Jul 10, 2022

Odyssey Study Group cult still going strong after death of charismatic leader Sharon Gans

Isabel Vincent
NY Post
July 9, 2022

The charismatic leader of a cult that recruited Manhattan’s wealthy and powerful may have died last year, but her notorious movement is still thriving.

The Odyssey Study Group, also known as The Work and A Fourth Way School, 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.

OSG, which was registered as a for-profit company in 2001, currently has more than 200 members on the East Coast, a cult expert and former member both told The Post.

“It’s a very bizarre kind of group because they are generally wealthy and highly educated Harvard, Yale and Wharton types,” said Rick Alan Ross, author of the 2014 book “Cults Inside out: How People Get in and Can Get Out” and executive director of Cult Education Institute, which has studied the group since 2001.

“When people say that people in New York City are much too smart to get involved in a cult, it just means that the cult is very sophisticated and slick,” Ross said, adding that OSG’s survival has a lot to do with its cash flow.

Under former leader Sharon Gans Horn — who died from COVID complications in January 2021 at the age of 85 — the group was generating more than $1.2 million a year, just in member dues paid in cash, said Ross.

The group, which meets twice weekly in an office building on West 38th Street and an Upper West Side Church, is now run by four alleged longtime members handpicked by Gans Horn, according to a recent class-action lawsuit.

Gans Horn, a one-time Hollywood actress who had a small part in the 1972 film version of “Slaughterhouse-Five,” also left the bulk of her $3.275 million estate to some members.

“According to the purported will and testamentary trusts … defendant Sharon Gans Horn bequeathed her interest in OSG to defendants Minerva Taylor, Lorraine Imlay, Greg Koch, and Ken Salaz,” according to the lawsuit.

The defendants have long been leaders of OSG, according to a source. Co-executor Michael Horn, 64, is Gans Horn’s stepson and is not a member of the cult, according to the source.

Taylor, 71, who has a five-bedroom home in East Hampton, founded a Manhattan recruiting firm — Taylor Hodson, Inc. — in December 1994, according to public records; Gans Horn is alleged to have been a silent partner in the business, according to the source. Taylor’s specialty is recruitment of new members, the source said, and her company employs many alleged members of the cult.

“I am surprised Greg Koch made the cut,” said a former cult member who last year posted his views about the group on Cult Revolt, a blog started by Schneider. “I remember him being brutally set upon by Alex Horn [Gans Horn’s husband] and the older students one night … Greg was in tears and I felt sorry for him.”

Imlay, a ceramic artist, is a retired New York City teacher. Now 74, she has lived in the same four-bedroom West Village co-op since 2003, public records show. She met Gans Horn and Alex Horn in San Francisco in the 1980s, and was described as the leader’s “body person” or assistant.

Salaz is among the younger alleged leaders of the group. At 52, he is an artist and magician who lives in Croton-on-Hudson, according to public records. He was described as a protege of Alex Horn by the source.

A lawyer representing Taylor, Koch, Salaz, Imlay and Horn declined comment.

The class-action suit, filed in Manhattan State Supreme Court last year, was brought by Stephanie Rosenberg and Marjorie Hochman, who both fled OSG after spending years involved with the cult. They claim that they were used by the group as slave labor — cooking and cleaning for twice weekly meetings in Manhattan and laboring on renovations to luxury properties used by Gans Horn that often required them to do construction and painting into the wee hours.

“Through methods traditionally utilized to groom, intimidate, weaken, gaslight, and exploit their victims, OSG coerced and tricked its members into, among other things … paying it monthly fees and performing many hours of labor without compensation,” the lawsuit says.

“We filed a complaint alleging that these members were employees because they worked for the defendants’ for-profit company and never got paid,” said Mordy Yankovich, a partner in Lieb at Law, PC representing plaintiffs Rosenberg and Hochman.

“Vindictive” late leader Gans Horn “intentionally excluded” her own children from the 2015 will “for reasons that are known to them,” according to court papers.

“She was like a human wrecking ball,” said Ross, alleging that Gans Horn broke up the marriages of cult members, encouraged some to engage in affairs with each other, and organized adoptions of followers’ children. “She was incredibly vindictive.”

Gans Horn’s own offspring, Ilsa Lee Kaye and son David Kulko, were estranged from her, although Kaye’s children were not excluded from the will, court documents show.

The cult’s success had much to do with Gans Horn, who has been described as a narcissist, Ross said.

“The whole thing is a pyramid scheme and a hoax,” said Spencer Schneider, a former OSG member who has written “Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos and Survival,” a tell-all book out now about the cult. “It’s a long haul hoax and Sharon was a genius at going after vulnerable people with money.”

According to Schneider, who spent 23 years as part of the group, members paid $400 in cash in dues to Gans Horn, who would then direct them to help renovate her compounds in Manhattan, the Hamptons, upstate New York, Montana and even Mexico. She owned a luxurious home in San Miguel de Allende, bought in 2004. She later sold the property to Taylor, according to public records.

Taylor and her then-husband followed Gans Horn and Alex Horn from San Francisco to the East Coast in the early 1980s, according to a source and public documents.

In addition to the vacation home in Mexico, Taylor is listed as the “registered agent” on the LLC that bought Gans Horn’s sprawling $8.5 million Plaza Hotel residence where she died in January 2021. Taylor was also named as an investor in the property, along with Gans Horn and three others, including Manhattan hedge fund owner Joseph Stilwell, who signed the deed documents in 2008, public and court records show.

Gans and her playwright husband, 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. Its principles are based on the teachings of George Ivanovich Gurdieff, a Russian mystic and philosopher, who also inspired the Fellowship of Friends, a California-based cult popular with Google employees.

Gans and Horn shuttered their San Francisco theater in December 1978 when they learned that police and social welfare investigators were interviewing their former students who alleged child neglect, sexual abuse and beatings, according to Ross.

The couple 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.

Ross said that he believes the cult will continue although the loss of their “philosopher queen” Gans has likely hit them hard.

“It’s no different than Scientology,” said Schneider, an attorney. “That group continued even after the death of their founder.”


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