Families, old loyalties abandoned

Devotion: As Scott Caruthers tightened his circle of followers, the details of his 'mission' grew clearer. So did the price to be paid.

March 06, 2000|By Dan Fesperman and Ann LoLordo | Dan Fesperman and Ann LoLordo,SUN STAFF

For Scott A. Caruthers, the cast was assembled. The wealth he had always wanted was in place. And by 1997, all that was left to gain from those around him was a loyalty of such intensity it would wrench apart friendships, lifestyles, marriages and religious beliefs.

Such devotion would also mean abandoning homes and neighborhoods, and Caruthers led the way. He and companion Dashielle Lashra moved from the lowlands of Anne Arundel County to a two-story colonial amid the hills of Carroll County, in an isolated subdivision near Westminster.

According to documents and interviews, the move to higher ground was part of a long-term plan to survive cataclysmic "Earth changes" predicted by Caruthers. In that context, even his new address seemed like a portent: Scott Drive.

Not everyone in Caruthers' inner circle had stayed the course, and not all of his ventures had been a success.

Longtime girlfriend Randi Baverman moved to North Carolina, where she is married and a vice president for Bank of America. She refused requests for an interview.

Commercially, Caruthers' invention of a no-grip dumbbell failed, and the company that collected $2.7 million from investors to market it, Strongput, went broke. But a deal negotiated by a business partner helped Caruthers emerge from the wreckage with a directorship in a new company, Carnegie International Corp., and stock worth millions.

The new household on Scott Drive included Irmina Dzambo, who'd left her husband, family and past identity in 1985 to become Dashielle Lashra; and Steve Rainess, a T-shirt maker from Glen Burnie who had severed ties to his parents and become Caruthers' bodyguard. Soon joining them was Debra Hackerman, a fitness trainer who'd helped write Strongput's exercise manual. She had divorced her husband, Tim, and moved in with their 8-year-old daughter. Later she changed her name to Dulsa Naedek.

David Pearl, Caruthers' longtime lawyer and business partner, moved with wife Susan and their two teen-age children to another house nearby. Pearl's former law partner, Richard Gershberg, also involved in Caruthers' business ventures, later moved to the area with wife Elaine and their two teen-agers.

A new couple entered Caruthers' orbit when Lewis Dardick, 37, left his job in the Baltimore City auditor's office in 1997 to join Gershberg and Associates in Owings Mills. He and his wife, Amy, 34, had known the Gershbergs for years.

Dardick soon noticed Caruthers and Lashra around the office and thought they seemed odd. "Then one day I see those two kind of glide by my window outside, and I said, `I don't know what it is about those people, it's like they're from another planet.' And [Richard Gershberg] said, `You've been skirting around this for months. I've been waiting for you to ask the question you finally have, and there's a protocol to follow.' "

"What the hell are you talking about?" Dardick asked.

"This is serious," Gershberg answered. "Pearl is involved. A lot of people are involved. And you know that I'm not a stupid man and I don't accept things easily and I ask a lot of questions. I have to make a phone call, and I'll get back to you."

Over the next few weeks, Dardick said, Gershberg implied Caruthers and Lashra had connections in the intelligence community and were bearers of a vital message. A meeting was arranged at a Fourth of July party at the home of a business associate in Bel Air.

"We were standing around chatting like you would at a party, kids running around," Dardick said. Caruthers "must have talked to me for an hour straight without a breath. He told me that I had some higher degree of intellect and that I understood the truth, that there were Earth changes taking place in the near future, basically to the point that the Earth's crust was going to shift. ... And the ultimate result would be that life as we know it on this planet would be changed, in chaos, and that they were preparing for this."

Caruthers told him he knew all this because of inside information from the intelligence community. He said compounds would be built to protect those with proper "training," but "only people with certain attributes would be qualified to be trained into a program of higher awareness," Dardick recalled. "The weird thing was that three black helicopters came over the house during the meeting, and he looked up kind of matter-of-factly and said, `Oh, they're checking on us.' It kind of made me think, like, `My God.' I think on the way home I said to Amy, `You'll never believe what I just found out.' She started laughing when I told her."

After that, Dardick said, "I started asking Gershberg and Pearl all kinds of questions, and they told me they were both in training for about the last 10 years. ... They told me they had visited Caruthers in the hospital after he was wounded [on a CIA mission]. They were preaching things like, `We're about truth and goodness and love.' "

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