostitution. The trial was paused twice for unknown medical reasons; both times, Ray departed the courthouse in an ambulance.

Photo: James D. Walsh

The trial was also marred by the court’s accidental release of a list of 112 clients of a woman who testified that she was forced into prostitution for years by Ray.

Prosecutors were able to tell a story based just as much on video and audio recordings culled from Ray’s own devices as it was on his victims’ testimonies. Those recordings left Ray’s defense with a challenge: How do you explain a video, for example, of a grown man gripping a college student’s tongue with pliers? Their answer: paranoia. His lawyers said Ray was led astray by the “wild stories” and “nearly unbelievable tall tales” the students told him. (A former attorney of Ray’s testified that he counseled Ray to accept money from his victims in restitution.)

“It does not matter whether the defendant believed that his victims harmed him,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Mollie Bracewell as the trial concluded. “Because no one is entitled to use force, to threaten force, to demonstrate force to get money, even if they were entitled to it. You cannot use pliers on someone’s tongue, a hammer against their body, choke them with a plastic bag. That’s not how debts are collected.”

Larry Ray, Accused Cult Leader, Found Guilty on All Counts