EXCITING NEWS AT THE END OF THESE NOTES, FOLKS, BE SURE TO READ 'EM!
On today's episode of Liminal Criminals, we talk about the Congregation of the Oversoul at their peak, and at their downfall. How did the cult put its belief in the value of identity theft into practice? How did the Congregation fare in a post-Dot-Com world? How did Jason Mackerel DeGroot screw things up beyond all repair? Find out here, only on Liminal Criminals.
Follow us on Twitter, or on Facebook
Follow, rate, and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice.
Find us online at http://liminalcriminals.buzzsprout.com
CONTENT WARNING: Liminal Criminals is a fictional crime/comedy podcast, and contains elements which may not be suitable for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
OOH! OOH! Also, I'll be making appearances on a podcast called Atu Waat, with my good friend Greg. On it, we'll be talking about some ancient-aliens conspiracy theories of our world's early Internet! You can subscribe to us early at https://twitter.com/AtuWaat
Hello dear listeners. If you’ve been following along with this criminal saga, you’ve likely heard this three times already. This is part of a series. If you haven’t listened the first three episodes, this episode will not make any sense. You should go back and listen to those first.
[intro theme fades out]
Previously on Liminal Criminals: The Congregation of the Oversoul, a cult founded by Jason Mackerel DeGroot based on the twin principles of cosmic unity and identity theft, began to open alternative wellness stores, headed by their earliest new recruit, the Silicon Valley millionaire Guy Fredericks. Fredericks, a person who was as canny with technology as he was bad at everything else, managed to turn these stores into a marketing disaster, forcing DeGroot out from the Congregation headquarters in Fugged Point California, where he was hiding after fleeing from the police.
DeGroot, having spent his convalescence yo-yoing between sulking, viciously arguing with his second-in-command Holly Beech, and writing the holy texts for his cult, was eager to return to the field, and quickly turned the dying business into a marketing juggernaut that spewed forth crystals, bad art, and overpriced bricabrac, and in turn took in money from gullible yuppies. A handful of said yuppies became new initiates into the Congregation, and were soon lovebombed and browbeaten into submission.
With this combination of success in finance and recruitment, the Congregation of the Oversoul soon gained the attention of American popular culture, thus propelling it to further and further heights of eminence and power.
How did the cult spend the remaining years of its existence? How did Jason DeGroot fall from grace and into prison? We’ll find out on today’s episode.
I’m Sam Putnam. And you’re listening...to Liminal Criminals.
The late 1990s and 2000s were a booming era for the Congregation of the Oversoul. With their influx of initiates, the cult was able to improve not only its headquarters in Fugged Point California, but also begin to expand its reach across the United States, and, in turn, the world. The Oversoul Wellness Company’s healing centers began to pop up in major cities from New York to Berlin, offering overpriced spiritual merchandise and a gateway for wayward souls to be drawn into the Congregation. The Wellness Company branched out into other ventures, ranging from multilevel marketing schemes to meditation apps, to an ill-conceived subscription box service, called “Overbox,” which folded in 2012 after it was revealed that the “specialty healing minerals” that came in each month’s boxes were actually radioactive. Regardless of these failings, the Oversoul Welness company was a dominant force in the new-age hocus-pocus industry, posting reported earnings of 1.2 billion dollars in 2007.
The Congregation also took this time to diversify its portfolio beyond the realm of spiritual materialism. In 2004, UniCorp Holdings LLC, a shell company belonging to Guy Fredericks, purchased a number of tech startups. These included Nostra, a former subsidiary of the Garlic Pit whose records were destroyed shortly before the Breadsticks Bombing of earlier that year, Ballspot, a website known primarily for hosting edgy online games and badly-animated cartoon pornography, and, most importantly, Mondo Entertaiment, a company known for the online pet-collection site Fuzzyfriends. The former two companies provided little in the way of financial returns. Mondo, however, became a major success for the Congregation, with the company not only providing the cult with a solid income stream, but also with a means for Jason DeGroot to surreptitiously proselytize to a younger audience; on even a cursory read, it was evident most of the lore for Fuzzyfriends had been lifted, in one way or another, from the Mysteries of the Oversoul, ranging from a “tome of holy wisdom” proclaiming the unity of all creatures, to Huskoth, an evil corn monster whose presence parallels Jason DeGroot’s declaration that corn was part of an interdimensional conspiracy to dull the mind and corrupt the body. By 2010, the Congregation and its quasi-legitimate subsidiaries had not only become a financial titan, but also a cultural powerhouse.
As the Congregation reached new heights of success, it also sank to new depths of criminal behavior. As more and more initiates ascended through the ranks, they became a part of the Congregation’s identity theft machine. Remote offices, called “Oneness ranches,” began to spring up in parts of rural America. There, on these plots of land purchased under assumed names or by hastily-constructed shell companies, the more technically-minded of the Congregation’s upper echelons engaged in hacking, phishing, and something called “Jerkling,” a form of fraud that legally requires a degree in forensic accounting to discuss. Pop-up boiler room call centers, dedicated to scam telemarketing and wire fraud, served as temporary bases of operations for the
less technically-skilled members of the cult.
DeGroot’s decision to use identity theft as the basis for his cult has long been debated by criminal scholars. Doctor Thomas Cho of the Harvard Divinity school suggests that this reflected DeGroot’s belief in the inherent divinity of humanity and the strange nature of his vision of God. After all, if each of us carries a spark of the divine within us, it may follow that we have the right to be as ineffable, capricious, and destructive as the Oversoul itself. Adam Cheesely, a forensic accountant for the FBI, dismisses this claim, and suggests that the Congregation used identity theft as a way to flex its power, committing fraud in the same way that other cults might stockpile guns. Holly Beech, in her 2016 interview with crime journalist Amanda Lipinski, denies both of these suggestions, and instead argues that Jason DeGroot was out of ideas, operating on short notice, and was high off his balls on cold medicine when he made this decision.
Regardless of the reason, the Congregation’s use of identity theft provided the cult with a number of useful tools. First and foremost was its obvious power as a money-making scheme. While estimates are hazy, most experts placed the cult’s revenue from fraud in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This money, when laundered through a variety of businesses and contacts, provided yet another revenue stream for the religion’s financial engine.
The Congregation also used its criminal influence as a means of keeping newer recruits in line. When initiates fled the cult during the late 90s and early 2000s, they quickly found their bank accounts drained, their credit ruined, and their social security numbers spray-painted onto billboards throughout their hometown. Those who attempted to help out apostates, including their friends and family, would suffer the same fate. Soon, knowledge of what happened to those who fled Congregation compounds helped lower the annual rate of cult escapees from 124 in 2000 to just fifteen in 2003.
The Congregation’s prolific identity theft may have been one of its greatest tools, but it was also the cause of its downfall. The cult’s army of fraudsters, as luck would have it, were held to a strict quota; members of the Congregation’s upper echelons were required to steal a certain number of identities, or a certain amount of money, per week. Should they fail, they risked demotion, or, worse yet, banishment to the Spider Pit, which at this point had become positively saturated with ravenous arachnids.
In May of 2009, Maria Laredo, a former technical writer and current Level 15 Evangelist of the Oversoul, had stumbled onto a problem; she was behind on her quota. Unfortunately for Laredo, she worked in one of the Congregation’s call centers in Los Angeles, and had been assigned a part of the phone book which consisted largely of UCLA frat houses. The bulk of her marks thus reported that their names were “Deez Nutz,” and that their social security numbers were “420-69-6969.” Having determined that these personal details were not, in fact, accurate., she grew desperate.
Laredo remembered that the Congregation owned Fuzzyfriends. She remembered that Fuzzyfriends was funded primarily by parents who offered up their credit card information in exchange for a moment of respite from their preteen children. What was more, she remembered that she had a friend who worked for the cybersecurity end of Fuzzyfriends’ operations. With these three pieces of information in mind, Laredo called her friend, Gregory Blair, and asked him to do her a favor. Blair provided Laredo with access to the unencypted database of Fuzzyfriends’ financial information, which she used to shore up her numbers.
As parent after parent of Fuzzyfriends users received alerts that their identities had been stolen, Mondo Entertainment claimed that they had been hacked by an outside source. The authorities, however began to recognize a pattern. While the Congregation had typically been secretive enough to avoid bringing down the full wrath of the feds, this latest scandal provided the FBI with enough information to begin an investigationA in earnest.
To make matters worse for the Congregation, the tide of public opinion had begun to turn against them as well. In 2008, UniCorp Holdings had divested itself from the online animation portal BallSpot, following a rash of media criticism for the site’s hosting of the controversial animated gorefest, “Mister Fluffy.” BallSpot, in the ensuing few months, had announced UniCorp’s decision, and that users could expect server outages and technical glitches in the time it would take for the site to find new investors. The site’s userbase, or “Freeballers,” as they referred to themselves, flew into a rage. With the passion and dedication of socially-maladjusted teenaged boys, they quickly began to dig up as much dirt as they could on UniCorp Holdings, and, in turn, the Congregation of the Oversoul. By 2009, this army of Freeballers had independently covered much of the same information that had taken the FBI years to collect, ranging from the details of Jason DeGroot’s childhood to the Congregation’s policy of retaliation against apostates and media critics.
Jason DeGroot, now facing investigation by a federal agency, a highly-visible scandal, and swarms of nerds clad in sarcastic slogan tee shirts outside every major Congregation facility in the United States, became more erratic than usual. He sought refuge by locking himself away for days at a time, abusing whatever stimulants he could find, and going on screaming tirades at those who provoked his wrath. By the end of 2010, DeGroot had turned violent, having taken to throwing things at people who questioned him, looked at him strangely, or existed within a ten-foot radius of him. Three members of the Congregation’s inner circle went missing during this time; it is unknown whether these disappearances were successful escapes or something more sinister.
As the new year began, however, DeGroot’s foul mood abruptly vanished. He appeared calmer, and nearly emotionless. His twitchiness and habit of hurling obscenities and blunt objects at his underlings in the Congregation’s headquarters had vanished. On January 23rd, he gathered Holly Beech, Guy Fredericks, and the original members of the Congregation who he had first converted back in Infierno Real. His expression distant and his voice muted, he delivered his final, most important sermon. He informed his followers that he had spoken to the “Voice of the Oversoul” in a series of waking dreams over the past month, and that to weather the onslaught of public backlash and criminal investigations, he would need to purify himself. Without a word, he stripped down to his underwear and walked out into the frigid Sierra Nevada winter, towards the remains of the broken-down Airstream he and his devotees lived in for so many months, crawled into the Spider Pit beneath the trailer, and told his followers not to interrupt him.
After two days, Holly Beech, who alternated between worrying that her erratic leader was dead and hoping that he was dead, gathered a group of cultists and ordered them to pull DeGroot out from under the trailer. There, they found him frostbitten, dehydrated, and covered in varieties of spider eggs that had been previously unknown to science, but still alive. Elated, yet horrified, the cultists brought their leader to his private clinic inside the Congregation compound, where he was administered to by his team of personal doctors. When he finally regained consciousness, he bolted upright and, still half-naked, sprinted to his office, yelling a series of names and numbers out loud.
As fate would have it, these seemingly-random exclamations were the full names of the FBI task force that was investigating them, along with their credit card information, Social Security numbers, and weirdest fetishes. He locked himself in his office, leaving Holly Beech and Guy Fredericks outside, fervently protesting. Within a matter of hours, Jason Mackerel DeGroot had committed a reverse sting of sorts on the agents investigating his cult, blowing through hundreds of thousands of dollars of stolen money.
Sadly for Jason, while his revelation may have been miraculous, he applied it in the dumbest way imaginable. The members of the task force, as it turns out, did not enjoy being the victims of identity theft, and were intelligent enough to gather IP logs and phone records demonstrating that this campaign of fraud could be traced back to the Congregation of the Oversoul and, in turn, to Jason DeGroot.
The final nail was hammered into the DeGroot’s coffin when Holly Beech, realizing the storm that Jason was about to bring down upon the Congregation, decided that she had had enough.
“I lived through the first winter with that prick,” said Beech, “I dealt with every lamebrained idea that he had. Time and Time again, me and Fredericks had to pull his ass out of the fire, keep him from getting into trouble, and dodge healing crystals he threw at us, and for what? For him to just take everything we had worked for and smash it to pieces in front of me? Fuck that.”
As Jason DeGroot sat in his office, inadvertently destroying his life’s work, Holly Beech gathered up every piece of information that she could from the Congregation’s headquarters, climbed into her Mercedes, and drove away from Fugged Point. In the nearby town of Fog Mountain, she pulled out her cell phone and dialed the FBI, telling the operator on the other end that she was willing to work out a deal.
Unfortunately for Beech, Jason DeGroot was savvy enough to realize that, when he emerged from his office to find that she had left the compound, she was likely going to take action against him. With that in mind, he too decided to flee Fugged Point, taking with him a bug-out bag and several thousand dollars in cash.
Of the three leaders of Congregation of the Oversoul, the only person who was present at the cult’s headquarters when the feds began their raid was Guy Fredericks. While Fredericks was instrumental in the cult’s logistics and business, he was less involved in its criminal enterprises. He was quietly sentenced to ten years in minimum security prison.
With the Congregation of the Oversoul’s leadership having defected, fled, or gone to prison, the federal agents assigned to the case began to dismantle the organization, all the while keeping an eye out for its elusive leader, Jason Mackerel DeGroot.
Jason was caught a little over three years later. In 2014, he was apprehended on an almond orchard run by the Fellowship of Butters, a small but well-established cult in Northern California. DeGroot had joined with the cult in 2012, and, as part of his initiation, had given up all of his worldly goods, including his wallet. The cult’s leader, Michael Butters II, had evidently decided to rifle through the contents of Jason’s wallet, and found the credit card that Jason had stolen from his father Oscar all those years ago in Infierno Real. Apparently not noticing the fact that the card had expired over a decade ago, Butters decided to try to use it to buy marshmallow fluff at a local convenience store.
As luck would have it, Oscar had decided to finally report his card stolen back in 1991, after he had gained enough seniority in the Followers of the Twelve Chimes to outrank his son. The use of this expired, stolen card caught the attention of the FBI, who traced the card back to the Fellowship compound and got to work. There, on the Butters compound, they found Jason DeGroot, dutifully performing his harvest rituals among the almond trees.
“It was the damnedest thing,” said Assistant Special Agent in Charge Miles Gutierrez. “All the records we saw showed that DeGroot had lost his mind back in 2010. We figured that we’d find him a gibbering lunatic. But as I looked him in the eye, just before the local PD plugged him with three separate tasers, he looked different. He almost looked happy.”
What has happened since then?
Jason Mackerel DeGroot was sentenced to life in prison for his crimes. Crime journalist Amanda Lipinski notes that he appears to be rather well-behaved behind bars, and has only whipped the inmate populace into a frenzied riot twice since 2015.
Guy Fredericks got out on parole in 2019. He has since written a book, “All For One,” detailing his life as the business manager and fall guy for a criminal cult. He has recently started “OverCoin,” a cryptocurrency that he claims allows customers to trade in pieces of the universe itself.
Holly Beech refused to enter witness protection, and moved back to Arizona in 2013. She currently lives in Phoenix, where she runs Folion, an alternative medicine company that advises its customers to eat nothing but leaves.
And what of the Congregation itself? The majority of the cult’s assets were seized following its collapse, and the bulk of its inner circles were arrested. Those who hadn’t ascended far enough up the ranks to be trusted with identity-theft duties were advised to leave Fugged Point, and quote, “Get a goddamn life.” The only official remnant of the Congregation that still exists is FuzzyFriends, which split off from the organization and is currently one of the most successful existing online games to date.
Three quote-unquote “alumni” of the Congregation of the Oversoul, however, have started breakaway sects, namely the Fellowship over the Oversoul, started by former accountant Larry Maxwell, the Congregation of the Overspirit, started by yoga instructor Mary Griffin, and the Church Of The Big Ghost, founded by Billy Travers, age 7.
We have yet to see if any of these cults will live up to the criminal legacy of their predecessor. If they do, well, you know who to turn to for your news on the matter.
Me. It’s me. Sam Putnam. The guy telling you all this right now.
This has been Liminal Criminals. I’m Sam Putnam. I’ll see you next time, and remember: pray you never meet their fallen.
Liminal Criminals was originally a true crime podcast by Liminal Studios. It was originally researched, written and created by Sam Putnam. It is edited for broadcast and distribution with the generous support of the Chthonic Riviera government and Deeps Self-Preservation League. Up next, it’ll be an hour of nightcore whalesong remixes, after which I’ll be bringing you the news with the evening edition of Studio Community Worldwide Radio.
Also, Krysta, if you’re listening, thank you. We’ll have to talk about Havel’s taste in music, but at least I have something other than dead air now.
Liminal Criminals is a fictional podcast by SCWR productions. It is written and edited by Sam Putnam. It is cowritten by Krysta Golden. Our theme song is Chthonic Riviera by Cornu Ammonis.
Follow us on Twitter at “liminal cast,” or like us on Facebook. Follow, rate and review us on iTunes, Spotify, or your podcast platform of choice. Tell a friend about us. Consider the common lark. You don’t need to do anything else, just consider it.