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Lawyer for Alleged Sarah Lawrence ‘Cult’ Leader Points to Woman’s ‘Sexwork Is Awesome’ Message in Bid to Cast Doubt on Trafficking Claims

Larry Ray and Claudia Drury

Larry Ray and Claudia Drury

Seeking to mitigate damaging testimony that her client forced a young college student into prostitution, accused Sarah Lawrence “cult” leader Larry Ray’s defense attorney grilled the alleged victim about what she once told police. Claudia Drury, who delivered five days of brutal testimony against Ray, acknowledged on Friday that she initially denied being trafficked after police arrested her for prostitution.

“You told police you were not being trafficked,” Ray’s federal defender Marne Lenox asked during cross-examination.

“Correct,” Drury replied.

“Life-Affirming in Many, Wonderful Ways”

Throughout two days of cross-examination, Lenox tried to reframe the sex trafficking count against Ray much like her client would, as a journey of his accuser’s erotic awakening. Referring to sex work, Drury wrote in a message on April 20, 2016: “I have found it to be life-affirming in many, wonderful ways. I love what I do, and I feel that I am doing something good for myself and my clients.” Later in the same message, Drury wrote: “Sexwork is awesome.”

Drury message

This is part of a message that Claudia Drury wrote on April 20, 2016, according to testimony and a government exhibit.

Those remarks stand in stark contrast to Drury’s harrowing testimony of being forced to work seven days a week, servicing up to five men a day, for four years in order to turn over $2.5 million to Ray, her accused tormentor. That testimony capped off on Thursday in what prosecutors referred to as Drury’s “long night of torture.” In October 2018, Drury said, Ray and his accused co-conspirator Isabella Pollok entered into her room at the Gregory Hotel around 8 p.m. Over the next seven to height hours, Ray ordered her to strip naked, bound her to a chair, suffocated her with a bag, choked her with a leash, and poured water over her head, she said.

Pollok allegedly taped the ordeal, in an audio recording played for the jury and released publicly.

Ray now faces a 17-count indictment for racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor, money laundering, extortion and other charges. The sex trafficking count hinges entirely on Drury’s testimony and the evidence supporting it. Ray’s defense to that count has involved attacking Drury’s credibility—and casting her four-year-stint in the world’s oldest profession in a rosy hue over the course of two days.

“Ms. Drury, you believed at the time that you were doing sex work that a man who engages a woman for sex work is no less of a human, right?” Lenox asked on Thursday.

“That’s correct,” she replied.

“And you believed that or you found sex work to be life affirming in many ways, right?” the defense attorney continued.

“At the time,” responded Drury, pointedly.

“I Gave It to Larry”

When given the opportunity to respond at length under the prosecution’s redirect the next day, Drury added those experiences looked quite different in hindsight. For example, Ray’s defense attorneys mentioned the climate of sex positivity at Sarah Lawrence College, which had an annual Sleaze Week that featured a 24-hour pornography marathon.

“Did you aspire to be a prostitute because of a poster for Sarah Lawrence College’s Sleaze Week?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Danielle Sassoon asked.

“No,” Drury replied.

Ray’s defense tried to undermine Drury’s testimony about her experiences with BDSM—short for bondage, domination, sadism and masochism—by casting it as part of her own sexual exploration. The defendant was not present, his attorneys noted, when Drury engaged in so-called “impact play,” when one man struck her with an object that felt like a pipe while she fellated another.

Prosecutors noted, however, that experience was not her maiden voyage.

“Who first exposed you to BDSM?” Sassoon asked.

“Larry,” replied Drury, referring to her earlier testimony involving Ray, Pollok, a third person and a giant dildo.

Ray was there at every step of her journey into the extremities of sexual experience, the prosecutor’s questions and the witness’s answers suggested.

“Who told you sexual inhibition was a roadblock to personal growth?” Sassoon asked.

“Larry,” Drury responded.

“Who told you to give a blowjob to a married power-tool salesman?” the prosecutor needled.

“Larry,” she said again.

According to prosecutors, this was part of the same grooming process that Ray used on numerous Sarah Lawrence students. Ray allegedly coerced them into false confessions of crimes by persuading them they had poisoned him and his family, damaged his property or colluded with his enemies. Earlier in the trial, former Sarah Lawrence student Santos Rosario testified that he came to believe such accusations against him too and paid Ray hundreds of thousands of dollars that he believed he had owed.


Like Rosario, Drury testified that she had come to believe Ray’s accusations against her, and though she raked in millions in sex work, she said that she reaped none of the benefits.

“What did you do with the money?” Sassoon asked.

“I gave it to Larry,” she responded.

“It Has Severely Damaged My Life”

Over the course of Drury’s five-day testimony, she has testified to painful and deeply personal stories under her real name. She listened to and described an audio recording that prosecutors describe as a record of her torture. Though she mostly maintained composure throughout, Drury’s pain was evident on her face as she craned her neck up and down when listening to the tape. She added on Friday that it was similarly difficult reading from her diary, which was entered into evidence and publicly released.

“Was it difficult for you to read that journal entry in open court?” Sassoon asked.

“Very,” Drury affirmed.

“Why?” the prosecutor pressed.

“Because it was humiliating,” she answered.

That particular exhibit, she said, did not come into evidence because it was something that she kept.

“What happened to your journals from around this time?” the prosecutor asked.

“Larry took them,” answered Drury, who testified at length about Ray’s alleged blackmail.

Santos Rosario, Dan Levin and Claudia Drury

Ray’s alleged victims Santos Rosario, Dan Levin and Claudia Drury (photo via DOJ)

Explaining why she denied being trafficked to police, Drury said it would have interfered with her ability to make money, but she described horrible experiences on the job. She said one john choked her from behind and robbed her. Another would watch pornography for hours and have her perform oral sex, and another would smoke crack.

As for her note extolling sex work, Drury testified that was from early in her experiences and that prostitution did provide more positive reinforcement than she got under Ray’s thrall.

“I had only two things that I was: someone who poisoned people and someone who had sex with people for money,” Drury said, describing her world during the time of her association with Ray. “It was the much better part of my life, even though it was terrible.”

Drury said that she does not subscribe to that view now.

“It has severely damaged my life and my ability to think, my ability to interact with people, my ability to believe in the good in the world,” she said. “I am in debt that I have no way to pay back. My credit score is very low. I can’t really hold down a job, a normal job. I have to live with and try to reconcile with having been a prostitute for many years and all of the experiences I’ve had. Not to mention all of the publicity.”

With Ray’s defense attorneys attacking Drury’s credibility, prosecutors called multiple witnesses to back up her account. One, her former client Randy Levinson, testified under an immunity agreement about Drury being in constant need of loans. Levinson said that Drury, who testified that Ray frequently threatened her with jail, asked him for money some 35 times and mentioned legal trouble.

“I’d better help her win her case, and I didn’t want to see her go to jail,” he recalled thinking.

Isabella Pollok

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

Prosecutors also have introduced exhibits of Pollok’s text messages appearing to show plans to pick up money from Drury. The government called an expert witness to place Ray, Pollok and Drury’s cell phones within the vicinity of the Gregory Hotel on the day of Drury’s alleged torture.

Listen to an episode of Law&Crime’s podcast “Objections: with Adam Klasfeld” discussing the Ray case:

(Photos from Justice Department)

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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."