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Sarah Lawrence Cult Trial Begins

There is little doubt that Mr. Ray’s life, before he moved to the Sarah Lawrence campus in Westchester County, had been unusual. It included an episode in which he arranged a meeting between Rudolph W. Giuliani, then the mayor of New York City, and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, and claims that he worked at one point in Kosovo for a United States intelligence agency.

He was friendly in the 1990s with Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, who helped him secure a job with Interstate Industrial Corporation, a construction company reputed to have ties to organized crime.

Mr. Ray was charged in 2000 by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn with taking part in a scheme in which mobsters and stockbrokers were accused of swindling investors out of $40 million. Around the same time, Mr. Ray cooperated with prosecutors investigating Mr. Kerik, who ended up pleading guilty to state and federal charges stemming from their connections to Interstate.

In 2010, Mr. Ray emerged from state prison in New Jersey, where he had served time on charges related to a child custody dispute. He then moved into a dormitory where his daughter, Talia Ray, lived.

Mr. Ray, who was then 50 years old, quickly became a domineering force in the dormitory, called Slonim Woods, according to prosecutors. He began offering what prosecutors called phony “therapy” sessions to his daughter’s friends and roommates, gaining insight into their lives and vulnerabilities.

As those students fell under Mr. Ray’s influence, his behavior, as described in an indictment, became more aggressive. Over the years that followed, Mr. Ray ran what prosecutors said was a criminal enterprise — one that in many ways resembled a cult, with Mr. Ray playing the role of authoritarian leader.

He is said to have used psychological manipulation to convince the students that they were “broken” and in need of his “fixing.” Prosecutors said he indoctrinated the students into his system of beliefs; used threats and coercion to get them to confess to crimes they had not committed; and extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from them.

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