Larry Ray’s only co-conspirator to be charged and convicted in the Sarah Lawrence College sex cult case was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison on Wednesday after tearfully telling the court that the guru “controlled” her beyond comprehension.
“Your crime was an extremely serious one,” U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman declared, noting that it lasted a long time, caused “immense harm” to the victims, and involved “sadistic” violence. He called a “significant” sentence of imprisonment necessary, and his sentence fell just shy of the 5-year maximum sentence under her count of conviction.
Isabella Pollok, the former best friend of daughter Talia Ray, was a young student when Larry Ray started living in her communal dorm Slonim Woods 9 and sleeping in her room. She had been estranged from her family and soon became one of the elder Ray’s most eager acolytes. Ray turned a guru for the young students and soon persuaded them to believe they had committed crimes against them. He lured them off campus to a New York City apartment and collected those supposed debts through physical violence, psychological abuse and sexual exploitation for roughly a decade.
In September, Isabella Pollok admitted to conspiring with Ray to commit money laundering. She told the judge that she helped Ray disguise money that she knew came from “illegal activities,” namely the $2.5 million in sex trafficking proceeds of his victim Claudia Drury.
“You were not the leader of the Ray enterprise,” Liman continued, noting that she was a young adult at the times — but “by no means innocent.”
Pollok wept at her reflections of those actions at her sentencing.
“I believed and supported someone who controlled me in ways I could not understand,” Pollok tearfully said, struggling to get the words out. “I will live with the guilt forever. I pled guilty because I am guilty. I did what they said I did.”
Earlier in the proceedings, Judge Liman remarked that Pollok didn’t acknowledge the pain she caused her friends, and Pollok’s lawyers said she would do so in her remarks. The prediction came to pass.
“I badly hurt my friends and I am ashamed,” Pollok said. “I deeply regret it. I am truly sorry.”
Prosecutors identified Pollok as the woman who helped Ray torment Drury during a “long night of torture” at Manhattan’s Gregory Hotel in 2018.
On that evening, Pollok had been recording Ray as he stripped Drury naked, tied her to a chair, doused her with water and tried suffocating her with a plastic bag. In the recording, the listener can hear Ray instruct Pollok to hand her that bag.
The government sees Pollok as Ray’s “lieutenant,” but Pollok’s lawyers see her as his once-“brainwashed” victim.
Drury, who felt the worst brunt on Pollok’s exploitation, appeared to agree in a letter to the court.
“I do not believe she had a choice in who she became in the hands of Larry Ray,” Drury wrote in a letter, urging “lenience and mercy” for her former friend. “I believe that he specifically encouraged, groomed and conditioned callousness and meanness into her personality, while making her not only believe but know, with conviction, that her reactions were the appropriate and kind one.”
Judge Liman sharply questioned Pollok’s attorney David B. Bertan, who argued that Pollok was also Ray’s victim.
“The truth is she is a victim, albeit in a slightly different way,” Bertan said.
Referring to the government’s proposed five-year sentence, he added: “To me, that sentence is vengeance, not justice.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Keenan found such a sentence warranted. Ray recorded false confessions from his other victims, which he kept as blackmail material. This wasn’t true of Pollok, the prosecutor said.
“The government knows of no instance when Ms. Pollok was threatened with exposure of collateral,” Keenan said.
His co-counsel Jill R. Shellow struck a similar note.
“She did what Ray conditioned her to do,” Shellow said. “That’s very different from saying, ‘I will.'”
She questioned how Sarah Lawrence College allowed Ray to sleep inside the dorm to begin with, allowing the cult to take root on campus.
“This case is a parent’s worst nightmare,” Shellow added. “It took my breath away, and I had a connection to Sarah Lawrence that made it that much more difficult because my sister graduated from Sarah Lawrence and I spent a year there.”
Shellow noted that there were “red flags everywhere,” including people who reported it to the school.
Sarah Lawrence has defended its actions.
Liman worried about what effect a non-jail sentence would send.
“That sentence must clearly state that crime does not pay,” the judge said.
But he said that, but for Pollok, “this scheme would not have succeeded the way that it did.”
Shellow disagreed, calling her client Ray’s “fungible” and “convenient” tool.
“An adult woman, yes, but an adult woman without the ability to think for herself,” she said.
Former sex trafficking prosecutor Mitchell Epner, who is now a partner at the firm Rottenberg Lipman Rich PC, believed the judge walked an appropriate line of punishment.
Judge Liman imposed real consequences on Isabella Pollok for acting as Larry Ray’s enforcer during his reign of terror,” Epner told Law&Crime. “While it is certainly true that the defendant was unlikely to have instigated the abuse that was inflicted on the victims, she was a willing accomplice for years. She had the opportunity to leave at any time, but chose to live an inflated lifestyle supported by the sex work that she and Larry Ray forced on Claudia Drury.”
At the request of her defense counsel, Judge Liman recommended that Pollok serve her sentence at a Federal Prison Camp Alderson, a minimum security women’s facility in West Virginia. She must report to prison in April.
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