court appearances

The Final Sentence of the Larry Ray Story

Isabella Pollok, in a government exhibit. Photo: DOJ

Isabella Pollok was Larry Ray’s daughter’s best friend. She was also Ray’s servant and sex partner, and, as prosecutors said in court in Lower Manhattan on Wednesday, his right hand in a decade-long criminal enterprise. She picked up millions of dollars in sex-trafficking proceeds from her former Sarah Lawrence roommate, Claudia Drury, whom Ray coerced into prostitution. She fetched a plastic bag for Ray to torture Drury, and a sex toy to aid in the public humiliation of another former roommate. She followed a friend with a camcorder to record her having sex with strangers so that Ray could one day use the videos as collateral. According to prosecutors, Pollok’s phone contained folders for each of Ray’s victims containing compromising material that could be used against them if they strayed from Ray.

Last month, a federal judge sentenced Ray to 60 years in prison for psychologically, sexually, and physically abusing this young cohort of devotees he met after moving into his daughter’s dorm at Sarah Lawrence College.

On Wednesday, five months after Pollok pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit money laundering, the same judge sentenced her to 54 months in prison.

As damning as Pollok’s participation in Ray’s horrific abuse was, the sentencing hearing hardly provided the sense of clear moral victory felt after Ray’s sentence was announced. Just about anyone who read our 2019 cover story, or followed coverage of Ray’s trial, or watched Stolen Youth, the new Hulu documentary in which Pollok participated, could see that Pollok was utterly brainwashed by Ray.

Pollok’s defense attorneys described a young college sophomore with a turbulent home life when Ray, then the 54-year-old father of Pollok’s roommate and best friend, moved into her dorm room and went to work on his “awed protégé.”

“Isabella had no identity when she met Ray,” said David Bertan, one of Pollok’s attorneys — “no counter, no defenses for his manipulation.” It wasn’t long before Ray was sleeping with Pollok most nights. Pollok’s defense team said. Ray had pulled Pollok’s hair, hit her, and locked her outside in the cold of winter. After a decade under Ray’s thumb, Pollok “knew instinctively what he wanted her to do,” Bertan said.

Even the government had once described Pollok as a victim. Shortly after his arrest in February 2020, Pollok met with the U.S. Attorney’s office, who asked if she would voluntarily participate in their investigation, while also telling her they had enough evidence to charge her. Pollok declined the offer, holding onto the myth that Ray was a victim of a massive conspiracy.

“If Lawrence were here in front of me right now, I would tell him how sorry I am that he’s going through this and that he’s being put through this. And that it’s not fucking fair,” she said in Stolen Youth. “And tell him that no matter what happens or doesn’t happen, in no way am I straying from the truth.”

In January 2021, prosecutors charged Pollok with money laundering and three conspiracy counts — racketeering, extortion, and sex trafficking. Over the next two years, Pollok underwent psychological evaluations, changed attorneys, met with therapists, worked a steady job, and found a boyfriend. Her attorneys described something akin to deprogramming. Then, in August of last year, she agreed to a plea deal.

It was up to Judge Lewis Liman to decide how much her psychological duress contributed to her participation in sadistic crimes. Liman, an even-keeled force throughout Ray’s trial, acknowledged the control Ray exercised over Pollok, but he never lost sight of the fact that she was a key instrument of Ray’s manipulation.

Ultimately, Liman made clear that part of his mandate was to send a message of deterrence, no matter how unlikely it is that anyone will ever repeat Ray’s criminal enterprise. His decision — a sentence of just over four years — was only slightly less than the five years prosecutors had requested. “There were moments over the years when you could have walked away or at least shown some mercy,” Liman said to Pollok. “You had a choice here.”

“I badly hurt my friends and I am ashamed and deeply regret it,” Pollok said in a brief, tearful statement to the court. “I will live with the guilt forever.”

Unlike Ray, who had no family or friends in the courtroom gallery when his sentence was read, Pollok’s boyfriend sat a few rows behind her, as did her brother and aunt, who both flew in from Texas. Nearby, Felicia and Yalitza Rosario, two of Ray’s victims, watched quietly. It was unclear whether they were there in support of Pollok — did they forgive Pollok for the torment she inflicted on them? At least one of Ray’s victims does. “What I want is to see her heal, process, move on and live a good, happy life,” Drury wrote in a letter to the judge before sentencing. “I do not blame her for any of this, any of what happened, or even the things she said and did to me. Please remember that Isabella’s role in Larry’s crimes, and her willingness to play that role, were not the consequences but the goal of the way in which he abused her.”

A Sad Postscript to the Larry Ray Trial