New York City — An alleged "ultra-secret cult" masquerading as a philosophic study group squeezed millions of dollars out of followers who funded their leaders' lavish lifestyle at the Plaza Hotel, a new lawsuit contends.
Two former members of the Odyssey Study Group say they paid $400 a month for the privilege of serving the late founders Sharon Gans and her husband Alex Horn, both of whom fled San Francisco amid allegations of violence, child neglect and "brainwashing," according to a lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan's supreme court.
"Through methods traditionally utilized by cults to groom, intimidate, weaken, gaslight, and exploit their victims, OSG coerced and tricked its members," the suit contends.
"The members of the cult made Defendants Sharon Gans and others very rich."
Ex-members Stephanie Rosenberg and Marjorie Hochman said they acted as servants to the Horns, sometimes working 80-hour weeks as they cooked, cleaned, chauffeured and shopped for the groups' leaders, the suit contends.
Hochman and Rosenberg spent more than a decade with Odyssey, joining in 2005 and making their "escapes" in 2016 and 2019, respectively, according to the complaint.
The suit — brought against alleged study group leaders and Horn estate managers Minerva Taylor, Lorraine Imlay and Michael Horn — demands wages for the alleged unpaid labor and a reimbursement of the many $400 fees collected.
Attorney Mordy Yanovich, who represents the two women, did not immediately respond to Patch's request for comment. Patch was unable to reach the alleged members named in the suit for comment
This is not Odyssey leaders' first brush with public scandal, according to the suit and multiple reports.
The Horns fled San Francisco about 1978, when allegations of child abuse and financial crimes linked to their first group, the Theatre Of All Possibilities, were published in the San Francisco Chronicle, the suit contends.
Theatre of All Possibilities students told the Chronicle and San Francisco officials they paid thousands of dollars in cash to learn philosophic techniques of Russian philosophers George Ivanovich Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky.
But the former members became disenchanted with the theatre as they witnessed its leaders beat actors, arrange marriages, pressure students to procreate and leave children neglected backstage, according to the 1978 report.
A few years after fleeing San Francisco, Gans and Horn quietly launched the Odyssey Study Group in Manhattan, according to a 2019 New York Post report.
Donations from would-be philosophy students allowed the Horns to buy a Garment District loft, a ranch in Montana, a Mexico City villa and an $8 million Plaza Hotel condo bedecked with Renaissance art replicas and a bold color motif, according to the Post.
As the leaders lived a luxury lifestyle, they controlled students through verbal abuse and the promise of self-development through physical labor, such as building lodges on an upstate New York property in Pawling, the Post reported.
Students suffered sleep deprivation, psychotic breaks, separation from their families, yet many remained with the group for years, according to the Post and lawsuit.
"I think it's a part of the modern condition," one former member told the Post. "We are lonely. I think we are all really lonely."
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