Alluring leader, devoted followers

Apocalyptic group known for lawsuits, retribution threats

October 07, 2001|By Dan Fesperman | Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

For one shining evening in 1999, Marylander Scott Caruthers was the toast of Philadelphia. The occasion was a $500,000 party that Caruthers threw for himself, celebrating an exhibit of his computer-generated drawings of starships and space aliens.

Three hundred guests glided among ice sculptures and spreads of lobster and caviar, while a dance band played late into the night. Caruthers arrived in a limousine with a woman on either arm - wife Dashielle Lashra on one side, live-in companion Dulsa Naedek on the other. Also close at hand was friend and lawyer David Pearl, a look of adoration on his face.

On Thursday, Caruthers, Pearl, Lashra and Naedek were together again, this time in more humble surroundings. They wore leg irons, handcuffs and the orange jumpsuits of the Carroll County jail, seated in a row before a Maryland District Court judge.

But it was Caruthers, 56, who was again the main attraction, named as the chief plotter in an alleged murder-for-hire conspiracy in which all four were charged on Wednesday. The scheme allegedly targeted four enemies from Caruthers' recent past.

To some acquaintances, it was an eerily predictable turn of events, having watched the group's casual friendships of the 1980s turn into the insular, obedient relationships associated with cults - a tight orbit of about 10 people, with Caruthers at the center. Theirs was a world in which talk of space aliens and imminent doom was commonplace, and where anyone questioning Caruthers was either written off, sued or threatened.

"Because of the type of apocalyptic information we were hearing about them, it certainly always had the potential for something like this," said Mark Powers, who helped investigate Caruthers several years ago for concerned family members. "An apocalyptic group, when pushed, takes care of the people who are pushing it."

Among those who were "pushing" Caruthers' group were three of the alleged murder targets - Timothy Hackerman, 41, Lewis Dardick, 42, and Michael Tulkoff, 38. Out of concern for family members caught up in the group, they tried to pry open its secrets, and in doing so they set off a spate of lawsuits and child custody actions.

Eventually, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission joined the fray, by opening an investigation of Carnegie International Corp., a company co-founded by Caruthers in 1996.

Another Carnegie co-founder, and its current chief executive, is the fourth alleged target for murder, E. David Gable, 51, who acquaintances say is well-positioned to damage Caruthers' reputation, not only in the SEC probe but in a Carnegie lawsuit against its former accounting firm. In addition, Gable and Lashra are adversaries in a civil suit filed this year in Baltimore County - a dispute over ownership of a bar.

The defendants' attorneys say it's ludicrous to think they'd want Gable killed, because that would hurt the value of the Carnegie stock shares they own. The so-called plot, their attorneys say, is itself a conspiracy against them.

"There is a lot of fog being created by a lot of people," attorney Richard Gershberg argued at a bail hearing Thursday on behalf of Caruthers, Lashra and Naedek. Gershberg is more than their attorney, a role he'll soon relinquish. He and his wife, Elaine, are among Caruthers' closest friends. He is also Pearl's former law partner, and Naedek's brother. And his wife, Elaine, may have best characterized the group's devotion to Caruthers in a journal entry made public last year. Dated Dec. 4, 1998, she wrote that even Richard would be an outcast if he didn't come around to Caruthers' way of living.

"I have been learning to distance myself from Rick for so many reasons," she wrote. "His psychometry is potentially a threat to everyone and everything, and I refuse to be culpable in harming our Commander, myself, or anyone else that is so important to the Program."

It is that brand of loyalty that has worried observers most during the past several years. But it took years for outside family members to find out what sort of relationships were evolving at Caruthers' home on a quiet suburban cul-de-sac just north of Westminster.

Caruthers grew up in Anne Arundel County. After dropping out of high school and washing out of the Army, he led a vagabond's existence that took him in and out of countless jobs and four marriages. Twice he took a new wife before divorcing the previous one, and according to one, he was talking of being chased by space aliens by age 17. A few years later he began making up stories about working for the military and the CIA.

Not until 1984, when he was 39, would his fortunes significantly improve, after he got an idea for a no-grip exercise weight called Strongput. Shaped like a miniature football helmet, it made a splash at fitness shows and on network television. But despite attracting $2.7 million in backing, mostly from a few hundred Marylanders, it never got off the ground, partly because it was so expensive to manufacture.

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