Sarah Lawrence 'sex cult' victim tearfully describes how leader Larry Ray went from confidante to coercive bully, who beat and threatened to kill her while ultimately taking in $2.5M in earnings after forcing her into prostitution

Daily Mail, UK/March 18, 2022

By Laura Collins

A member of the Sarah Lawrence 'sex cult' has told a court how she was destabilized, broken and groomed through the charisma and coercion of alleged cult leader, Larry Ray.

Claudia Drury, 31, took the stand in Manhattan Federal Court to tell jurors how she went from naïve student to a life of prostitution, ultimately handing over $2.5million in earnings to Ray, his daughter Talia and his 'lieutenant' and co-accused Isabella Pollok.

Demurely dressed in black pants and cardigan Drury looked at Ray, 62, only once, to point at him where he sat and name him as her alleged abuser.

Fighting back tears she laid out a relationship that began with talking and escalated to physical and sexual humiliation and trafficking, and her misplaced belief that she was indebted to Ray for, 'wrongdoings.'

'He slapped me so hard I fell over, pulled my hair, strangled me, suffocated me, hit me,' Drury told the court.

'He threatened to put me in jail numerous times, threatened to kill me on one memorable occasion, threaten to cut my face, have me abducted and dropped in the Middle East, to blackmail people that I knew, threatened to beat up my father.'

Drury told the court how she had overcome her initial misgivings when Ray, newly out of prison for a custody battle violation, first moved into his daughter's dorm room in the elite liberal arts college just north of New York in her sophomore year.

She admitted: 'I was pretty freaked out,' by the fact that Ray went from occasionally spending the night in his daughter's room to sleeping in Pollok's bed.

She reported her misgivings to her philosophy professor but under pressure from Ray she later withdrew her claims, saying she had lied.

On Friday she told how, over the course of weeks and months, she was won over by the man she described as initially, 'magnetic and charismatic,' and prone to philosophizing with his daughter and her student friends for hours on end — gaining their trust and soliciting their confidences.

He was someone, she said, who seemed to be helping her friends deal with a host of issues. She wanted help too.

She said: 'Very early on I remember the first time we actually talked when I went with him to dinner in Bronxville,' the town where Sarah Lawrence is located.

'The first thing I highlighted was that growing up I would tell stories, embellishing things and I expected to grow out of it, but I hadn't, and it was getting obvious.'

She told prosecutor Danielle Sassoon: 'Larry really listened.'

He also talked – six, seven hours at a time – ultimately ingratiating himself with and holding court over Drury and friends, Santos Rosario, Daniel Levin, Felicia Rosario, Pollok and his own daughter Talia.

She told the court how he preached a philosophy he claimed to have written, 'Q4P' (Quest for Potential) and spoke of the importance of honesty.

Little by little he began to introduce sex into the conversations — never with the larger group, she said, but with her.

'It began by Larry telling anecdotes about sexual experiences he had or things he had done…,' she said.

'[He said] the more open you were sexually, the more honest you were with yourself, being more open an uninhibited was as sign of being more honest.'

Drury recalled the first time Ray had made an overtly sexual overture to her, 'gently touching her all over her body at the table one night during dinner.

'He was talking about how sensation could be heightened,' she said.

On another occasion — during the summer when the group had all but moved into Ray's apartment on New York's Upper East Side — she recalled: 'Larry came out and stood over me and started grabbing himself under his pants and saying how he could make me orgasm without touching me just by talking about it.

'And he did. I didn't. I believe he also suggested that Dan and I had sex right there and when he left, we did.'

Another time, she said: 'He bent me over a table and used his fingers on me when everyone else was out.

'He came out of his room and said I should get naked and masturbate in front of him. He wanted to me to finish, and he also wanted me to be very loud.'

Drury admitted that she had always been very uncomfortable and lacked confidence about her body and couldn't believe that anybody would find her attractive.

She credited this insecurity along with Ray's coercion with her decision to have sexual encounters with 'Sam', a married man from whom Ray bought power tools.

On more than one occasion, she said, she had sexual encounters including giving oral sex to Sam in his truck with Ray's encouragement.

Any resistance on her part was attributed to psychological problems and while he encouraged her to be sexually open, Ray battered her psychologically — and sometimes physically — convincing her of a slew of wrongdoings that started with damage to his property and would ultimately escalate to the allegations that she had poisoned him and five others.

Sitting in court, polished and for the most part poised, Drury today was a very different figure to the haggard, wan student, 'confessing' to wrongdoings in a video clip played to the court.

A red mark on her forehead was, she said, where Ray had hit her with a crop.

Ray's transformation from helpful confidante to coercive bully was, according to Drury, swift, but so too was her sense of utter dependence on the man.

The pattern, she said, was that she would 'try to be good' but fail and be confronted by Ray or Pollok who would lay out her 'wrongs' and demand confession and reparation.

At one point the cycle became so extreme that Drury claims she lost all sense of reality or her grasp on it, believing Ray when he told her she wanted to kill her parents or that she had thoughts about Pollok committing suicide.

Earlier jurors had been shown texts between Drury and Pollok and Pollok and Talia apparently discussing Drury's prostitution, her clients, payment and transfers of cash into Pollok's bank account.

In the texts read aloud, Drury listed meetings and sums of money she expected in payment.

One read: 'I'm seeing Joe, the $3,500 guy at 3:30pm. I believe that will be another $8k though maybe less.'

Sums of money ranging from a few hundred to more than $17,000 in cash and bank accounts were discussed.

In a follow up text exchange between Pollok and Talia allegedly regarding the transfer of money earned by Drury through prostitution, Talia reassures Pollok: 'We got the moollah.'

At one point Pollok, 29 — who will stand trial separately later this year — responds to information regarding money Drury is collecting with the question: 'Did you always get the mercury that you poisoned us with from the same source?'

'No,' Drury replied, 'Originally I got it from Santos and later on from my mother.'

Asked why she admitted to such things Drury said, 'I believed I had done them.'

Later the court was played audio of a conversation between Drury and Ray when she, at her lowest ebb, had been convinced that she was a danger to herself and others.

With her head in her hands, Drury shook with emotion, as the conversation was played in court.

In it she can be heard at her parents' house, refusing to listen to their pleas to hang up on Ray and talk to only them.

Instead she follows Ray's suggestion that she needed to remove herself from college and enter a psychiatric hospital.

She will continue her testimony Monday and is expected to be on the stand through Tuesday morning.

Earlier in the trial, prosecutors said Ray held sway over the college student, forcing some of them into prostitution and making others wear diapers as punishment.

Assistant US Attorney Lindsey Keenan began her opening statement last week with a description of a gruesome October 2018 alleged attack.

Keenan said Ray and his 'trusted lieutenant' found the victim they had 'forced into a life of prostitution' at a hotel, where Ray tortured her for hours to make sure she'd continue her sex work.  

The prosecutor said Ray used 'violence, fear, sex and manipulation' to gain sex, power and money.

Ray's lawyer told the jury that Ray committed no federal crimes as he encircled himself with college-age 'storytellers' who claimed to have poisoned him and arranged to have him physically attacked.

'You'll see that Larry Ray is not guilty,' attorney Allegra Glashausser said.

Ray, who once served as the best man at a wedding of disgraced former New York City police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, has been incarcerated since his 2020 arrest.

He is a well-known New York scammer with a murky past. In addition to spending times behind bars for his role in a securities fraud scam, he has worked on Wall Street, owned nightclubs, been an FBI informant and inserted himself in into powerful networks by brokering meetings.

He had previously been sentenced to five years probation for his role in a securities fraud scam.

The allegations involving the latest case were laid out in a lengthy article by New York magazine's The Cut in 2019, that included accounts from some of the purported cult members.

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