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Lawrence Ray Arraigned, Accused Of Forcing Daughter's College Friends Into Labor, Prostitution, Extorting $1 Million

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There was a court appearance Wednesday for the father accused of manipulating college students into prostitution and forced labor.

Prosecutors say Lawrence Ray operated like this for up to a decade.

Ray entered the court in his navy blue uniform. He shook his head "no" as prosecutors outlined some of the alleged incidents. Prosecutors say they've interviewed 17 people and have seized numerous electronic devices, some of which have sexually explicit images. They say a key part of their case is videos of Ray berating victims.

They have also seized or subpoenaed financial records, contents of a storage unit and Backpage prostitution ads.

Ray entered a not guilty plea.

Web Extra: Read the indictment that details the charges (pdf)

The 60-year-old spent the night in custody. The former FBI informant with a seedy past was arrested Tuesday at his Piscataway, N.J. home.

He's accused of physically and psychologically threatening college students, extorting up to $1 million from them and their parents and forcing a young woman into prostitution.

"It's weird to think about and horrifying to think about having to go through so much trauma and stress and manipulation as a 20-year-old, 21-year-old," said Uma Channer.

Watch: Prosecutors Lay Out Case Against Lawrence Ray

Channer is a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College, the same age as the students Ray allegedly first manipulated in 2010 when prosecutors say he moved into his daughter's on-campus residence.

"We don't have a really strict rule with visitor passes. There's not a lot of checking in on what's going on with students. It's just kind of an ongoing conversation about, like, how safe people really feel on campus," Channer said.

College President Cristle Collins Judd sent an email to students earlier this week, saying an investigation into the allegations first made by New York Magazine last year "did not substantiate those specific claims":

Sarah Lawrence College has just learned of the indictment of a former parent in the Southern District of New York. The charges contained in the indictment are serious, wide-ranging, disturbing, and upsetting. As always the safety and well-being of our students and alumni is a priority for the College.

In April 2019, New York Magazine published a range of accusations about this former parent. At that time, the College 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 specific 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.

On Wednesday, the college president sent a letter to the college community that read in part:

"From the indictment, it appears that for some part of the fall semester in 2010, this parent stayed in his daughter's on-campus apartment, in a clear violation of the College's written policy on-campus visits. The question, How could the College not know this?, has been asked by many, including myself ... What we do know is that no reports about this parent's presence on campus during that semester, formal or informal, were lodged by students sharing that small living space, by their student neighbors, or by anyone else. The potential reasons cited above are not offered as a justification or as an effort to place blame, but rather as potential answers to the troubling question with which I have been wrestling."

The letter goes on to say, "The acts charged in the indictment allegedly started in 2011 – after Ray had stayed with his daughter; they spanned nearly a decade and are not alleged to have taken place on the Sarah Lawrence campus."

"There needs to be more regulation of the dorm," said first year student Cici Tu.

So do students think it could happen again?

"I don't. Such a rare thing. It would be super rare for it to happen again," said first-year student Owen Anderson.

The accusations against Ray extend far beyond campus, to an Upper East Side apartment and a family property in North Carolina from 2010-2018.

Investigators say Ray first posed as a father figure and confidant to groom the victims, turning on them once he had their full trust.

If convicted of nine charges including sex trafficking, extortion, forced labor and money laundering, Ray could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Ray's next hearing is set for Feb. 26.

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