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Guilty plea roils case of yoga gurus accused of taking millions from Malibu doc

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Their shared hippie spirit brought them together over a vegan potluck dinner, but the prospect of  years in federal prison for allegedly stealing millions from a mentally-ill Malibu doctor, has driven a wedge between them. 

A federal fraud prosecution against a pair of yoga gurus accused of siphoning cash from Dr. Mark Sawusch’s $60 million fortune took a significant turn at the end of August when one pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the other, her ex-boyfriend, according to court documents and people familiar with the matter.

Anna Moore’s guilty plea before a federal judge in Los Angeles on Aug. 28 represents a serious legal challenge to her longtime partner, Anthony Flores, who faces decades behind bars if convicted in the case. Flores pleaded not guilty after his arrest in January. 

Details of Moore’s agreement with federal prosecutors remain under seal, but people familiar with the matter say her ultimate sentence in the case will largely be determined after her level of cooperation is evaluated. A sentencing hearing for Moore was set for Nov. 6. 

“We are aware of Ms. Moore’s decision to plead guilty. Obviously this changes Mr. Flores’ legal situation in the case, and we are currently reviewing our options,” Flores’ attorney Ambrosio Rodriguez said.         

Messages left with Moore’s attorney weren’t immediately returned. A spokesman for the U.S attorney’s office for the central district of California declined to comment.

The tragic end to Sawusch’s life began on June 23, 2017, when the brilliant, but troubled, ophthalmologist met Flores and Moore in a chance encounter at a vegan ice cream parlor in Venice Beach, Calif.

Flores, who went by Anton David, was a guru-esque figure with long, flowing hair and a beard. He worked as a hair stylist on film shoots. Moore, a pixie-like blond, was an actress and singer. The couple had met years earlier at a vegan potluck dinner and had fallen in love over what they described as a shared hippie spirit. Together, they ran a yoga center in Fresno, Calif., while going back-and-forth to L.A.  

Their spiritual vibe cast a spell on Sawusch, who had just days earlier been released from a mental health facility, where he had been committed after suffering a breakdown, court filings said. Within a week, Flores and Moore had moved into Sawusch’s multi-million dollar beachfront home in Malibu, Calif., federal prosecutors said. 

Over the next year, the pair gained increasingly firm control over the doctor’s life and finances, with Flores establishing power of attorney over Sawusch’s vast fortune while plying him with a steady diet of marijuana and LSD as he also underwent experimental ketamine treatments for his bipolar disorder that left him addled, investigators said. 

Sawusch later died in May 2018 of a lethal mixture of ketamine and alcohol, according to a coroner’s report. The Los Angeles County medical examiner’s office ruled the death an accident.

In her guilty plea, Moore said she was not immediately aware of the scope of Flores’ alleged efforts to steal the doctor’s money, but admitted that following Sawusch’s death she participated in a later effort in probate court to keep the stolen money. Prosecutors have alleged that this was a separate fraud.

When Sawusch’s family sought to take control of his estate, they discovered that almost $3 million had been transferred from his accounts to ones controlled by Flores in the days before and after the doctor’s death, federal prosecutors said.   

Sawusch’s family launched a civil lawsuit against the yogi couple and convinced a California state judge to issue a restraining order freezing Flores’ and Moores’ accounts, and order they return the money. Instead, federal prosecutors say, the two engaged in a second fraud by making false claims in probate court that Sawusch had verbally told them he would give them a third of his fortune plus his Malibu beach house.

The couple claimed that the doctor had given them the money in return for them taking care of him and as part of an effort to protect his fortune from his family, from whom he was estranged. The family said those claims were untrue and that the pair had kept Sawusch isolated from his friends and family.  

Eventually, the couple returned around $2 million of the doctor’s money, but around $1 million remained unaccounted for, according to federal prosecutors.  

Flores and Moore broke up during the pandemic after nearly a decade together. Moore moved to Mexico while Flores remained in Fresno, where he was arrested in late January. Moore was arrested at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston upon her return to the U.S. around the same time. Both have been held without bail since.  

Read the series:

Part 1: Death and deceit in Malibu: How yogi couple befriended and stole millions from vulnerable rich doctor

Part 2: Rich Malibu doctor’s final days defined by fight between family and suspect yogis over declining mental health

Part 3: A star-crossed trade: Yogis offered friendship to a rich Malibu doctor in exchange for a third of his $60 million fortune

Part 4: Money, mania and LSD: A Malibu doctor’s tragic final weeks under yoga gurus’ sway

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