About that time, Gershberg's sister, Debra Hackerman, went to work for Strongput as a fitness consultant. Tim Hackerman, then her husband, said she began leaving the house several nights a week to meet the boss. Caruthers continued to make important contacts, including Jack Anderson, whom he met at a Washington speakers forum.
Caruthers claims the columnist as a close friend; Anderson said recently that he doesn't know Caruthers "all that well. Anderson's son-in-law, Peter Bruch, introduced Caruthers to Barry Marvell, a corporate matchmaker in offshore-manufacturing deals. Strongput sought a cheaper work force to lower its price, so Marvell hooked the company up with McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co.
In August , the Caruthers entourage traveled to the company's headquarters in Arizona, then toasted an agreement at a reception attended by oil sheiks and international businessmen. Soon, Hollywood entered the mix. Bob Williams, vice president of marketing for Premiere Entertainment, placed Strongput into scenes in TV shows and movies. Tickling Caruthers most was an appearance in a "Star Trek" movie.
The McDonnell Douglas deal fell through. So did other manufacturing plans. Bonnell was nearly broke, but he said Caruthers kept him working by promising riches and by warning cryptically that, if he quit, "The black van could show up at any time. By then, Caruthers had called on an old acquaintance for help -- car dealer E. David Gable, who tried engineering a string of deals to infuse Strongput with cash by placing it in a publicly held company. One arrangement after another collapsed until May , when Gable, Caruthers and others formed a new publicly traded company, Carnegie International Corp.
Within a few years it would have 12, shareholders and be listed on the American Stock Exchange. Strongput and most of its investors were left in the cold. A handful of Strongput investors also got Carnegie stock, but most got only a plea for more money from Pearl on Nov. Nineteen days later, Strongput folded. Bonnell and Easley lost their homes in the fallout. Other investors refinanced loans and took their children out of college. Pearl, Caruthers, Lashra and Gershberg say they lost plenty, too, but the Carnegie deal eased their pain. Caruthers became a founding director, and a financial statement to the SEC on Oct.
Pearl, who became Carnegie's corporate secretary, had , shares. With money no longer a worry, Caruthers was free to turn his full attention to his circle of followers, and by late their friends and relatives noticed worrisome signs of withdrawal from old loyalties and passions.
For Scott A. Caruthers, the cast was assembled. The wealth he had always wanted was in place. And by , all that was left to gain from those around him was a loyalty of such intensity it would wrench apart friendships, lifestyles, marriages and religious beliefs. Such devotion would also mean abandoning homes and neighborhoods, and Caruthers led the way.
He and companion Dashielle Lashra moved from the lowlands of Anne Arundel County to a two-story colonial amid the hills of Carroll County, in an isolated subdivision near Westminster. According to documents and interviews, the move to higher ground was part of a long-term plan to survive cataclysmic "Earth changes" predicted by Caruthers. In that context, even his new address seemed like a portent: Scott Drive. Not everyone in Caruthers' inner circle had stayed the course, and not all of his ventures had been a success.
Longtime girlfriend Randi Baverman moved to North Carolina, where she is married and a vice president for Bank of America. She refused requests for an interview. But a deal negotiated by a business partner helped Caruthers emerge from the wreckage with a directorship in a new company, Carnegie International Corp. The new household on Scott Drive included Irmina Dzambo, who'd left her husband, family and past identity in to become Dashielle Lashra; and Steve Rainess, a T-shirt maker from Glen Burnie who had severed ties to his parents and become Caruthers' bodyguard.
Soon joining them was Debra Hackerman, a fitness trainer who'd helped write Strongput's exercise manual.
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She had divorced her husband, Tim, and moved in with their 8-year-old daughter. Later she changed her name to Dulsa Naedek. David Pearl, Caruthers' longtime lawyer and business partner, moved with wife Susan and their two teen-age children to another house nearby. Pearl's former law partner, Richard Gershberg, also involved in Caruthers' business ventures, later moved to the area with wife Elaine and their two teen-agers. A new couple entered Caruthers' orbit when Lewis Dardick, 37, left his job in the Baltimore City auditor's office in to join Gershberg and Associates in Owings Mills.
He and his wife, Amy, 34, had known the Gershbergs for years. Dardick soon noticed Caruthers and Lashra around the office and thought they seemed odd. I've been waiting for you to ask the question you finally have, and there's a protocol to follow. A lot of people are involved. And you know that I'm not a stupid man and I don't accept things easily and I ask a lot of questions.
I have to make a phone call, and I'll get back to you. Over the next few weeks, Dardick said, Gershberg implied Caruthers and Lashra had connections in the intelligence community and were bearers of a vital message.
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A meeting was arranged at a Fourth of July party at the home of a business associate in Bel Air. Caruthers "must have talked to me for an hour straight without a breath. He told me that I had some higher degree of intellect and that I understood the truth, that there were Earth changes taking place in the near future, basically to the point that the Earth's crust was going to shift. And the ultimate result would be that life as we know it on this planet would be changed, in chaos, and that they were preparing for this.
Caruthers told him he knew all this because of inside information from the intelligence community. He said compounds would be built to protect those with proper "training," but "only people with certain attributes would be qualified to be trained into a program of higher awareness," Dardick recalled.
After that, Dardick said, "I started asking Gershberg and Pearl all kinds of questions, and they told me they were both in training for about the last 10 years.
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They told me they had visited Caruthers in the hospital after he was wounded [on a CIA mission]. They were preaching things like, 'We're about truth and goodness and love. Dardick soon found himself in a predicament common to people recruited by cults, facing seemingly unbelievable assertions made by trusted friends.
In fact, nearly everyone in the group had known each other for years. They shared vacations and holidays, weekend sailboat rentals and birthday celebrations. So, when Pearl and Gershberg insisted that Caruthers had CIA connections, Dardick believed it, even if he couldn't quite swallow the alien business. And when they told him not to share any more of the information with his wife, warning of a life-threatening pitfall called "cross training," he was inclined to listen.
She was upset, her husband recalled. One of them would cook an elaborate dinner tailored to Caruthers' tastes and bring it to the house, and then they would chat, often until dawn. In the meantime, Lewis Dardick said, "They told everybody to keep a journal.
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Pearl and Gershberg said they were. Pearl told me I should keep a 'high points' journal of significant things and send it over [by fax] to Dashielle. Physically, he said, "training" suited him at first.