Former Sex Worker Describes 7 Hours of Torture by Alleged Sarah Lawrence Sex Cult Dad

The excruciating testimony shed new light on what prosecutors have described as a perverse system of manipulation and control.

Daily Beast/March 24, 2022

By Pilar Melendez

A former Sarah Lawrence College student on Thursday revealed twisted new details about alleged torture at the hands of her ex-roommate’s father, testifying that he ordered burgers and fries for a snack during a horrific episode that saw her bound, naked, to a chair.

“He told me to strip naked, I did. Briefly, over the course of seven or eight hours, he ended up binding me to a chair, a desk chair in the room and suffocated me with a plastic bag many times,” Claudia Drury, 31, said on her fifth day of testimony at Lawrence “Larry” Ray’s federal sex-crimes trial. “Choking me to the point of passing out twice with a leash and collar I had.”

Drury previously told jurors that Ray—who prosecutors have accused of effectively operating a sex cult by preying on his daughter’s college roommates—coerced her into performing sex work to the tune of millions of dollars over a period of several years.

The harrowing October 2018 incident inside a Gregory Hotel room was spurred, Drury said, by her admission to Ray that she had told one of her clients about a blackmail website Ray had allegedly created to ensure her silence and loyalty. During the hours of “torture,” Drury said, Ray also poured water on her naked, bound body before wheeling her close to an air conditioning unit, cutting her hair, and threatening to kill her.

Ray and Isabella Pollok, a former Sarah Lawrence student prosecutors say became a co-conspirator, also took a break at some point to eat the food they ordered from Starlight dinner, she testified. After Ray and Pollok left her hotel room following hours of interrogation, Drury said, she slept for a few hours before going back to work—“because Larry told me to.”

“He had never done anything like that before. So I was scared for my life. Scared he was going to do it again. I felt increasingly anxious over whether he was actually who I thought he was this whole time,” Drury told jurors on Thursday. Her voice was uncharacteristically soft as Ray stoically sat several feet away at the defense table.

Drury is the second witness to testify in Ray’s case—and just one of several former college students who lived in a Sarah Lawrence dorm room the then-50-year-old moved into shortly after his 2010 release from a New Jersey prison. Ray then proceeded to launch what amounted to a sex cult for nearly a decade under the guise of “therapy sessions,” prosecutors say.

Ray has pleaded not guilty to all charges, including sex trafficking, extortion, and racketeering conspiracy, for allegedly physically, sexually, and psychologically abusing the college students. His defense attorney insists that Drury and the other victims are simply a group of “storytellers” who believed their own tales of their own alleged misconduct—and who, in turn, made Ray believe, too.

Over five days on the stand, Drury has painted a terrifying picture of abuse by a man prosecutors have portrayed to jurors as a master manipulator. After meeting Ray in 2010 when she was a 19-year-old sophomore, Drury said, she became dependent on him after he convinced her to become estranged from her parents—and that she owed him after supposedly damaging his property and even trying to poison him. (Neither was true, prosecutors say.)

The mounting debt led Drury to go into sex work at Ray’s best starting in 2015, she said, stating that she felt like she “had no choice” and was desperate to do whatever it took “to repair what I believed I had done to Larry.” She went on to claim that Pollok also played a critical role in her sex work, including tracking the amount of money Drury made and spent for the various hotel rooms she stayed at. (Pollok has been charged with several crimes, including conspiracy, and pleaded not guilty.)

Pollok also was often present when Ray would randomly go to Drury’s hotel rooms to confront her, including one disturbing occasion where the 62-year-old repeatedly hit her to teach “how not to flinch,” Drury testified. In another confrontation, Ray allegedly told Drury that he was going to have her abducted to the Middle East and that he was going to report her to the CDC for “knowingly infecting people with a virus” because of her herpes diagnosis.

Ray even created a website to blackmail Drury–which said that she was an escort who was poisoning clients—where the 62-year-old would upload her personal journal entries when she misbehaved, she claimed.

By 2018, Drury said, pressure to keep up with Ray’s constant demands was getting overwhelming, and forced her to ask her clients for large sums of money upfront to satisfy him. Among those clients she tried to gain a retainer from was a man she identified as Stuart Piltch, a client who ultimately denied her request but whom she said she “cared for a lot.”

Ultimately, Drury said, she told Piltch about the website and Ray’s decision to upload her journal entries—including Piltch’s personal information. When she admitted the disclosure to Ray, she said, he retaliated with the “long night of torture” at the hotel. (Drury suggested Piltch was at least initially not aware of her having been coerced into sex work when they began their business relationship.)

“He started off by saying he’d try to hurt my family, hurt me, try to hurt my family—and he was mad that I told Stuart about the website,” Drury testified about Ray. “He had hit me before, but he never did anything like this. I was terrified. I was trembling. He told me I was such a faker and a liar… and that I was being overdramatic.”

In court, jurors heard audio that Pollok allegedly recorded of the marathon incident, during which Drury can be heard at times choking while Ray is heard asking questions and sounds as if he is holding some kind of plastic bag. As the audio was played, Ray could be seen in court holding one of his ears to better hear out of his hearing aid, while Drury bunched over her seat, seemingly trying not to cry.

After that night, Drury said, she knew what Ray had done “was wrong” but did not leave because she “did not have anywhere to go.”

“I just didn’t have an out,” she added.

That out didn’t come for another six months, when Piltch called her in April 2019 offering to help her leave. A man whose profession, city, and spouse appeared to match the Piltch Drury described in court did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

“Stuart called me one day out of the blue,” Drury said. “I got on a train to Philly. Stuart got me a hotel room there and I turned off my phone.”

Drury added that had not spoken to Ray since the day she left, and that she had not seen the man she said abused her for years until she began testifying last week. As she emphasized that she didn’t respond to Ray’s attempts to contact her after she left, Ray craned his neck and moved in his chair in what appeared to be an attempt to stare at her.

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