A New York man who was lured into the Sarah Lawrence College cult and allowed the group’s mastermind to use his apartment for five years is speaking out.
Lawrence Ray, 60, moved into his daughter’s Sarah Lawrence College dorm in Bronzeville, New York in 2010 after being released from prison and sexually manipulated and exploited her roommates, creating a cult that ran for about a decade.
On Tuesday Ray was charged with physical and psychological threats and coercion, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking and money laundering for running the group, which was exposed in a piece by The Cut in April 2019.
New York man Lee Chen, 53, revealed Tuesday that Ray used his Upper East Side apartment as a meeting space for the cult from 2011 to 2016, where the cult leader forced him to watch students having sex.
New York man Lee Chen, 53, revealed Tuesday that Sarah Lawrence cult leader Lawrence Ray, 60, used his apartment from 2011 to 2016 and was often surrounded by his group followers
Chen and Ray met in 2005 at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
Chen was serving around 80 days for violating his supervised release on a suspected-hacking-related offense and Ray was there for a child-custody dispute.
Afterwards the two ended up being friends and Ray crashed at Chen’s Upper East Side apartment on East 93rd Street before using it as a meeting space for his cult in 2011.
Chen first was introduced to the cult when Ray grabbed him out of his room and told him to watch two students having sex.
‘I was shocked’ by the sex scene, Chen said to the New York Post. He said Ray told him to watch the pair have sex more than once.
‘I thought he would be upset, and when I looked at him, he was smiling broadly, looking at me,’ Chen revealed.
Eventually Chen got sucked into the cult under Ray’s influence. Ray tried to influence Chen by asking him about his childhood traumas.
Ray moved into his daughter’s Sarah Lawrence College dorm in Bronzeville, New York in 2010 after being released from prison and sexually manipulated and exploited her roommates, creating a cult that ran for about a decade. Campus pictured above
The group of students were college sophomores when Ray moved in with them into their shared on-campus apartment at Sarah Lawrence College (above) in 2010
‘Unfortunately, misfortune of misfortune upon misfortune, this guy latched onto me, and stupidly, I’m sitting there trying to mind my own business, and he’s saying, “Oh, your parents … you didn’t have enough love when you were younger,”‘ Chen said. ‘That was the approach he took to try to suck me in.’
Chen, who has not been charged in the case, said he ‘absolutely’ thought Ray had a strange relationship with the students and he was ’very upset’ when he asked him to watch sex sessions ‘more than once.’
But he says he was unable to kick Ray out due to his persuasive personality.
‘It’s difficult for me to convey to you his coercive abilities unless you’ve experienced it yourself,’ he said. ‘He has unusual mannerism. He has this habit of not only changing the subject but talking you to death.’
‘I realize it sounds strange, but every time I complained about [his involvement with the students], he roundly chastised me for having a bad mood and negatively affecting the children,’ Chen explained.
‘And stupidly, while it was occurring, I was thinking, “This guy does make sense, maybe I shouldn’t get upset.”‘
On Tuesday Ray was charged with physical and psychological threats and coercion, extortion, forced labor, sex trafficking and money laundering for running the group, which was exposed in April 2019
Chen said when he’d tell Ray to get the students out of the apartment, Ray would deflect and start talking about Chen’s childhood.
‘When you’re in the middle of it … it’s extraordinarily difficult to pull yourself away from this and see the complete absurdity of it all,’ he said.
‘I mean, I’m not making excuses. … I could have been more responsible and taken the responsibility upon myself to stand up and say, “No more.” I mean, eventually, I did, but too late. Because all these other people were adversely affected as well,’ he added.
Authorities say Ray’s cult was first started in his daughter’s college dorm room after he moved in upon being released from prison in 2010.
He allegedly sexually manipulated his daughter’s roommates and friends.
Prosecutors say that Ray subjected at least seven victims to fake ‘therapy sessions’ where he extracted ‘intimate details about their private lives, vulnerabilities and mental health struggles.’ In some cases he extracted false confessions from them and used those confessions to extort them.
Authorities say he managed to extort $1million from five of the victims’ families for over a period of nearly a decade.
Of that money, $500,000 came from forcing one of the girls intro prostitution. He also instructed another of the students to drain $200,000 from their parents’ savings account, and told others to open lines of credit for him or borrow from people they knew.