Woman, 87, alleges $790,000 scheme

March 15, 1994|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Sun Staff Writer

Helen Overington says she thought she had signed up for nothing more than a magazine subscription when telephone solicitors from a Lyndon LaRouche organization contacted her in 1989.

But what started with a simple $2.50 pledge spiraled into a scheme that cost Mrs. Overington $790,000, according to a lawsuit the 87-year-old woman has filed against the group.

After gaining her trust, the group used sophisticated fund-raising tactics, isolating her from family and friends while draining her of cash and stocks, according to the suit filed in federal court in Baltimore.

The complaint is similar to several others that have been filed against the perennial presidential candidate and his organizations nationwide. In 1989, Mr. LaRouche was convicted of mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy in a $25 million fund-raising scheme. He was released from prison in January.

Another defendant in the suit, Rochelle Ascher, headed the group's phone team in Baltimore, and later was convicted in Virginia of securities fraud connected with LaRouche-related activities.

Mira L. Boland, who has investigated the LaRouche organization for the Anti-Defamation League in Washington, said the LaRouche people "have used extremely high-pressure tactics against chiefly elderly people, some of whom have Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia."

LaRouche's national spokesman denies that anyone has been cheated, least of all Mrs. Overington, and called the allegations "completely absurd." "She was a frequent visitor to our office, and participated in meetings and demonstrations," said Debra Freeman, who works out of the group's Vero Road office.

According to the suit:

Employees of Southeast Political Literature Sales & Distribution Inc., a LaRouche organization, first contacted the former teacher at her apartment on W. 39th Street in Baltimore. Mrs. Overington, a contributor to conservative political causes in the past, agreed to subscribe to an organization magazine and sent a check for $2.50. She was called back and notified that there had been a misunderstanding -- the subscription cost $250. Embarrassed, she agreed to pay the difference.

Within a few weeks, employees of Southeast showed up at her apartment and elicited three separate contributions totaling $17,000. As pleas for money continued -- always emphasizing an urgent need for cash -- Mrs. Overington was advised not to disclose the donations to her children. The children would frown upon the contributions in favor of selfish interests, Southeast's solicitors told her.

On several occasions, employees even drove her to her hometown, Waynesboro, Pa., so she could retrieve stock certificates from a safety deposit box. By the end of 1989, she had signed over stocks valued at nearly $570,000.

When she told the LaRouche workers that she might not be able to afford her traditional $3,000 Christmas gift to each of her children, they wrote her a check for $16,000. That step kept the family from being alerted to the cash drain, according to the suit.

When her children finally learned of the money their mother had given Southeast, they arranged a meeting with investigators familiar with the LaRouche organizations. Southeast employees told Mrs. Overington that her children were acting out of greed and self-interest.

The lawsuit asks for triple damages.

But Ms. Boland said that recovering money from the group is difficult "because these people are experts at not having assets in their names or the corporate names."

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