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‘I Became a Prostitute’: Witness Testifies She Made $2.5 Million After Being Forced into Sex Work by Accused Sarah Lawrence Cult Leader

 
Larry Ray and Claudia Drury

Larry Ray and Claudia Drury

When she first met the man who came to be known as the Sarah Lawrence sex cult leader, Claudia Drury was a 19-year-old college sophomore who expressed concern about how much time her friend’s father spent in her dorm shared by seven students.

In 2010, Larry Ray—now standing the fifth day of his trial on a 17-count racketeering indictment—first met the residents of the college’s dorm Slonim Woods 9. Drury recalled that his daughter Talia Ray told her and the other roommates that shadowy forces wrongfully imprisoned her father, who just had gotten out of jail. She said that she began to “freak out” when Ray started sleeping in his daughter’s room and that of then-student Isabella Pollok, who would later become Ray’s accused co-conspirator.

Then, Drury said, she too fell into his web.

“I became a prostitute,” Claudia Drury, now 31, told a jury on Friday. “It was Larry’s suggestion, originally.”

“He Slapped Me So Hard I Fell Over”

Taking the stand for the first time, Drury is the key government witness behind the sex-trafficking charge against Ray. She estimated that she made $2.5 million over the course of four years turning tricks for Ray, work that she said put her on call seven days a week. Toward the beginning, she said, she would have four or five customers a day, and the rate would slow down to three toward the end. Before Drury took the stand on Friday, law enforcement witnesses authenticated her text messages with Pollok about hotel locations and payments of tens of thousands of dollars. Another law enforcement witness showed the jury recreations of the advertisements for Drury’s services that ran in Backpage, the now-shuttered website that advertised “adult services” before being shut down by the U.S. government.

Isabella Pollok

Larry Ray’s accused “lieutenant” Isabella Pollok was charged separately and will be tried later this year. (Photo via DOJ)

In bombshell testimony on Friday, Drury told the jury a gruesome tale of violence, sexual exploitation and extreme physical and emotional abuse.

“He slapped me in the face so hard I fell over, pulled my hair, strangled me, suffocated me, hit me,” Drury testified.

Drury said that she turned to sex work after Ray convinced her that she had poisoned him and his family members. In a video played in court, Drury confessed to the supposed crimes, with Ray off-camera prompting her to agree that she was doing so of her “own free will.” She said that she even came to believe it was true, as both Larry and Talia Ray would say they were getting sick.

“He threatened to put me in jail, numerous times,” Drury said. “He threatened to kill me on a memorable occasion. He threatened to cut my face. He threatened to have me abducted and dropped in the Middle East. He threatened to blackmail people I knew. He threatened to beat up my father.”

One of Drury’s emails entered into evidence said that she suspected that Ray, his daughter and Pollok had an inappropriate sexual relationship, a claim that she retracted later in the message. On the witness stand, she did not explain the basis for her suspicions or why she recanted them.

Much of Drury’s testimony revolved around the blurring of sexual boundaries. She said that she thought Ray’s habit of sleeping in Pollok’s room was “weird” — and that she told her philosophy professor as much. But she said her concerns became allayed as she became close to Ray, finding him a comfort to her feelings of separation anxiety and being “anchorless.” Then, Ray would start to turn the conversation to sex.

“He told me that he had gone to swing clubs and that those were fun,” she said.

“Don’t Worry About It”

According to Drury, Ray would convey a philosophy: “Basically, the more open you were sexually, the more honest you were with yourself.”

Then, Drury said, Ray would increasingly put that into practice with the students. She said that Ray started touching her, “very lightly, all over my body,” at the dinner table. She recounted a story about how she and her dormmate Daniel Barban Levin had been in the living room when Ray came out of a bedroom and started grabbing himself under his pants. Drury said that Ray told her that he could make her orgasm without touching her, and he suggested that she and Levin have sex with each other.

“When he left, we did,” Drury said.

Dan Levin

Dan Levin

Another time, she said, Ray was more hands-on.

“There was one time when he bent me over a table and used his fingers on me,” she testified, adding that he also would talk to her about masturbation.

At the time, Drury said, she was uncomfortable with her body. She said that Ray paid her $400 to get a bikini wax. Even after Drury and Levin went abroad to London, Ray would keep his hold over them, she said. During a Skype video chat, she said, Ray asked Drury to take off her shirt and for Levin to touch her. Levin would later write a memoir about his time in what he described as Ray’s “cult.” She said they did what he instructed, and that when he encouraged a sexual relationship with a married man named Sam, she did that, too.

“Sam’s marriage is his own business,” she recalled Ray telling her. “Sam is the custodian of his own marriage. Don’t worry about it. It’s okay.”

In an audio recording played for the jury, Ray encouraged Drury to tell her parents that she had intrusive thoughts about wanting to throw them out a window, and she needed to be hospitalized. Drury could be heard in the recording telling her parents just that as Ray fed her lines. Her testimony will continue on Monday.

(Photos via DOJ exhibits)

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on MSNBC, BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks.