Team 4: Update On Former Local Scheme Artist

Channel 4 Action News/November 25, 2004
By Jim Parsons

As families gather for Thanksgiving, there are some in our area who are suffering because relatives are not there.

They have cut themselves off from family members, after deciding to follow a man some say is a cult leader.

Investigative reporter Jim Parsons has the story of Ed Lamont, former pyramid scheme architect, now alleged cult leader.

We first introduced you to Ed Lamont back in 2000, when he was running an Internet-based pyramid scheme here called Lamont left Pittsburgh shortly after we exposed his scheme, but he took his followers with him.

Now, several years later, three Pittsburgh families tell Team 4 that their loved ones have followed Lamont to Las Vegas, where they say he has taken control of their minds.

Lamont, from 2001: "My name is Ed Lamont, and I commend you for being here, and I'll tell you why."

Lamont, success trainer. That's what Team 4 found him doing in Baltimore in 2001, after our first investigation chased him out of the 'burgh.

Even back when he was running his pyramid scheme, Lamont liked to make grandiose claims.

Lamont, from July 2000: "We're going to help more people get wealthy in Pittsburgh than any other industry in the history of the world."

And who could forget this line?

Lamont: "I'm probably the most ethical person. I gave more money to charity last year than you made."

The Federal Trade Commission took a different view of Lamont's ethics, banning him from running any multilevel marketing schemes for the rest of his life.

It has been three years since Lamont was forced to stop running his investment scheme in western Pennsylvania, following Team 4's investigation. And yet, in Las Vegas, he has found a way to continue to cause pain for some families around Pittsburgh.

Judy Pietz, Lamont follower's sister: "I really thought I would be able to get through to her, but it didn't touch her. It was just like I was talking to a zombie."

Pietz, of Cranberry, has been trying to get through to her sister, Maura Miller, for five years. Miller joined up with Lamont then, and is still with him now. Video from a month ago shows Miller leaving the home in Las Vegas where Lamont now resides.

Miller is one of eight young people who continue to follow Lamont. But these days, they're not running a pyramid scheme. They're in a rock band. They call it Ginger Ale.

Pietz: "They're all going to make $1 million and they're going to win a Grammy. And the reason they are going to win a Grammy is because they have researched what it takes to get a Grammy and they know exactly how to practice and how to perform and how to market themselves to get a Grammy."

BJ Maley: "It certainly sounds like brainwashing to me."

Maley, a Chicago attorney, met another of Lamont's followers last spring when he was in Las Vegas for a conference.

Maley says he was having a drink at a bar inside Mandalay Bay casino when Heather Youngblood approached him at a bar and asked him to buy a Ginger Ale CD.

Maley: "She indicated that they're part of a band that is on a program called the Grammy program, which is just designed to bring the band to success. Part of what they are doing to support the band to begin with is each of the female members go out and their quota is to sell at least 15 CDs of the band each night. I listened to the CD. It's a little rough."

Parsons: "What do you mean, a little rough?"

Maley: "I mean, I don't see them getting that Grammy any time soon."

Maley: "She actually talks as if she believes the group is good and she's excited about it. Either she's a very good scam artist or she's been fooled into believing this by the leader of the group. I don't know which."

Licensed mental health counselor Steve Hassan [Warning: Steve Hassan is not recommended by this Web site. Read the detailed disclaimer to understand why.] believes it's the latter.

Hassan: "They literally believe that he's enlightened. They call him the coach, and they think that his music is going to win a Grammy. They've been saying this for years. I've personally listened to his music and I think it's atrocious."

Hassan is the author of a best-selling book. He has also helped two families rescue their loved ones from Lamont's grip.

Hassan: "In his case, his cult is very small, so I would say he's not a very successful cult leader. Nevertheless, the small cadre of people who are totally dependent on him will do almost anything he says."

Sean Grimm, former Lamont follower: "I think it has to do with self-esteem. These are college-educated people."

Grimm left Lamont and his group back in 2001. He says he was hooked to Lamont for a while.

Grimm: "He makes them feel good. Yeah, they might be on their seventh hotel, but he'll still stroke the girls and tell them he loves them. 'Hang in there baby, we're going to get it, OK, we weren't successful in business, we'll start a band, you're a good singer.' You know what I mean?"

For family members like Pietz, the pain is genuine and the hope is fading.

Pietz: "I hope that there's a little spark of her left inside somewhere in her brain that maybe the things we say will go through that little part, and eventually it just might hit her. They worship him. It's just awful. When she says his name, it's like she's talking about a god."

Two other Pittsburgh families told us off-camera that they, too, have been pleading with their daughters to leave Lamont's group and come home. Like Miller, they told their families they are going to make $1 million with Lamont.

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