Business Cults - My Experience
Date: April 16, 2009 12:36AM
I’m writing my story in a few of these cult forums to let other people know that there are basically business cults masquerading as ‘spiritual’ that are conniving to control you and get your money. Maybe this isn’t shocking to you, but it should be for most everyone else, when you find out how rampant it is and how accepted and respected the people who run these groups are.
I’m a DDS and this happened to me in the dental industry, which I never would have believed if I hadn’t lived through it. I now know this can happen in any industry. After this happened to me, I did a lot of reading and found out it happens a lot in the “caring” professions, where the practitioners are most trusting and willing to jump through hoops to help people. In my case my being Christian probably didn’t help my situation, because I am always willing to see the best in people, no matter what.
I moved to the West Coast in 2001 to be closer to my sister and her husband and their church, and to set up a practice for myself. It was there I got involved with Higher Ground Dentistry. It was an organization involved with some of the larger Christian nondenominational churches in that area, and they focused on dentistry and nutrition with a religious theme.
Their leader, Bill Lee, is very charismatic, as with any cult, and he can be the most charming and spiritually-seeming person you’d ever meet. I knew Lee and the top leaders for a whole year and a half before I ever had a bad thought about them, even after they had manipulated me into paying them ridiculous fees and stressing me out so much I had to seek therapy, and even after some of my closest friends declared bankruptcy because of them.
I myself now owe them around $4,000, after paying them $9,000 (and I got off very lightly). The two lawyers I’ve consulted have told me I don’t have a case, and it’s true I wasn’t as careful as I should have been. This is why I’m writing this now though, so that other people will be careful when dealing with people who will lie to your face and do anything they can to control your life and your money.
Their group initially looks very helpful. They seem very successful from the outside. Bill Lee and his group tell you that you will be very successful if you partner with them in setting up your own practice, or a practice with other Higher Ground members. To be in the group, you have to pay member dues of varying amounts, and either volunteer with them, or ‘intern’ with their higher members.
I truly started out thinking that Lee was very spiritual, and very deep, and very much a man of integrity. Like most good conmen, he was able to really give the feeling across that he cared about you personally, even when he was speaking to many people at once. I had many conversations with Lee about the problems of the world, and how sin basically was a result of people not respecting each other and not taking their relationships with themselves, each other, and God seriously. Despite all of this, when it came down to doing business with him, he was a liar through and through. His words were just that; words, with no integrity whatsoever.
One of the things they tell you at the start is that you’ll be making a lot of money very quickly. To back this up, they have you meet with their people, and you hear their top dentists and nutritionists telling you how much money they make, and how they are seeing 100 new patients a month, and how if you follow their methods you’ll make a killing.
But the money isn’t even the biggest part of it. Because it’s also presented in a really Christian way. One of the things they like to say is that their members and their practices have brought a lot of people to Christ. That was the main part of what sold me. It was a feeling of being a part of a mission, and Lee is such a powerful, inspirational figure (when he’s got his gameface on), that you want to believe it. I did believe it.
I paid $500 to be a part of the group (some people paid as much as $1,500; it depended really on how much money they thought they could get from you), and this got you access to Lee’s people, and got you into his seminars and workshops. You also get to ‘work’ at the offices of other dentists, though in this case it’s basically just unpaid ‘internships’; they’re using the new recruits to do the work of the people who have been in it longer. In a way it was basically like a Ponzi scheme with labor instead of money. Though the money comes later, too.
One of the things I learned after I got involved with the group is that real questions or criticism are not accepted. Anyone who asked questions or tried to pull out of the group were treated like garbage. Heaven forbid you asked for your money back once you decided you had made a huge mistake. Physical intimidation was used in that case. Not direct, but implied by veiled threats about how something really bad might happen to your practice and your office if you didn’t get the support they provided.
Psychological intimidation was used more, though; they were very good at using guilt to their advantage. Because that bond we had to the group was real, and the Higher Ground people didn’t want us to forget “how much we owed them”. Also, Lee is so convincing that many people simply don’t want to disappoint him, even after he’s hurt them directly.
I think a large reason people stay so long is humiliation. They just don’t want to admit to their friends and families, and themselves, that they’ve made a huge mistake. When you put that much effort into something, you want it to mean something. I guess it’s human nature. By the time I realized I was in the middle of basically a cult, I’d already given them close to $9,000 and hundreds of hours of my time. And I got off lightly. As pathetic as my story was, I was one of the smarter ones. But I know that we shouldn’t feel shame; our only mistake is being too trusting; in believing that people are what they say they are. It’s not something to be embarrassed about; it’s something to be celebrated, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from our mistakes!
I know many Higher Ground members whose dental practices are failing, and yet they do not have the strength to stand up to Lee. They keep making the ridiculous payments that he demands. He will even encourage failing members to apply for Small Business loans from the government, even though those practices would be successful if they weren’t paying so much to Lee. I know one acquaintance with a family who is paying so much to Lee and his group that they don’t have enough for groceries. Yes, it is that bad.
And they’re paying for nothing; absolutely nothing. Well, almost nothing. Getting website maintenance and some common-sense consulting for $30,000 a year doesn’t add up, but yet these amounts (and even higher) have been charged to people I know. But the psychological power Lee has over them is so large that they are afraid that they will fail completely without his help.
One of my acquaintances in Higher Ground tried to partner with two of Lee’s associates on a book deal. He had come up with the concept and Lee’s people were supposed to handle the distribution and the marketing. Next thing my friend knew, he found that the contract he had signed basically gave over all the content rights to Lee, and that he was a very minor partner. When he tried to argue with Lee and his people, he suddenly found himself completely disrespected, yelled at, and verbally abused. He was told that he was not a ‘team player’, and that he didn’t really care about helping people at all, and that his greed would “cause his downfall.” When my friend respectfully tried to talk to them about this, they used this argument as an excuse to cut him out of the deal completely, which it turned out they were allowed to do from the terms of the agreement.
This is my point; people like Lee are using their status as ‘role models’ and men of God to get around people’s natural defenses. It’s hard enough to read a legal contract when you’re at your most suspicious. But when you’re with a group of people who you regard as morally upstanding, you let your defenses down. When they are people who you really respect and your peer group really respects, you assume that these people are going to do what they say they’re going to do. That’s their one strength; the trust you put in them.
I have been warning people about Lee and his people’s tactics now as best I can. The truth is that I am actually afraid to confront him in more straightforward ways, because the people who surround him at the highest levels I have reason to believe can be dangerous. I don’t have any proof, but I know that his people are obsessed and will try to protect him at any cost. They depend on him completely for a sense of worth and also for a lot of money, and that’s not a combination I want to mess with head on. I’ve seen Lee get angry firsthand when I told him I was leaving, and I know how he treats people who only want to negotiate with him, so understand my hesitance in wanting to come full out with this story.
What I hope most is that the people who have recorded Lee ‘behind the scenes’ will come forward with that audio and video and share it with his new recruits. Really, someone should post it on the internet where everyone can forward it. I’ve heard stories of some of the things he has said about his ‘flock’, and how much disdain he has for the people who strive to impress him. I know it’s probably only a matter of time before one of Lee’s right hand men gets burned by him and wants to spread the truth.
The worst part about Lee and people like him is his pretending to be ‘holy’ and pretending that God actually talks through him. This is the most offensive thing for Christians like myself and for anyone who’s sincere in their religious belief. It is nothing more than false idolatry, and I wish nothing more that people like this will eventually be exposed for what they are.