Cynthia Pollok hasn’t seen her daughter Isabella in a decade.
She had hoped to change that next month, when Isabella’s trial was set to start. The 30-year-old was indicted by federal prosecutors in 2021 for allegedly conspiring with convicted sex-cult leader Larry Ray, 62, to prey on others at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College.
But Pollok’s plan was dashed on Wednesday when Isabella—a former student once portrayed as a young, impressionable victim of Ray’s—pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a charge that could put her away for up to five years.
“I was all ready to fly up there next month [for the trial], it was supposed to be taking place on Halloween,” Pollok, 65, told The Daily Beast from her home in San Antonio, Texas. “I already bought the tickets a month ago, and they sprang this on me yesterday. Isabella finally started to realize that being in Larry’s corner is not going to help her. But I still say all of this is Larry Ray’s fault. Totally his fault.”
Pollok, who is speaking out publicly for the first time, claimed in an exclusive interview on Wednesday that her daughter was “really, truly brainwashed” by Ray, who operated his twisted criminal empire out of his daughter Talia’s dorm room. (Talia Ray did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.)
“He is twice her age,” Pollok said. “She was barely a teenager when she met him. I’m her mother, I love her. He’s a degenerate.”
The twisted saga began in 2010, when Ray was released from prison, where he had been sent on felony charges related to a child custody issue, and moved in with Talia. He had once hobnobbed with local bold-faced names, claimed to have mob ties, and served as best man at ex-NYPD Commissioner Bernard Kerik’s wedding.
In charging documents, Isabella Pollok was accused of helping Ray lead an “enterprise [which] targeted a group of college students… for indoctrination and criminal exploitation.” On Wednesday, she admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
“I still love her, I don’t care what she’s done,” Pollok said on Wednesday. “Short of murder, there is nothing she could do to dissuade me from loving her. I did want to [go to the trial to] see her in person, because I haven’t seen her in at least 10 years… I haven’t talked to her in at least seven.”
Ray held himself out as a “father figure,” according to prosecutors, who said he and Pollok “subjected the Victims to sexual and psychological manipulation and physical abuse,” forcing them to admit to things they didn’t do, such as trying to poison Ray. They then “leveraged the Victims' false confessions to extort money from the Victims, to force some of the Victims to perform unpaid manual labor, and to cause one of the female Victims to engage in commercial sex acts for the Enterprise’s financial benefit,” last year’s indictment against the two of them stated.
“When [Larry Ray] arrived at Sarah Lawrence in 2010, he was not there to help students improve their lives. He was there to help himself,” Assistant United States Attorney Lindsay Keenan said in her opening arguments at Ray’s trial. “He used violence, fear, sex, and manipulated to get what he wanted. Sex, money, and power.”
In April, a jury found Ray guilty of all 15 charges against him, which included sex trafficking, extortion, racketeering conspiracy, and money laundering for hiding some $1.7 million in proceeds from a victim he forced into prostitution for a period of four years. Ray, who faces a maximum of life in prison, is set to be sentenced on Dec. 1.
“I think that since R. Kelly got 30 years, [Ray] ought to get life,” Pollok said on Wednesday. “He’s scum. That’s all. There’s no point in him living. He doesn’t deserve to exist on this earth. I could say more, but I’m not.”
In 2019, Pollok tried to extract Isabella from Ray’s clutches, showing up at a house in Piscataway, New Jersey, where the two were then living. But Ray chased Pollok away, threatening to call the police and have her arrested for trespassing. Pollok told The Daily Beast the backyard had been extensively dug up, and that the inside of the home “was like hoarders, crap all over the place. You couldn’t even walk in it.”
During the trial, one of Ray’s victims told the jury that Ray extorted more than $200,000 from his mother for supposed “property damage” he had caused, and later stole another $10,000 in an effort to satisfy Ray’s ever-changing demands. The abuse took place not only on the Sarah Lawrence campus, but at properties in New York, New Jersey, and North Carolina. The victim, 30-year-old Santos Rosario, testified that he felt “confused” because Ray “made me believe that I deserved the treatment and that it was my fault.”
Claudia Drury, 31, told jurors during Ray’s trial that she was forced into prostitution and ultimately gave $2.5 million of her earnings to Ray. Prosecutors said that Pollok helped pick up Drury’s earnings and launder the money.
In one of the most harrowing days of testimony, Drury described being tortured for seven hours by Ray inside a Manhattan hotel room—saying that Pollok was present when she was being suffocated with a plastic bag as she was bound naked to a chair.
Jurors also heard audio that Pollok allegedly recorded of the incident, during which Drury can be heard choking while Ray asks questions.
On Wednesday, Pollok admitted in court that she was aware that some of the money she laundered between 2014 and 2014 was generated by “illegal activities,” including Drury being extorted and sex trafficked.
“I know that what I was doing was wrong and against the law,” Pollok added.
Defense lawyers insisted, unsuccessfully, that Ray’s accusers were simply making up tales, and that Ray was in fact victimized by those pointing the finger at him.
“You heard how he brutalized them with a hammer, with pliers, with punches, with a plastic bag, with vicious abuse, with forced labor,” prosecutor Mollie Bracewell said in court. “You heard how he took their money again and again.”
Prosecutors also pointed out Ray’s impact on the young people he victimized, such as a student who sidelined their dream of becoming a physician to carry on an intimate relationship with Ray. He groomed his victims to have sex with him and others, adding psychological abuse to the physical and sexual violence he inflicted. Once, according to prosecutors, Ray “threatened to dismember a victim,” and warned he would “shatter [his] skull… with a hammer.”
In an email on Wednesday, Isabella Pollok’s defense attorney Jill Shellow said, “We are pleased that finally Isabella can start to put this ordeal in the past and begin to heal.”
Her mom would now like to see the judge throw the book at Ray, who she holds 100 percent responsible for her daughter’s troubles.
“She was so sweet,” Pollok said. “She was even a virgin when she left here at 18 years old, and that’s saying a lot for this time and era. I don’t care if it costs $60,000 a year to go to Sarah Lawrence, she earned it by being smart and by getting a scholarship. And then look what happened… I’m just here minding my own business, secretly crying. Some days are worse than others, but it's still just there, hanging over me. She did not choose that. She was really, truly brainwashed.”
With additional reporting by Pilar Melendez.
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