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‘He Threatened to Waterboard Me’: Accused Sarah Lawrence ‘Cult’ Leader’s Sex Trafficking Witness Recounts Long Night of Alleged Torture

Larry Ray and Claudia Drury

Larry Ray and Claudia Drury

When the trial against accused Sarah Lawrence College cult leader Larry Ray began, a federal prosecutor began opening statements by telling the jury about a “long night of torture” that his alleged sex trafficking victim suffered at a midtown hotel in late 2018. The woman at the center of that story told her horrifying tale to a federal jury on Thursday.

Now on her fourth day of testimony, Claudia Drury has testified that she made $2.5 million being forced into sex work by Ray. She said that he made her work seven days a week and serviced up to five men a day for four years. She said that her three prostitution arrests did not stop her from making money for Ray. Ray consulted on her escorting ads, took her money, and did not allow her days off, even for holidays or her birthday, she testified.

Drury said that Ray set up a now-defunct website in her name to humiliate her—and that he had her give him her client list in an effort to blackmail them.

“He Told Me to Strip Naked”

When she warned her client Stuart that his name was on the website, Drury said, Ray exacted his revenge in a room of the Gregory Hotel in Midtown East on Oct. 16, 2018. She said that she was about to see a client around 8 p.m., when Ray entered the room with Isabella Pollok, a former Sarah Lawrence student charged as his only accused co-conspirator.

Isabella Pollok

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

“He started off by saying, ‘Trying to hurt my family? Trying to hurt me? Trying to hurt my family?’ And he was mad that I told Stuart about the website,” Drury testified. “He told me to strip naked. I did.”

In previous days, Drury testified about her introduction into the world of BDSM, short for bondage, domination, sadism and masochism. She said that she toted some of her tools from that world in order to ply her trade and that Ray used the items in order to restrain and hurt her.

“Over the course of seven or eight hours, he kept tying me, binding me to a chair, a desk chair in the room and suffocating me with a plastic bag, multiple times. Smothering me with a pillow. Choking me to the point of passing out with a leash and a collar that I had,” she testified.

Drury said she could not leave because she was physically bound to the chair.

“While you were tied to the chair, were you still naked?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon asked.

“Yes,” Drury replied.

Restricting her breathing was just one of the features of the evening that Drury recalled.

“He threatened to waterboard me,” she told the jury.

Her testimony suggests that Ray followed through on something similar to that. She said that Ray wheeled the chair to an air conditioner by the window and started pouring water on her.

“After the water evaporated, I became very, very cold to the point of becoming woozy or dizzy,” she said.

“He Used the Word ‘Behave'”

According to a New York Magazine exposé “Larry Ray and the Stolen Kids of Sarah Lawrence,” Ray exaggerated his military and intelligence ties. His Air Force service was reportedly confined to 19 days, but his associates attested to his ties to prominent generals. One of his alleged victims, ex-Sarah Lawrence Student and poet Daniel Levin, wrote in his memoir that Ray claimed to work for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

When she flinched at Ray’s contact, Drury testified, he initially told her that he would not kill her—then quickly changed his tune.

“As soon as he put the bag over my head, he said: ‘I am going to kill you,'” she said.

She said that she did not eat that night, but she recalled Ray and Pollok ordered burgers and fries from the nearby Starlight Diner. Drury said that she recalled Ray’s warning when he and Pollock left.

“What if anything did the defendant say to you before he left?” Sassoon asked the witness.

“He told me to behave,” Drury replied. “He used the word ‘behave’—and work.”

And work she did, Drury testified.

“Because Larry told me to,” she said. “I was scared. I thought that was the only way that I could feel a measure of safety the next day was to have money in my hand.”

It was only later, Drury said, that she learned that Pollok taped the encounter. The pain on Drury’s face was evident as an audio recording of the encounter played in court. Drury tilted her head back in one moment, then pointed her face down in the witness box in another. As a vague gasp could be heard in the courtroom, the prosecutor asked Drury to identify the noise.

“I hear myself choking,” she said.

Drury framed this alleged incident as a turning point for her. She said that the client, Stuart, helped her leave by setting up a hotel for her in Philadelphia. She said he later paid her money for an attorney and that when she finally spoke to the authorities, she falsely told them that she was Stuart’s employee. The dramatic account of her escape capped off the government’s direct examination, and as cross-examination began, Ray’s defense attorney grilled Drury about what she described as the witness’s history embellishing and stretching the truth.

During cross-examination, defense attorney Marne Lenox also pressed Drury about whether she viewed sex work as “life-affirming.” Drury previously testified about her work at a sex club, specifically her painful encounters there with BDSM and so-called “impact play.” One encounter allegedly involved having one man’s genitals in her mouth when another struck her with what felt like a pipe. Drury agreed when asked by the defense attorney that she engaged in these activities voluntarily, and Ray did not participate.

On direct examination, Drury said that these experiences were cathartic because Ray instilled a sense of self-hatred in her, but the defense tried to complicate that picture. Though Drury said that she was self-conscious about her body before meeting Ray, Lenox grilled her about sex positivity at Sarah Lawrence College. One series of questions focused on the school’s “Sleaze Week,” which included a 24-hour pornography marathon. Lenox said that Drury wrote that she found sex work “awesome,” when someone denigrated it. Lenox quizzed Drury about her familiarity with the acronyms in her escort ads, billing herself as a “GND”—short for “girl next door,” Drury agreed—offering encounters with “NSA,” no strings attached.

Court proceedings ended shortly ahead of schedule as Ray’s defense attorney told the judge that she was about to broach a “sensitive” subject with the witness.

(Photos and still frames of videos via DOJ)

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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 NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."