Guarding against cults.
During our investigation we learned how vulnerable private security officer companies are to this cult's brand of fraud and how easily the security companies' people were compromised. Because of client confidentiality the names of the people involved or the companies apparently defrauded cannot be revealed. However, the group's operation, motivations, and behavior, along with ways security companies can guard against similar groups, can be described.
The parents of a 30-year-old woman asked us to locate their daughter, who they thought might be in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area. The parents suspected she was associated with a cult but didn't know anything more. Their suspicions stemmed from their daughter's uncharacteristic behavior: She dropped out of college and deferred her student loan and then went to work as a security guard. Shortly afterward, she sent her parents a vitriolic letter telling them she no longer wanted to have anything to do with them. An attempted meeting was thwarted by the daughter.
Her letter had all the earmarks of a typical cult "exit letter," the kind that destructive cults persuade members to write to their families. Such letters are designed to sever all ties with relatives who might want them to leave the group. The letters are also symbolic: Their purpose is to make a definitive psychological break with a recruit's former life.
Through data base checks using the woman's social security number and an old address, we were able to locate her car in the driveway of a house in Washington. Further investigation revealed several other women at the same address, and crisscross directories from prior years revealed former occupants, also women.
Although the subject's car didn't move for several weeks-we didn't spot her at all during that time-surveillance of cars driven by the other occupants revealed another rented group house in northern Virginia to which they all traveled between 7:00 and 8:00 every night.
During the next several weeks, around-the-clock surveillance of all women in the group, including our subject (who simply showed up one day), revealed some bizarre patterns and behavior. The women all drove cars with out-of-state license plates. Two of the cars,. one a luxury model, were registered to a woman whom we hadn't seen. The women routinely swapped cars with each other.
Their schedules were brutal. After meeting at the house in Virginia for three or four hours, the women would drive to different security officer jobs and work a midnight to 8:00 am shift. After that, they would work another shift, at either the same place or a different location, although some in the group had nonsecurity jobs during the day.
After their day jobs, some or all would meet at the house in Washington for about two hours and then travel to Virginia for their regular evening get-together. At midnight, the cycle would begin again. THE FIRST OBVIOUS QUESTION WAS: When did they sleep? Their other day-to-day actions were also unusual. No trash was thrown out at either house. In addition, all the women entered their security job sites carrying large suitcases or canvas luggage. A group car seen at the beginning of a shift might be exchanged with another by the end of the shift. Most intriguing was that the sites they guarded were all in the high-technology sector-computers, aerospace, and telecommunications.
Only the two residences were involved. On documents such as driver's licenses the women all used the same address, but it was not the address of either house. They used the street address of a US post office, and their apartment number was the box number.
Nothing seemed to add up. Why would they work so many hours, especially those who had high-paying day jobs? Why didn't they throw out trash? Why the suitcases? Why did they all work as security officers? Why change cars?
We concluded that this was indeed a financial cult whose members worked as much as they could, even beyond most people's physical limits, to give money to a leader who we believed was the registered owner of the luxury car. It was also significant to us that the woman who brought in the most money usually drove the luxury car.
For those not familiar with destructive cults, it's difficult to comprehend that normal needs such as food, sleep, comfortable homes, friends, family, and sex become secondary to a true cult member.
It was obvious that something was amiss. However, for our client's purpose, we did have a pretty solid daily routine outlined for the subject that would help the parents understand how best to counsel their daughter away from the group. Please note that we do not advocate any form of physical intervention or involuntary deprogramming of people involved with cults. That is illegal and unethical.
Unfortunately our investigation ended when, at the client's insistence and against our recommendation, we contacted the subject's former employer. The subject had worked as a receptionist for a local healthcare professional along with another cult member. The parents were certain that he was an "okay" guy for us to talk with and that he might be able to help. Shortly after we left a message on his home answering machine, the subject disappeared, and we have not seen her since. The rest of the group continued to operate as usual, and we were convinced our subject had been whisked out of town by other cult members.
After consulting the client, we decided it was best not to do anything for a while and wait until the subject resurfaced. We knew she would because cults look on members as assets. There was no way they would support her for any length of time. She would have to get a job and supply a social security number, and that would allow us to find her again. IN THE MID TO LATE 1970S IN MORRIStown, NJ, a group named the Circle of Friends gained prominence by flaunting its members' extravagant life-styles. They lived in a large mansion, drove expensive luxury cars, had their pictures taken with politicians, and extolled the virtues of a system they described as a capitalistic commune.
The group, almost entirely women, claimed they owned a string of houses around the state and several out of state and had as many as 100 members. Their common goal and doctrine were simple: health, wealth, and wisdom.
Unfortunately for most of the members, the wealth all went to the upper echelon of the group. Members of the lower echelon described in court testimony how they worked double shifts mainly as security officers-and sent all their salary to the group's post office box. Their food and gas were covered by the group, and they received as little as $5 or $10 per week for personal spending. Some members lived in unheated, ramshackle houses. The opulent life-style that the bulk of the members saw was merely a carrot-on-a-stick dream designed to keep them working.
The group's leader was a 58-year-old Hungarian immigrant named George Jurcsek, a self-proclaimed guru, stock market wizard, and real estate mogul. Jurcsek allegedly used his inner circle of women to seduce politicians and others for a variety of reasons. The women even acted as lobbyists and introduced a bill in the state legislature to deregulate the private security officer business.
The Circle appeared to have far-flung real estate properties and companies including cleaning services and security officer companies. In fact, the state police suspended the Circle-owned Bond Security Agency, following the resignation of a retired Newark police officer who had been paid to be its detective of record.
It was alleged that the Circle had amassed a $6 million empire and that the money came from legitimate businesses. This was not entirely true.
The Circle's money had come mostly from its members' toil and in many cases their student loans. Members were encouraged to enroll in colleges, receive education loans, and then defer payment. An additional source of funding was a local man whose prominent family owned a paper company. Through his marriage to a cult member, the group had access to a portfolio worth more than half a million dollars. A suit on behalf of the family against the group was settled out of court.
Most interesting was the security officer connection. Jurcsek and his inner circle believed that security officer shifts allowed members the opportunity for quiet study and contemplation. It is standard destructive cult behavior not to allow members time to themselves. Any time alone must be spent in reading about the group and its tenets. This further reinforces the cult's hold.
Members of the Circle met daily, each telling how much money he or she had made for the cult. Slackers were made to feel guilty about their shortcomings. Large contributors were praised.
Jurcsek and one of his members, Mary O'Rourke, were tried and convicted in December 1988 of conspiracy and theft in connection with the student loan scams. In 1989, after the two were each sentenced to seven years, the group was thought to have been reduced to about 20 members living in Stamford, CT, where they clean offices and work as security officers.
However, testimony by members and those associated with the group suggest that there may have been other illegal activities including fraud in connection with the security officer work. Testimony during the trial and statements by some former members alleged that members didn't always work as promised for the security officer companies. They told of booking themselves for overnight shifts and sometimes sleeping on the job. It was alleged they would sign up to work for two different companies at the same time and have someone else sign in for them at one job while they worked at another. They would leave the first job and travel to the second job and cascade the effect so that three people could, in effect, work four shifts. If caught, the silence of male supervisors and dispatchers was paid for with sex. The women used vitamins and cocaine to stay awake when necessary.
It appeared that the group we had in our area paralleled many of the activities of the group in New Jersey, which was thought to have been disbanded with stragglers moving to Connecticut. In addition to the security officer connection, the Washington group also had an office cleaning company, according to postal records.
We were convinced of the connection when we found out the registered owner of two of our group's cars - one of which was the luxury car-was a former high-level member of the Morristown cult. Another member was listed as having lived in the house in Washington about two years ago.
We believe the oversized bags they carried to work contained not only their study books but also their trash. We also believe that the reason we saw one of their cars at the beginning of the shift and a different one at the end was because they were " kiting " different jobs.
As for the vitamin and cocaine use, we believe the cult members continued that practice in Washington. The professional that our subject had worked for was known in local healthcare circles as a vitamin enthusiast. His position also afforded him the opportunity to obtain medically pure cocaine. THIS CULT HAS APPARENTLY CHEATED private guard companies and compromised site security in several states. We still don't know why the cult targeted high-technology companies, but the possibility of stealing sensitive documents is obviously present.
Your private security company can guard against cult fraud by taking the following steps: * Never underestimate the control that a cult or other destructive group can have over a member. To most of us, it seems outlandish that people would work so hard for so little. * Verify employees' addresses to make sure they actually exist and are not post office locations. * Note workers who carry large suitcases or luggage to work. You should not make any judgments based on this particular behavior but merely use it to initiate a second or possibly more extensive employee background check. * Fingerprint workers and verify their social security numbers. * Advise supervisors to be aware of security officers who drive to work in one car and leave in a different one.
A final note on our case: For our client, the group in the Washington area is no longer of interest and the case is closed unless the subject reappears. During our investigation we identified Circle members who have lived and worked as security officers in New Jersey, Virginia, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Colorado, and Washington, DC. About the Author . . . Larry Kahaner is the coauthor of How to Investigate Destructive Cults and Underground Groups and the author of Cults That Kill. He is president of KANE Associates International Inc., a private investigations agency in Alexandria, VA, that specializes in cult-related cases.
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|Title Annotation:||cults involved in financial fraud|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1991|
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