NYC cult bought $925K upstate retreat, uses ‘forced labor’ to dig ditches: source

NYC cult bought $925K upstate retreat

New York Post/July 23, 2022

By Isabel Vincent

A Manhattan cult that preys upon wealthy New Yorkers is expanding upstate, and putting new recruits to work on round-the-clock renovations and landscaping, according to public records and a source close to the group.

On June 29, 2021, a private company linked to members of Odyssey Study Group bought a sprawling compound on 100 wooded acres in the outskirts of Margaretville, a village of 700 nestled in the Catskill Mountains. The property was purchased six months after the death of OSG’s longtime leader, Sharon Gans Horn, an erstwhile actor who had a small part in the 1972 film “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

Also known as The Work and A Fourth Way School, the group under Gans Horn’s leadership has long been accused of sexual and child abuse as well as siphoning cash from its members to pay for its leaders’ extravagant lifestyles in Manhattan, Boston, the Hamptons and Mexico.

Beginning in February, a group of some 15 new recruits, who pay $400 a month to participate in twice weekly “study” sessions in Manhattan, was driven to the Margaretville property and put to work digging ditches for the construction of a pavilion, the source told The Post. The local municipality approved a permit on May 27 to build a 2,880 square foot pavilion on the property, according to public records.

Manhattan cult Odyssey Study Group is accused of forcing new members of digging ditches on their new property on the outskirts of Margaretville,

“They are building the pavilion and also farming,” the source told The Post, adding that the property will likely be used as a retreat for the group. OSG has held retreats at properties in Montana, and the Boston-based arm of the group owns three adjacent properties in rural New Hampshire bought between 1997 and 2001, which altogether are now worth more than $1 million, according to public records.

“They get members to do all the work,” the source claimed. “Long hours. No pay. Intense. People are taken there [Margaretville] without knowing where they’re going.”

Gans Horn and her playwright husband Alex Horn, who died in 2007, co-founded OSG in San Francisco in the 1970s. The group, known then as Theater of All Possibilities, was partly set up to put on plays by Horn.

Odyssey Study Group’s new fancy property boasts three bedrooms, two full baths and a garage.

The group was founded by the late couple Sharon Gans Horn, a sometimes actor, and her husband, playwright Alex Horn.

The couple shuttered their San Francisco theater in December 1978 when they learned that police and social welfare investigators were interviewing their former students who alleged sexual abuse and beatings, according to reports. Gans Horn and her husband fled first to Montana, and then ended up in New York City in the 1980s when they established OSG and lived in a series of opulent homes, including an apartment in Greenwich Village where actress Marisa Tomei was their next-door neighbor.

The group registered OSG as a for-profit company in 2001, and currently has 200 members on the East Coast, cult experts say.

Spencer Schneider, a New York attorney who spent 23 years in OSG and recently wrote a memoir about his experiences, “Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos, and Survival” said leaders regularly intruded into the personal lives of their “students.” Gans Horn arranged marriages, including Schneider’s, and at one point told him to impregnate his 19-year-old stepdaughter. He refused.

Photos shows the newly acquired Odyssey Study Group Catskills property located about 1600 ft above sea level, near East Branch Delaware River in the Catskills Mountains.
Odyssey Study Group recently got a permit to build a 2,880 square foot pavilion on their Catskills property, according to public records.
Paul Martinka

Former OSG member Spencer Schneider said the group leaders use “mind control” on followers.

“It’s very heavy mind control,” Schneider told The Post Wednesday. “I know it’s hard to believe, but [members] just don’t look them up. They’re afraid to look. If you do look them up and tell someone about it, you are punished and berated in front of the group.”

The secluded three-bedroom property in the Catskills is located “at the very end of a town road rising several hundred feet” near a reservoir, according to a listing. The 3,161 square foot home has “soaring ceilings” and “theatrical lighting,” according to the listing. It also has “glass walls in unexpected spaces [that] suffuse rooms with light, creating angular luminous splashes everywhere,” the listing says. The $925,000 purchase was finalized in July 2021 by MR100 LLC, a private company controlled by Greg Koch, a contractor who has been accused of being one of the alleged leaders of OSG, according to court papers.

The new property is a sprawling compound on 100 wooded acres in Margaretville, NY, a village of 700 nestled in the Catskill Mountains.

Koch, along with three other alleged leaders, is named in a class-action law suit filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court last year by two women who accuse the group of using them as slave labor between 2005 and 2019. The women — Stephanie Rosenberg and Marjorie Hochman — said they worked for free, cleaning and doing renovations into the wee hours on luxury properties, including on an $8.5 million apartment in the Plaza Hotel used by Gans Horn as a residence before her death from COVID in January 2021.

At the time that he purchased the Margaretville property, Koch signed documents for an $832,500 mortgage granted by LDS New York Realty, a Massachusetts-based company, according to public records. That realty company is controlled by Paul Nickelsberg, who was among a small group of investors tied to another company — Unit 405 Plaza LLC — that bought Gans’ Plaza Hotel apartment in 2008, court records show. It’s not clear how many properties OSG currently owns. In the past, they owned properties in the Hamptons, Montana and Mexico.

Members of Sharon Gans’ so-called Theater of All Possibilities had previously claimed they were forced into marriages and physically abused.

Minerva Taylor, a leader of Odyssey Study Group, is apparently attempting to recruit younger Manhattan workers.

Odyssey Study Group Christmas party 1997. Members of Sharon Gans' so-called Theater of All Possibilities had come forward to claim they were pushed into marriages, beaten if they didn't sell tickets and had gone broke paying for classes -- while Gans lived it up in a tony home.

The group, which has hosted lavish dinners for members, has seen leaders accused of using people as slave labor.
Koch occupies the master bedroom in the Margaretville property, according to the source. “Everyone else sleeps on the floor,” the source said, adding that the group has stepped up its recruitment efforts since Gans Horn’s death. Leaders have prevailed upon members to encourage their friends to join the cause, the source said.

A 39-year-old New York City-based musician who did not want to be identified revealed that a friend recruited him to join OSG in April. “I was in a dark place and got together with a friend who belonged to OSG,” he told The Post. The friend who pressured him to join told him the group forbade members from consulting a therapist or researching the group online.

Another recent attempted recruit, a 23-year-old designer for a tech startup, told The Post that she was approached by Minerva Taylor, one of OSG’s leaders, at a coffee shop in June while she was chatting with friends. After a month during which they met to have coffee and chat, Taylor invited her to a meeting last week at a French evangelical church on West 16th St, she said.

“One of the things that was really off-putting at the meeting was that as Greg [Koch} was speaking, someone would go up to him and constantly serve him San Pellegrino water,” she told The Post Thursday. “At the end of the night when I asked if I could have one of the ten bottles of water that were left over, they said, ‘No, no, that’s only for the leaders.’”

The extravagant 3,161 square foot home in Catskills have “soaring ceilings” and “theatrical lighting,” according to the listing.

A young designer who was invited to group meetings by Minerva Taylor (above) told The Post that she was put off by seeing OSG members constantly serving a leader.

The designer said she left after one meeting, for which she said she paid $150. “I went home and started Googling everyone’s name, and found the lawsuit and all the articles about them. I never went back.”

OSG follows the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, a Russian mystic and philosopher, who also inspired the Fellowship of Friends, a California-based cult popular with Google employees, according to a lawsuit filed in California Superior Court in August.

“The basic thrust of OSG’s teachings is that mankind is asleep and in order to awaken they must attend an esoteric school — a hidden school that teaches higher knowledge and self-awareness,” Schneider said. “It’s similar to Scientology in that they have charismatic leaders and hand-picked successors, but the big difference is that OSG is completely hidden and secret. Nobody wants to talk about it.”

The newly acquired Odyssey Study Group Catskills property sits at a dead street on 1786 Ben Meeker Road in Margaretville, New York.

The musician said he was immediately suspicious but when he tried to distance himself from OSG, the pressure to stay increased.

“My alarm bells were ringing the moment my friend invited me,” he said, adding that he began researching the group and then confronted leaders at a “study session” last week.

Armed with a camera and microphone hidden in a pen, the musician said he asked the group about the class-action law suit and allegations of slave labor.

“They flat out denied the lawsuit and said they didn’t know who Sharon Gans was,” he said. “It was amazing, when I brought all of this up they did not flinch. It’s as if they were prepared for someone to ask all of these uncomfortable questions.”

A black van was spotted on the driveway of Odyssey Study Group’s property.

The property is “at the very end of a town road rising several hundred feet” near a reservoir, according to a listing.

“I went back and recorded a class because I wanted to help people understand how dangerous they are,” said the musician “Recruitment is a big deal with these people, and I got the sense they are expanding.”

Multiple requests for comment to a Manhattan lawyer representing Koch and other OSG members were not returned this week.

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