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developed several websites for the sole purpose of ranking
That is one way to solve the problem of links causing a possible penalty, if that's the problem. But that leaves another potential problem in place. It perpetuates the issue of a network of sites for the purpose of directing traffic to another site. Not considered a recommended tactic either.
Doorway pages are typically large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword or phrase. In many cases, doorway pages are written to rank for a particular phrase and then funnel users to a single destination. Whether deployed across many domains or established within one domain, doorway pages tend to frustrate users.
...Some examples of doorways include:
•Having multiple domain names targeted at specific regions or cities that funnel users to one page
large sets of poor-quality pages where each page is optimized for a specific keyword