To some extent, it’s always been this way: prosecutors like to get as much media coverage as possible when they announce arrests and indictments – especially if the defendant is well known or the alleged crime is especially abhorrent.
But with the advent of 24/7 news and the spread of social media, the reality is that many cases are now being adjudicated in the court of public opinion long before they show up in the court of law.
Lawrence Ray – the man who allegedly forced at least one of his daughter’s friends from Sarah Lawrence College into prostitution – is the latest example of this rapidly increasing phenomenon.
According to Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Ray was arrested on February 10th at his home in Piscataway, NJ – and charged with sex trafficking, forced labor, and extortion.
At the time of his arrest, Ray was in bed with one of his daughter’s former college roommates – a woman for whom he had been named guardian (I plan to do more research on that situation).
According to Berman, Ray had groomed the woman to be a prostitute – and had kept most of the money she earned from her trysts.
Alleged Prostitute’s Earnings Are Extraordinary
At Ray’s arraignment on February 11th, Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon described ledgers that were confiscated from Ray’s home at the time of his arrest.
According to Sassoon, those ledgers indicated that Ray’s alleged victim generated $700,000 in earnings in 2017 – and $1,000,000 in 2018.
Let’s just take a look at those numbers to see if they make any sense.
If the alleged victim was charging an average of $500 per hookup, that would mean that she had 1,400 hookups in 2017 – and 2,000 hookups in 2018.
That’s somewhere between 27 and 39 per week – or between 4 and 5 per day – with no days off.
And even if the alleged victim was somehow able to charge an average of $1,000 per hookup – which seems somewhat unlikely – that would mean she had more than 900 hookups in 2017 and at least 1,000 in 2018.
While all of the cited figures are mathematically and physically possible, they nevertheless seem extraordinary and almost unimaginable.
And should they prove to be true, they will likely cause a lot of coeds at Sarah Lawrence College and elsewhere to reconsider their career options.
The Whole Story Is Somewhat Unimaginable
According to prosecutors, the exploitation began in 2010 when Ray moved into an on-campus dorm with his daughter and several of her sophomore classmates at the college.
As outlined in his indictment, “Ray began ‘therapy’ sessions with some roommates purportedly to help them with their psychological problems, and presented himself as a father figure to the roommates”.
The indictment further alleges that Ray spent almost a decade physically, psychologically and sexually abusing his victims.
Some of his alleged victims were required to perform unpaid labor at Ray’s behest – while others were forced to drain money from their personal bank accounts and those of their parents.
Prosecutors indicated that the alleged crimes involved as many as five victims – and that they took place in Westchester County, Manhattan, and North Carolina.
Ray has been charged with a total of nine felony counts – and could be facing more than 100 years in federal prison if he were to be found guilty of all of them.
Allegations First Emerged in 2019
Adding to the story’s unbelievability is the fact that in April 2019, New York magazine published a story that included many of the same accusations that are set forth in the indictment.
According to a statement that was released by Sarah Lawrence College at the time of Ray’s arrest, it undertook an “internal investigation” of the specific activities that were described in the New York magazine article but did not substantiate any of those claims.
In that same statement, the college indicated that “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”.
Why the SDNY investigators would not have discussed the matter with college officials is just one of the many mysteries surrounding this case.
This May Be Another Case Where the Results Are OK but Not the Process
Maybe Lawrence Ray is a total scumbag who deserves to spend the rest of his life in prison.
But the way in which this case has been handled thus far – with the salacious claims made by the U.D. Attorney for the SDNY at the press conference it held to announce Ray’s arrest and the subsequent leaks to the media concerning the materials that were seized at Ray’s home – it’s starting to look a lot like the script that’s been followed in other recent high-profile prosecutions.
What the hell has happened to due process – and the presumption of innocence before someone is found guilty?
Why do prosecutors feel its necessary to try their cases in the court of public opinion before they go to trial?
How is it possible to select objective jurors who have not formed an opinion about cases like this when everyone who watches TV and/or who has an internet connection is bombarded for months with news about the case before it goes to trial?
Have we reached a point where trials are no longer necessary – and we’re ready to just let prosecutors decide who’s guilty of committing a crime?
Is this really what the founders of America had in mind when they were drafting the U.S. Constitution?