By Tom Winter, Jonathan Dienst and Janelle Griffith
A man whose daughter attended Sarah Lawrence College north of New York City is accused of "almost unspeakable abuse" of students from the elite school for about 10 years.
Lawrence Ray is charged with nine counts that include extortion, sex trafficking, forced labor and money laundering in connection with his alleged crimes against students from the college in Westchester County, according to an indictment unsealed Tuesday.
"The conduct here is outrageous," William F. Sweeney Jr., the FBI's assistant director in charge of the New York office, said. "It makes me angry. If it doesn't make you angry, you don't have a soul."
Ray allegedly began targeting students after he moved into his daughter's on-campus dormitory with her and male and female roommates around 2010 when they were sophomores, the indictment says. Ray began therapy sessions with some of the students purportedly to help them with their psychological problems, presenting himself as a father figure, the indictment states.
Starting in the summer of 2011, several of the roommates lived with Ray in a one-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where he continued his practice of lecturing the victims and conducting "therapy" sessions, "during which he learned intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities and mental health struggles," the indictment says.
He alienated several of the victims from their parents and over the course of nearly a decade, “subjected his victims to sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse,” according to the indictment.
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After gaining the victims' trust, he would subject them to interrogation sessions in which he would make false accusations, such as that they deliberately damaged the apartment or Ray's property, harmed him and his family members, or poisoned him and his family members and other associates. He ultimately extracted false confessions from at least seven of the victims.
On one occasion, Ray allegedly placed a knife to the throat of a male victim until he confessed. The indictment also says he took and kept explicit photographs of some of the victims and sometimes documented their false confessions, including on video.
Ray allegedly used the false confessions to extort money from the victims, most of whom were teenagers or young adults at the time. To repay their supposed debts to Ray, the victims resorted to measures such as draining parents' savings accounts, opening lines of credit and earning money through prostitution.
Ray is accused by prosecutors of extorting money and unpaid labor from several victims and forcing at least one female to engage in commercial sex acts for his financial gain. Officials say he received $200,000 from some of the victims' parents' bank accounts and $500,000 from forcing a female victim into prostitution.
The impetus for the federal investigation was an article in New York magazine in April titled "The Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence."
The charges were announced by Geoffrey S. Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, who said Ray was arrested Tuesday in New Jersey. "When he was arrested, one of his daughter's roommates and one of the female victims in the indictment were in the residence at the time," Berman said.
If convicted, Ray faces up to a life sentence.
Sarah Lawrence College said in a statement Tuesday that it had just learned of the indictment.
"The charges contained in the indictment are serious, wide-ranging, disturbing, and upsetting," the statement said. "As always the safety and well-being of our students and alumni is a priority for the College."
The college said that when the New York magazine article came out, it "undertook an internal investigation regarding the specific activities alleged in the article to have occurred on our campus in 2011; the investigation did not substantiate those claims."
"We have not been contacted by the Southern District of New York, but will of course cooperate in their investigation to the full extent of the law if invited to do so," the statement said.
Tom Winter is a New York-based correspondent covering crime, courts, terrorism and financial fraud on the East Coast for the NBC News Investigative Unit.
Jonathan Dienst is a reporter for WNBC-TV in New York, leading its investigative reporting team and covering justice and law enforcement issues.
Janelle Griffith is a breaking news reporter for NBC News.