Orlando -- The Kashi community in Roseland has all the makings of a quintessential cult, a psychologist studying the group said Friday.
However, Kashi representatives questioned the findings and said other studies were more positive about the North Indian River County community.
During the past 10 months, Paul Martin, director of Wellspring Retreat, a residential treatment program for ex-cult members in Albany, Ohio, said he has interviewed 21 ex-members of Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati's Kashi Ashram at 11155 Roseland Road.
During more than 35 hours of interviews, the ex-members expressed consistent themes about how the group operated, he said, themes that showed the members were subject to mind control techniques.
As a group, the members also scored the highest Martin said he has ever seen on a psychological test designed to measure psychological abuse.
Martin was unveiling his research during a panel at the American Family Foundation's annual meeting Friday and today in Orlando. The foundation is a tax-exempt organization formed in 1979 to help ex-cult members and their families.
Kashi resident Mata Giri Perkins said after the panel that nothing she heard reflected her 25 years experience at Kashi.
Perkins, who heads a Kashi business that produces tapes and videos, also said she was not attending the conference as a representative of Kashi.
Kashi spokeswoman Sita Ganga questioned Martin's credentials Friday evening and added there are other studies that speak very positively about Kashi.
"For every expert in the world there's a counter expert," she said. "Has his (Martin's) work been published? Reviewed?" she said.
Before completing his research, Martin said he "desperately wants to get in touch with about 60 additional ex-Kashi members," who have been "too scared to talk" to him.
However, four ex-Kashi members participating in Martin's research were not too scared to speak, telling the panel audience in passionate terms how they joined Kashi and why they left.
Among them was Richard Rosenkranz, a longtime Kashi resident and media spokesman, who became a vocal critic of the group during his recent divorce from Kashi insider Gina Belli.
Rosenkranz had hired Martin to determine if Bhagavati had coerced him into the marriage. "The evidence," Martin said, "was very compelling in (Rosenkranz's) case... He was married because of undue influence. Clear and simple," he said.
The Rosenkranz research also led Martin to begin interviewing other ex-Kashi members for the more in-depth project, which Martin said he plans to publish in "Cultic Studies Journal."
Other panelists included 15-year Kashi devotee Lyn Deadmore, of Atlanta, and Dr. Harry Brodie and his wife Roseanne Henry, who flew in from Littleton, Colo., where Henry counsels ex-cult members and Brodie has a family medical practice.
All said they came to Bhagavati's teaching seeking spiritual guidance and left with tortured dreams and broken hearts that have taken years to heal.
But Ganga said, in a prepared statement, "Let us put this in perspective. These are people who are no longer a part of the Kashi community who are disgruntled and disillusioned with their own choices."