Dr. Mark Sawusch’s turbulent life took a fateful turn on a summer night in 2017, when he was arrested for throwing rocks and construction cones at cars on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif.
It was the brilliant-but-troubled eye doctor’s third encounter with police that July week, following arrests for skipping out on a large bar tab at celebrity hotspot Moonshadows Malibu, and for getting into a fist fight on the Santa Monica pier.
Sawusch had struggled for years with bipolar disorder, but that summer he had spiraled dangerously out of control.
What followed would prove more pivotal, resulting in the seemingly irreparable fracturing of a long-strained relationship with his mother, and leading him to grant access to his vast fortune to two yoga gurus, Anthony David Flores and Anna Moore, he had recently befriended.
Sawusch was charged with malicious mischief and placed under court-ordered psychiatric evaluation on $40,000 bail. The money should have been no problem — he was worth an estimated $60 million — but his family, who lived in Florida, refused to post the bail. They hoped time in a mental-health facility would help keep him out of danger, court documents show.
Sawusch would spend the next 45 days in the psychiatric ward of the rough-and-tumble Twin Towers jail in downtown Los Angeles, but he eventually hatched a plan to get out of prison without his family’s help. He signed over power of attorney to Flores, granting the yoga guru access to the doctor’s accounts in order to pay the bail. The move deeply angered Sawusch’s family, court filings show.
Federal prosecutors now say Flores and Moore were really grifters, who sought to exploit the doctor’s shaky mental state to steal millions from him before his death at age 57 after consuming a fatal mix of ketamine and alcohol. The rich doctor died less than a year after first meeting the yoga gurus.
The yoga guru couple has argued in court filings that Sawusch’s mental condition was far less severe than his family has described and that they were simply trying to help protect him and his money from his mother, who wanted to have him committed and take control of his fortune.
“ “He was just someone who needed help.””
Sawusch had met Flores and Moore at a Malibu ice cream parlor just a week before his arrest in the rock-throwing incident, according to court papers. Seeking some kind of emotional solace, Sawusch was taken by the couple’s spiritual vibe and agreed to join them on a road trip to northern California in his Tesla. By the end of the week, the pair had moved into Sawusch’s lavish Malibu beachfront home, preparing him raw vegan meals and tending to his needs.
“He was just someone who needed help,” said Moore’s father, Stephen Moore, a retired project manager at the UC Berkeley graduate school of education. “My understanding was that he wanted to live a life of fun and friendships, eat good food and get healthy — just a normal life — and they thought they could help him.”
“That’s really just Anna being Anna,” Moore said of his daughter, who also worked as an actress and a singer. “She is very focused on helping people.”
Prosecutors say Moore and Flores — who more widely went by Anton David — also helped administer doses to the doctor of LSD, marijuana and ketamine, an animal tranquilizer often used as a recreational drug that has also been experimented with as a treatment for severe depression.
In criminal charges of fraud, identity theft and money laundering filed in federal court in Los Angeles in late January, prosecutors allege that Flores and Moore used the drugs to keep Sawusch discombobulated while they raided his accounts. They also kept a staff of masseuses on call at all times, to keep the doctor relaxed, prosecutors said.
Flores’ attorney, Ambrosio Rodriguez, said that characterization of events was untrue, noting that the drug regimen was being administered under the supervision of Sawusch’s doctors.
“The contention that my client was some kind of Rasputin-like figure taking advantage of a brilliant but ill doctor is just false,” Rodriguez said. “There is a level of complexity to this case that you will not read in the charging documents, and that firmly revolves around issues the doctor had in his relationship with his mother.”
All in the family
Much of the government’s case is built around details that emerged in a long-running civil case brought by Sawusch’s mother, Patsy, and sister, Carole, against Flores and Moore soon after the doctor died at his Malibu home in May 2018.
The civil suit alleged that nearly $3 million had been transferred out of Sawusch’s accounts in the final year of his life into others controlled by Flores. The criminal case alleged that nearly $1 million of it had been transferred after Sawusch had died.
In court papers filed by Flores and Moore in the civil case, they claimed the transfer had been done at the doctor’s behest, simply as a way to preserve some control over his money in case his mother was successful in establishing a conservatorship over him.
“[Sawusch] made it very clear to [Flores and Moore] that he wanted nothing to do with his mother, Patsy Ann Sawusch, and he regularly described her as a ‘narcissist who was out to take control of his assets and money,’” the couple stated in a civil case filing in 2019 in Los Angeles’ California state court.
“ “[Mark Sawusch] was not a horrible crazy person who needed to have his life taken away.””
They stated that in the final years of his life, Sawusch’s family “was not present, did not participate in his life, and [the doctor] wanted nothing to do with them.”
“[Mark Sawusch] was not a horrible crazy person who needed to have his life taken away. He was a successful man who was suffering, and had no one in his life whom he could trust. Based on this, [Sawusch] trusted [Flores and Moore] to act in his best interests, including transferring large sums of money and property so that if a conservatorship were created, someone else could control his estate,” the couple argued.
The filings claimed that Sawusch’s mental health was far better than his family contended, with him only slipping into unstable periods of manic behavior when he abused alcohol. They said Sawusch had made the decision to seek ketamine infusion treatments on his own, in consultation with his doctors. And he had plunked down $55,000 of his own accord to enter an alcohol treatment facility in Malibu earlier in 2017.
“This lawsuit exists because [Patsy Sawusch] cannot blame herself for the fact that her son hated her,” the couple argued. “This proceeding is not about a breach of trust, or fraud, and it certainly isn’t about hidden assets. It is about a mother who will do everything possible to avoid having to deal with her own role in her son’s death.”
Attorneys for Patsy and Carole Sawusch didn’t reply to multiple messages seeking comment.
The civil case was ultimately settled, with Flores and Moore agreeing to return the money they had received from Sawusch, but prosecutors allege that $1 million remains missing. In 2021, Flores declared bankruptcy, saying he is penniless.
Death and arrests
The son of a successful ophthalmologist, Sawusch followed in his father’s footsteps, studying medicine at the University of Chicago and doing his residency at Johns Hopkins. He eventually moved to Los Angeles where he built a successful practice in the Pacific Palisades and developed a patent for a procedure to correct corneal impairments.
He was also a skilled investor, turning his success into a vast fortune worth tens of millions of dollars, prosecutors have said.
But by 2015, his life was becoming unwound. That year, he got divorced after only a year of marriage, records show. Then in 2016, he suffered a serious accident that left his hands badly burned and made it impossible for him to continue practicing medicine.
Court papers showed he soon began to lose control of himself, struggling with mental health issues that landed him in psychiatric facilities at least eight times between 2016 and 2017, as well as several run-ins with the law for petty crimes.
Isolated and seeking some direction in his life, Sawusch walked into a Malibu ice cream parlor in July 2017, where he and Flores and Moore would meet.
Within a year, Sawusch would be dead and Flores and Moore embroiled in years of legal entanglements. The pair broke up around mid-2021, and Moore moved to Mexico.
Moore was arrested in early February as she stepped off a plane in Houston. She has pleaded not guilty and remains in Texas there pending her return to Los Angeles to face the federal charges, her father said,
Flores was arrested on Jan. 31 in Fresno and has pleaded not guilty. He also remains in detention pending his transfer to Los Angeles, his lawyer said.