Sarah Lawrence Sex Cult’s ‘Lieutenant’ Faces Prison for Abetting Abuse
For years, Lawrence V. Ray manipulated and exploited a group of young people who had lived with his daughter in a dormitory at Sarah Lawrence College. He didn’t do it alone, prosecutors say: Among them was an enforcer.
Isabella Pollok became Mr. Ray’s “trusted lieutenant,” prosecutors have said, helping abuse her onetime roommates. Descriptions of how she played a part in keeping Mr. Ray’s followers compliant and terrified emerged last year as former students testified at his trial, which led to a 60-year sentence for extortion, sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy and other charges.
Ms. Pollok ran the accounts and meted out discipline, prosecutors said, pushing group members to serve and fund Mr. Ray across a decade and several states. One former student testified that Ms. Pollok and Mr. Ray showed up to a hotel room where she had been earning money for them by working as a prostitute. Ms. Pollok taunted her, the former student, Claudia Drury, said, and Mr. Ray assaulted her for as long as eight hours, placing a plastic bag over her head and threatening to kill her.
Now, Ms. Pollok, who pleaded guilty last fall to a single count of conspiracy to launder money, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday morning by Judge Lewis J. Liman of Federal District Court in Manhattan. That will end a case that began on the campus of an elite college in Westchester County with a progressive intellectual tradition then devolved into squalid scenes of abuse and domination played out in hotel rooms and homes in New York City and beyond.
When Ms. Pollok pleaded guilty, she offered no public explanation of why she had become devoted to Mr. Ray. Her lawyers since have argued that Ms. Pollok was “brainwashed” and that she had been too fully in Mr. Ray’s thrall to act independently.
Among those who seem to have arrived at a similar view was Ms. Drury, who wrote to the court that, although she still puzzled over Ms. Pollok’s behavior, she believed that her former roommate had lacked agency and deserved lenience.
Federal prosecutors have asked Judge Liman to impose a sentence of five years, writing that Ms. Pollok “held a privileged position” within what they called “the Ray family.” They added that she was “responsible for managing Ray’s finances, enforcing Ray’s rules” and making and maintaining recordings of false confessions he elicited from followers, then used as leverage to demand payments.
Understand the Sarah Lawrence Cult Case
The case. Lawrence V. Ray, who was found guilty of extortion, sex trafficking and other offenses that prosecutors said he perpetrated after moving into his daughter’s college dorm room, was sentenced to 60 years in prison. Here is what to know:
A bizarre tale. Mr. Ray began spending nights at Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester County in 2010, after being released from prison on charges related to a child custody dispute. Soon after, he started “therapy sessions” with her roommates.
Years of abuse. According to the authorities,Mr. Ray acted like a cult leader, exploiting victims he met at Sarah Lawrence by alienating them from their parents and convincing them that they were “broken and in need of fixing.” His physical and psychological abuse continued for about a decade, as he kept exploiting a group of the students who had moved in with him at a one-bedroom apartment on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
Victim and accomplice. Isabella Pollok, one of the Sarah Lawrence students who fell under the influence of Mr. Ray, pleaded guilty to conspiring to launder money, after being accused by prosecutors of serving as the man’s “trusted lieutenant” in crimes he perpetrated.
A guilty verdict After a nearly monthlong trial in 2022, jurors found Mr. Ray guilty of 15 counts, including extortion, sex trafficking and racketeering conspiracy. Prosecutors claimed that he had used his sway over the young adults to extort money from them, to make them work without pay and to force a young woman into prostitution.
“While collecting money from her abused and trafficked college friends, the defendant was spending luxurious nights at the Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side and buying expensive clothing, beauty products and high-end lingerie,” the prosecutors wrote.
Beyond that, they said, Ms. Pollok had facilitated some of Mr. Ray’s physical attacks, at one point fetching a hammer that he used to strike a student and supplying the plastic bag that he placed over Ms. Drury’s head.
Ms. Pollok’s lawyers wrote to Judge Liman that Ms. Pollok deserved “a non-jail sentence.” They said that she had started at Sarah Lawrence as a “damaged, lonely” freshman, becoming first an “awed protégé” of Mr. Ray and then a “broken automaton.”
Eventually, the lawyers wrote, Ms. Pollok came to see his influence as malign and “made tremendous progress toward her own rehabilitation.”
The lawyers also acknowledged what other students had suspected: that Mr. Ray had a sexual relationship with Ms. Pollok, starting when she was a sophomore.
Ms. Pollok met Mr. Ray in 2010 after he finished a stint in state prison in New Jersey stemming from child custody charges. He began spending nights at a dormitory at Sarah Lawrence, just north of New York City, where his daughter, Talia, was living.
Mr. Ray presented himself to her roommates as a worldly figure who wanted to improve their lives, leading discussions about philosophy and offering counsel.
Ms. Drury testified that he spent nights “mostly in Isabella’s room,” while telling other students that he was helping her with psychological problems. Ms. Drury thought it was “weird,” she added, and told a professor that she was worried.
After being pressured by Mr. Ray, Ms. Drury testified, she sent a letter to that professor and to a dean, retracting her “fears and concerns about Larry being a bad, dangerous, manipulative and sexually deviant man” who was carrying on an “inappropriate sexual relationship” with Ms. Pollok.
Ms. Pollok was among several students who spent the summer after their sophomore year living with Mr. Ray in an apartment in Manhattan. Mr. Ray began threatening and assaulting the students and subjecting them to lengthy interrogations, according to testimony in his trial, badgering them into admitting to a host of invented infractions.
That behavior continued about a decade, according to testimony, as young people including Ms. Pollok went on to live with Mr. Ray in North Carolina and New Jersey.
Santos Rosario, who was the victim of the hammer blow, testified during Mr. Ray’s trial that Ms. Pollok kept a catalog of video confessions on her computer and said that he handed over thousands of dollars as reimbursement for property he had falsely admitted damaging. He added that Mr. Ray directed him several times to have sex with Ms. Pollok, saying that experience made him feel “like I wasn’t in control of my life.”
One of Mr. Rosario’s sisters, Felicia Rosario, testified that Mr. Ray ordered her to have sex with strangers and sometimes told Ms. Pollok to record those encounters, adding: “He would send Isabella with me to make sure that we actually got the video the way he wanted it.”
Ms. Drury testified that Ms. Pollok regularly collected her prostitution proceeds. Sometimes she showed up with Mr. Ray at Manhattan hotels where Ms. Drury was meeting clients, she said.
One evening at the Gregory Hotel in Midtown, she testified, Mr. Ray handcuffed her, naked, to a chair, interrogated her, placed the plastic bag over her head and choked her with a leash and collar. Ms. Drury said that Ms. Pollok mocked her and recorded her “lying to tell him what I thought he wanted to hear” as Mr. Ray questioned her.
In her letter to the court, Ms. Drury wrote that she did not believe that Ms. Pollok had possessed “any true capacity” to affect Mr. Ray’s behavior that night and did not consider her to be a participant in the assault.
Ms. Drury wrote that Ms. Pollok “went to sleep and woke up” next to Mr. Ray, spent practically all day by his side, and suggested that she had no ability to resist him and little choice in whom she became under his tutelage.
“His presence is deeply corrosive to morality, empathy, decency and humanity,” Ms. Drury wrote. “I shudder to think what I would have done or been like were I in her position.”