THE leader of a secretive NYC “cult” – that Adam Driver’s mother-in-law was a member of for years – once blamed and openly mocked a follower for the sexual abuse they suffered as a child, according to a lawsuit.
Spencer Schneider, 63, was a member of the Manhattan-based Odyssey Study Group (OSG) for almost 25 years before he left the sect in 2013 after suffering what he told The U.S. Sun was a “complete mental breakdown”.
Founded by the late one-time actress Sharon Gans and her husband Alex Horn, OSG is a self-described esoteric school – and alleged cult – that has a sordid history of alleged sex scandals, child abuse, and accusations of racism and rampant homophobia.
Under the guise of achieving higher enlightenment, recruited members of the group are asked to fork over $400 per month to attend twice-weekly “lectures” and classes based on the teachings of two Russian philosophers who preached that hard labor and intentional suffering were the keys to self-improvement.
Before she died from Covid-19 in 2021, Gans would regularly lead these classes at OSG, dispensing what she called “ancient wisdom” to her subjects, promising to better their lives.
However, according to Schneider and other former members, Gans actually used these lectures to bully, humiliate and brainwash members of the school – emotionally beating them into compliance and cultivating a culture of fear to deter any detractors.
Schneider filed a lawsuit against the estate of Gans and her alleged successors in December, claiming to be the victim of a decades-long scheme in which he was manipulated and terrorized into performing thousands of hours of unpaid labor.
Filed in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, Schneider alleges violations of federal human trafficking laws and is seeking damages for years of forced labor.
Included as part of the suit is a litany of disturbing allegations outlining various cases of abuse Scheider claims to have either witnessed or suffered first-hand during his time in Gans’ orbit.
In one such incident, Schneider claims Gans commanded a room full of students to reveal their childhood trauma, the suit states.
At Gans’ direction, per the suit, Schneider divulged to her and a room for his peers how he was sexually abused by a male camp counselor when he was just 14 years old.
Schneider had apparently never told anyone about the abuse before.
But instead of reacting with sympathy, Gans allegedly told him and the other students gathered that Schneider was not the victim of abuse but rather that he had been “experimenting” with his attacker.
She also advised him to simply “cease” thinking about the incident, he claims.
“On multiple occasions thereafter, Gans Horn openly questioned whether Schneider was heterosexual and intentionally left Schneider with the impression that his childhood sexual abuse was his fault,” the suit reads.
“In this way, Gans Horn obtained sensitive information about Schneider – another method used by the Organization to ensure Schneider’s continued participation in it – and used shame and humiliation to maintain control over [him].”
CULTURE OF FEAR
It was common practice for Gans and members of her inner circle to obtain sensitive and private information about OSG’s students to disincentivize them from leaving the group for fear the information could be used against them, Schneider claims in his suit.
Under a subheading titled “COLLATERAL”, Schneider lists several instances in which Gans allegedly used sensitive information to keep other OSG members in line.
“At times, when a Student broke a rule, including by failing to adhere to one of Sharon Gans Horn’s directives, Gans Horn disclosed personal and sensitive information, obtained by her through members of the Inner Circle […] about the students to others,” reads the lawsuit.
“Sharon Gans Horn frequently, and without warning, openly discussed during Class Students’ marital problems and intimate details about their sex lives, and encouraged adultery among Students.
“Scheider lived in fear that Gans Horn would publicly discuss
intimate details about his and [his wife’s] sex life, encourage his spouse to sleep with other Students of Gans Horn’s choosing, or demand that Schneider and [his wife] divorce.”
After he left OSG in 2013, Schneider claims cans told other students that he was “gay and had never once had sexual relations with his wife.”
Schneider separated from his spouse in 2009, allegedly under the instructions of Gans.
His ex-wife was not named in the suit but The U.S. Sun identified her as Cynthia May in an exclusive report last month.
May, 67, is the mother of actress Joanne Tucker. Tucker has been married to Star Wars star Adam Driver for a decade.
May’s involvement in OSG was confirmed by Schneider who wrote a tell-all book about the alleged cult last year.
While May was referred to under the pseudonym “Beth” in Schneider’s book, The U.S. Sun was first able to verify her identity through divorce records, which Schneider later confirmed.
While he’s unsure if May is still a member of the group, she was once a “teacher” at OSG, Schneider said.
Being anointed with the title of “teacher” was considered the highest honor inside the group and akin to being Gans’ lieutenant, he added.
In Gans’ absence, teachers would lead lessons on her behalf, conducting the classes just as she would.
“[A teacher] is like a lieutenant for Sharon, kind of running the classes when she’s not there, keeping tabs on other students and doing whatever Sharon would do,” he explained.
“They were her eyes, her ears, and her enforcers.
“Sharon didn’t show up all the time, so the teachers would run the classes and do everything she did.”
There is no suggestion that Adam Driver or Joanne Tucker are in any way involved with the group.
However, Schneider said he thinks Joanne was “aware” of who Gans was, adding that she and her siblings “hated” the eccentric sect leader.
He also said that while children weren’t permitted to attend OSG meetings, they were periodically invited to retreats with the group.
Schneider’s son once attended a retreat in Montana, he said. It’s unclear whether Tucker or any of her siblings ever interacted directly with Gans or other members of the OSG clan.
“[Driver and Tucker] have no involvement in it whatsoever. None,” adamantly stated Schneider.
“I know Adam and Joanne very well, they’re my stepdaughter and son-in-law.
“They have no involvement in it, [but] I think Joanne knows about Sharon, you know, she knows about that.
“But they all have no involvement at all and they didn’t like Sharon, the kids.
“They all hated her,” he added. “They all hated her.”
Requests for comment sent to May, Driver, and Tucker previously went unanswered. This story will be updated if The U.S. Sun receives a response.
When Gans passed away from Covid-19 in 2021, she left her $3.275 million estate to a handful of members who now allegedly oversee the group, as well as her stepson who is not associated with OSG.
Those alleged members were named in Schneider’s lawsuit as Minerva Taylor, Lorraine Imlay, Greg Koch, and Ken Salaz.
Taylor, 71, founded a Manhattan recruiting firm, Taylor Hodson Inc., in December 1994 – and Gans was long-rumored to be a silent partner in the business.
Cynthia May also worked for a number of years at Taylor Hodson, earning the title of vice president and senior account executive. It’s unclear if she’s still employed with the firm.
Schneider first met May in the fall of 1996 after being invited by a friend to play bass at a local dance studio where May was involved in a production.
At the time – as Schneider details in his book, Manhattan Cult Story: My Unbelievable True Story of Sex, Crimes, Chaos, and Survival – May (“Beth”) had only recently rejoined OSG having previously been kicked out by Gans for reasons unknown.
Gans immediately instructed Schneider to get together with May, telling him “you’d be perfect together,” he recounted.
At times, when a Student broke a rule, including by failing to adhere to one of Sharon Gans Horn’s directives, Gans Horn disclosed personal and sensitive information, obtained by her through members of the Inner Circle […] about the students to others.
Under Gans’ instruction, the pair started dating. Within weeks they were engaged and within months they were married – much to the delight of their orange-haired overlord.
It was one day in 1998, after receiving a phone call from Gans, that Spencer, then 37, began questioning his involvement in OSG having spent the better part of a decade in its ranks.
As Schneider remembers it, Gans called him to inform him she was worried about May, then 42, having a child.
“I don’t like the idea of Cynthia getting pregnant, at her age it’s potentially dangerous,” she apparently told him, per his book.
“The child could have down syndrome and you would have to put it up for adoption.”
As Schneider tried to assure Gans all would be fine, she told him he should have sex with his 19-year-old step-daughter “Hannah” instead.
“No Spencer, what you can do is impregnate Hannah, she can carry the baby, and you and Beth can raise the baby as your own,” Gans allegedly instructed.
When asked if she was serious, he says she told him: “Of course. I’m sure Hannah would be happy to do this. She’s still young. She would do it for you.”
The true identity of “Hannah” is not clear.
But Schneider refused Gans’ direction and thankfully, he said, she didn’t push the matter further.
In his book, Schneider also recounts the moment he informed his wife of the sickening suggestion. While May shook her head in disbelief, it wasn’t enough to make either of them consider leaving OSG at that time, he said.
“Sharon was suggesting that I engage in incest to conceive a child,” writes Schneider in his book.
“This child would be the grandchild of my wife, the child of my stepdaughter, and the niece or nephew of my other stepchildren. It was repugnant and I never considered it for a second. But I did overlook it.
“Not because I thought Sharon was demented but because I thought, in my compromised condition, that Sharon was a free spirit — uninhibited and unconstrained from all conventions — and that someone of her “hippie mindset” would of course recommend this. I gave her a pass. A big one.”
Schneider and May eventually conceived a child naturally together in 1999.
He tried to convince his wife to leave OSG in the early 2000s after an exodus among long-serving members, he claims.
However, May refused and was later awarded the title of “teacher” for her loyalty.
“I’ve been with Sharon so long in School,” May is reported to have told him. “If I left it would be like admitting I wasted my whole life on a fraud.”
Reluctantly, Spencer agreed to stay too as he was scared that Gans would try to tear his family apart if he decided to leave.
However, his marriage to May began to unravel by the close of the decade with Schneider believing his wife valued the group more than she did their relationship.
Gans, after being informed of their issues, ordered them to see a marriage counselor she had personally chosen.
The counselor, Schneider believes, was just a mouthpiece for Gans and her twisted rhetoric.
His belief, he says, was evidenced by one interaction in which the doctor asked May: “Did it ever occur to you that maybe the reason your husband and you don’t have sex anymore is because he is a homosexual?”
Schneider took the question to be a reference to the childhood sexual abuse he’d disclosed during one of Gans’ lectures years earlier.
Despite their best efforts to reconcile, Schneider and May split in 2009.
According to his book, she turned to him one night that year and casually told him: “Oh, I hired a divorce lawyer today. Where do you want him to serve the papers on you?”
Schneider immediately suspected Gans’ involvement. Surely enough, the following day, he received a call from his increasingly estranged mentor, telling him he needed to settle the divorce quickly, amicably, and out of court.
Under Gans’ proposed settlement Schneider would have to give up complete custody of his son.
Schneider, an attorney, refused the terms and instead settled his divorce through the courts, retaining partial custody.
After years of alleged bullying, instances of public shaming, and other emotional and physical abuses, Schneider finally decided to leave OSG in 2013.
Having lost his marriage and with his legal practice suffering significant financial hardships, he suffered a “complete mental breakdown” in late 2012, before he really began questioning his association with Gans and what OSG really was.
“I honestly, like I didn’t think it was a cult until the day after I left and then it just all tumbled down,” Schneider told The U.S. Sun last year.
“Then it was like, ‘Oh wow, that was a cult’ – I’ll never forget that feeling.”
A NEW START
Schneider said it has taken 10 years “and counting” to rebuild his life after leaving OSG.
In his lawsuit, Schneider says that during his more than two decades under Gans’ spell, he
was required to perform numerous duties – including construction, cooking gourmet meals for Gans, caring for her dying husband, and acting as her chauffeur – all in the name of personal growth.
At the same time, Schneider says he was shelling out monthly for “courses” that he was told would make him a better, more successful person.
In total, he estimates he’s paid the group more than $100,000 in tuition and other payments.
OSG required members to follow a strict set of rules, and punished those who strayed, the lawsuit says.
The group also systematically isolated its members from the outside world while also controlling all of their interactions within the organization, per the court papers.
“Sharon Gans Horn, together with the Organization and the rest of the Inner Circle, commanded Students who to date and have sex with, when and who to marry, when to have children, when not to have children, when to have children and give them up for adoption, when to pay and how much to pay in child support, when to shun their children, when to divorce, whether to have abortions, and whether to have a vasectomy or tubal ligation,” the suit alleges.
“To maintain control and ensure that the Students adhered to her whims, Gans Horn engaged in unpredictable and outrageous conduct, and in an instant, would deliberately upend the lives of her students by making a demand of the Students regarding their personal lives.”
Lawyers for Gans Horn’s estate, Imlay, Taylor, and Koch have not commented publicly on the suit.
The case remains active.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/7639205/manhattan-cult-adam-driver-sharon-gans-sexual-abuse/ Leader of cult Adam Driver’s mom-in-law was involved in had ‘victim-blamed member for abuse and quizzed his sexuality’