court appearances

A Disaster in the Larry Ray Trial

Photo: James D. Walsh

For years, Claudia Drury lived in fear that Larry Ray would one day release the compromising material he had on her. He frequently promised the people he controlled that he would share nude photos, seemingly incriminating confession statements, or, in her case, lists of clients she saw while she was an escort.

Finally, it happened — but it wasn’t Ray’s doing. On Monday night, in a terrible mistake, the U.S. Attorney’s office published a 2018 email Drury had sent to Ray. It listed 112 “main clients/regulars and many others” by their full names.

Hours after posting the email to a folder shared with media outlets, the U.S. Attorney’s office sent an email to members of the media admitting the mistake and asking reporters not to share the exhibit or the names on it. So far, none has.

But the blunder was somehow not the strangest twist in court today, in the second week of Ray’s trial on 17 charges including extortion and sex trafficking.

Shortly after Judge Lewis Liman called for an afternoon bathroom break, Ray’s attorney Neil Kelly asked for a sidebar. Moments later, Judge Liman cleared the courtroom and medical responders were called. Ray was then wheeled on a stretcher into an elevator, an oxygen mask strapped to his face and his tongue lolling out of his mouth, and hurried into a waiting ambulance.

Ray’s medical emergency — his third in the past week and the second to bring the trial to a halt — delayed the court’s timeline yet again and presented another challenge for Liman, the prosecutors, and the defense attorneys working on Ray’s case.

Adding to the chaos, the morning began with Liman informing the court that he would excuse Juror One from duty for medical reasons — the second juror to be excused from the case, leaving 14.

Ray’s emergency interrupted chilling testimony by Drury, the lone victim in the sex-trafficking charge Ray faces. Drury described in painstaking detail a storm of psychological and physical pressure Ray had inflicted on her.

In 2013, Drury traveled to Pinehurst, North Carolina, where Ray put her to work landscaping his elderly stepfather’s property. Drury said that she felt trapped at the house and that Ray tightly restricted her eating and sleeping habits, often forcing her to work long into the night. After three weeks, Drury said, she had lost about 40 pounds.

Claudia Drury in London during her college year abroad.

When she got back to New York, Ray encouraged Dury to have sex with strangers. She described soliciting sex from a taxicab driver, the night manager of a hotel, and a passerby in Central Park. At Ray’s behest, Drury found work as a hostess in a sex club. While working there, Drury was introduced to BDSM culture, and she described painful incidents in which she was struck with blunt objects and cut with a knife. Ray took great interest in Drury’s day-to-day exploits at the club, often demanding she send him explicit photos of her bruised body. She described her experiences in the BDSM world as a “cathartic” release of the “self-hate” she had developed under Ray’s unyielding attention.

Ray eventually encouraged Drury to become a prostitute so she could pay him back for supposed damage she had done in North Carolina. At first, Drury worked for an escort agency, but Ray felt she wasn’t making enough money; the agency’s rates were too low and its cut of her profits too steep. Eventually, Ray told Drury to go independent so she could charge more.

Ray also engaged in BDSM with Drury, who described an incident in a hotel room in which Ray hit her with a crop. “With clients, I knew if I asked them to stop, they would stop,” Drury said. “I did not think that he would stop if I asked him to stop.”

By that point, Drury had been entirely cut off from her parents. Her life seemed to revolve around the sex work she was doing to pay off Ray. She saw about three clients a day, charging them $2,000 for a one-hour session. In her testimony last week, Drury estimated she had given Ray $2.5 million of the money she made as an escort.

At some point, Ray pressured Drury to lose more weight so she could charge even higher rates. She developed an extreme eating disorder, which Ray dismissed as “not that bad,” Drury said, her voice seeming to tremble for the first time since she took the stand. “But it was that bad.”

Around 12:30 p.m., when one of Ray’s attorneys called for the sidebar and Liman called for a bathroom break, Drury’s harrowing testimony came to an abrupt halt. Drury was led to a witness room at the back of the courtroom, and the jury filed out through a side door. That was when Liman called for the courtroom to be cleared for Ray’s medical emergency. As spectators filed out, sobs could be heard coming from the witness room.

The Larry Ray Trial Is a Disaster