Cult or Company?

Westchester Reporter/August 8, 1994
By Bill Varner

Westchester County is once again the center of the long-runing debate over Frederick P. Lenz III, considered by some a cult leader, by others a "Dale Carnegie of the 1990s."

The debate has raged across the nation since 1978 when Lenz began to attract hundreds of young men and women to his unique blend of martial arts, computer programming and hip Buddhis philosophy. To these disciples, the 44-year Old Neck, Long Island, resident is "Rama", their spiritual guru.

To his detractors, Lenz is the leader of a destructive cult that tears families apart. They brand Lenz a flim-flam man whose mind-control techniques compel his follower to pay him up to $5,000 a month of the money they earn as free-lance programmers.

Lenz did not respond to a request for an interview directed to his attorney, Norman Oberstein. However, through interviews with some of his former disciples, parents of curent followers and cult experts who monitor his group, Gannet Suburban Newspapers has compiled a record of his recent activities in the area.

Lenz was last seen in Westchester County on August 1, when he led a regular monthly meeting of his followers in a theater of the Performing Arts Center at the State University of New York College at Purchase. But then befitting the overall unpredictability of his group's movements, reservations for the rest of the year were cancelled.

Westchester and southern Connecticut first became that base of the group's operations in 1989 when manymembers moved east from California. His followers found work as free-lance computer programmers and attended computer classes and his personal lectures at SUNY-Purchase.

In 1992 the group dispersed to launch a recruiting drive featuring free meditation workshops. Members who stayed in this area conducted workshops at public libraries, churches, college campuses and hotel meeting rooms throughout Westchester and the New York metropolitan area.

A variety of people tracking the Lenz group, including a White Plains detective hired to find group members, say up to 300 of his new recruits moved backto the area last fall. These sources report that Lenz split his following in two last summer, sending the most experienced computer programmers - about 100 - to Chicago and Toronto.

The rest, mainly products of the 1992 recruiting drive, were advised to settle in Westchester and southern Connecticut. As part of what Lenz dubbed his "Star Trek - the Next Education" program for the new members, they were given tips on how to adapt to the New York area and encouraged to enroll in computer training classes - some at the Pace Univeristy Graduate School in White Plains.

One newcomer to the area was 27-year-old San Francisco native James

Ficklin, who joined the Lenz group in 1991 after attending one of the meditation workshops. Ficklin, who left the group in March, said he moved to Westport, Conn., in October, 1993 at the urging of Lenz.

"He made it known he would be moving operations and having classes back East, and that anyone who was erious would go", Ficklin said. "He said Westchester and Purchase were high-energy, high-vibe places - power spots."

White Plains private investigator George Beladino, hired three years ago by parents of three group members to located their children, began to receive reports last summer of what he called a "general influx" into the area.

Beladino said his investigation also found a subtle ongoing recruiting effort at health clubs, martial-arts studios and other social organizations. One such effort took the form of a series of free meditation workshops held in June at the Hudson River Conference Enter iom Ossining.

The Lenz group's use of SUNY-Purchase spaceincreased from two days a month to eight to t0 times a month last fall. College spokesman Terry Lieberman confirmed that development, but noted that the Lenz groups's use of the center has increased and decreased alternatively since its first meetings there sever years ago. The group rents space under the name Interglobal Seminars, Inc.

"I was going to Westchester every weekend," said Boston resident Jim Picarello, a Lenz group member who defected. "I would drive down and stay in a hotel. Then Lenz said, {You have may energy with your day to day if you are my student. But if you live in the Westchester area I will up that energy." This was in June, 1993. I guess he had 500, 600 new students, and that 200 or 300 moved to New York."

Confirming Liebman's descripition of an ebb and flow in the gorup's use of SUNY-Purchase facilities, eeting reservations for the rest of the year recently were canceled. The final group meeting was held last week at the Performing Arts Center, and no others are scheduled until Jan. 1, 1995, Liebman said. He said a Lenz representative explained the move as a simple desire to take a break from the schedule.

Liebman siad there had been no pressure to cancel by the college, which repeatedly has come under attack for renting space to Lenz. The latest salvo came from New York City political consultant Thomas Derr, whose former girlfriend is in the grou. Her involvement led Derr to launch a letter writing campaign, demanding that the Lenz group be barred from the college.

Derr sent a three ring binder full of newspaper clipping on Lenz, along with a cover letter asking that SUNY-Purchase stop leasing space to his organization, to 19 government offricials. The list includes Gov. Mario Cuomo, State Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol, and every representative from the area who is in Congress and the state Legislature.

State Sen. Suzi Oppenheimer, whose 34th District includes SUNY-Purchase, received a copy of Derr's letter and formally requested that the college "observe" some of the Lenz group's computer classes.

"I am enornously concerned with this," Oppenheimer said. "As a parent it is so frightening. I can't overstimate how scary this is. And it is frustrating because apparently SUNYs hands are tied. The question is how to attack this within the law."

Assemblywoman Naomi Mausow's 89th District encompasses Purchase, and she also acted on Derr's letter.

"I spoke with the president of Purchase, and he has been looking into it himself," Matusow said. "If in fact these allegations are correct, then the district attorney should look at this. I am a little uneasy. There is cause for alarm."

Liebman said the new college president, William Lacy, has promised to re- examine the issue of continuing to rent to Lenz.

Christopher Beach, director of the Performing Arts Center, defended Lenz by dubbing him a "Dale Carnegie of hte 1990s". The college's position has been that it has no specific reason to deny access to the Lenz group which pays its bills and has not violated any laws on campus.

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