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College Cult Member Says Man "Controlled" Her Beyond Belief​​; Gets 4.5 Years in Prison

The woman allegedly assisted the man who masterminded the so-called "Sarah Lawrence College cult."

The woman who was charged and convicted of assisting the man who masterminded the so-called "Sarah Lawrence College cult" was sentenced to four-and-a-half-years in prison on Wednesday. Prosecutors had called Isabella Pollok the "trusted lieutenant" of Larry Ray and said she had helped Ray abuse her former roommates. Pollok's attorneys called her a brainwashed "victim" and a "broken automaton." Ultimately, Pollok had pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to launder money. At Wednesday's hearing, Pollok cried as she said Ray had "controlled" her in ways she couldn't understand, Law & Crime reported. "Your crime was an extremely serious one," said U.S. District Judge Lewis Liman, declaring that it was prolonged, caused the victims "immense harm," and involved "sadistic" violence. That, the judge said, was his rationale for handing down a sentence close to the maximum of five years. 

What Was the Sarah Lawrence Cult Scandal?

Stephanie Keith/Getty Images

Pollok was the former best friend of Larry Ray's daughter Talia Ray. In 2010, she was a student at Sarah Lawrence when she met Larry Ray, then 50, who started spending nights in the dorm and often slept in her room. Pollok, who was estranged from her family, soon became a loyal follower of the elder Ray.  Ray presented himself as a mentor to a group of students, engaging them in discussions about philosophy and offering life advice. He invited the group to live with him in a New York City apartment, where he convinced some they had committed crimes against him. Ray then doled out punishments for those supposed infractions—incorporating physical and psychological abuse, all the way up to trafficking—for nearly a decade. Throughout, he was assisted primarily by Pollok, prosecutors said.

"By No Means Innocent"

U.S. Attorney's Office

Last month, Ray received a 60-year sentence for extortion, trafficking, racketeering, and other charges. In September, Pollok pleaded guilty to conspiring with Ray to commit money laundering. She told the judge that she helped Ray disguise money that she knew came from "illegal activities," particularly $2.5 million in trafficking proceeds from his victim Claudia Drury. "You were not the leader of the Ray enterprise," the judge said, but "by no means innocent."

"I Will Live With the Guilt Forever"

Department of Justice

"I believed and supported someone who controlled me in ways I could not understand," Pollok said tearfully at the sentencing. "I will live with the guilt forever. I pled guilty because I am guilty. I did what they said I did." "I badly hurt my friends and I am ashamed," she added. "I deeply regret it. I am truly sorry."

Victim Had Urged Lenience

U.S. Attorney's Office

According to prosecutors, Pollok helped Ray torment Drury during a "long night of torture" at Manhattan's Gregory Hotel in 2018. That night, Pollok recorded Ray as he stripped Drury nude, tied her to a chair, poured water on her, and attempted to suffocate her with a plastic bag. Pollok's lawyers argued that she deserved no jail time, claiming that she had been brainwashed and had become a "broken automaton."  Before sentencing, Drury defended her former friend. "I do not believe she had a choice in who she became in the hands of Larry Ray," Drury wrote in a letter to the court, urging "lenience and mercy" for Pollok. "I believe that he specifically encouraged, groomed and conditioned callousness and meanness into her personality, while making her not only believe but know, with conviction, that her reactions were the appropriate and kind one."

Former Prosecutor Says Sentence Fair

Isabella Pollock/Facebook

Former trafficking prosecutor Mitchell Epner told Law & Crime he believed the judge's sentence was appropriate. "Judge Liman imposed real consequences on Isabella Pollok for acting as Larry Ray's enforcer during his reign of terror," he said. "While it is certainly true that the defendant was unlikely to have instigated the abuse that was inflicted on the victims, she was a willing accomplice for years. She had the opportunity to leave at any time, but chose to live an inflated lifestyle supported by the work that she and Larry Ray forced on Claudia Drury."

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