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Mildred Gordon - The Buddha-cidal Maniac

During the 60's Edwin Smith was running a marriage counseling business in New York City. Smith was not a licensed psychologist, therapist or couselor. Instead of a degree he had a handful of bogus diploma mill credentials from phony colleges like Thomas A. Edison College, Golden Gate College and Philathea in Ontario, Canada. In those days there was little or no oversight of mental health practitioners and the use of titles like "therapist" or "counselor" was unregulated. Ed Smith was a musician who had been discharged from the military and had a penchant for devising get-rich-quick schemes. When he discovered he could fool people with his phony credentials and charge huge hourly fees he quickly went into business for himself. For Ed the mental-health business gave him access to confused and needy women who were vulnerable to his sexual advances. One of his clients was a twice-divorced woman in her 40's named Mildred Gordon.

Mildred Gordon was angry when she found out Ed had no license or training and had duped her into sleeping with him. She threatened legal action but Ed talked her into marrying him instead and showed her how to get her own phony degrees and credentials. Soon they were in business together and were running encounter groups from their Upper West Side apartment. Their "practice" turned into a pyramid scheme by which clients and other associates were shown how to obtain their own phony credentials and collect large fees for their own unlicensed practices. Soon there was a large network of bogus therapists, counselors and "trainers" running various businesses and offering any number of unorthodox therapies and treatments, almost always including sexual relations between therapists and clients.

Mildred Gordon, who was now Mildred Smith, was an old-school New York Jew and always eager to take money from the government. She didn't like to see people paying tuition to diploma mills when she could be collecting that money herself. The Smiths decided to maximize their profits by starting their own diploma mill - this is how the GROW school began. They managed to obtain the very minimalist "trade school" accreditation bestowed by the New York State Department of Education on such programs as secretarial, HVAC and hairdresser training. Such programs are intended to train people only to get a specific job and are not meant to be any substitute for a college education. But since New York City was was eager to get people off the welfare rolls and into trade jobs these programs were eligible to receive funds from the Federal Pell Grant and Student Loan programs. Ed & Mildred smelled free money from the government and wanted in.

The Smiths teamed up with notorius Indiana con-artist Gordon Da Costa, a confessed embezzler controlling yet another network of non-acreddited phony degree businesses. DaCosta's confusing spider web included Indiana Northern University which was essentially an abandoned dairy farm "accredited" by yet another Da Costa scam, the Accrediting Commission for Specialized Colleges, which Da Costa had created himself and served as chairman. The Accrediting Commisssion for Specialized Colleges in turn provided accredidation to yet another phony university called Philathea College in London, Ontario. It was Philathea College where Ed, Mildred and many of their associates received "doctorate" degrees, and this brought the network of phonies to the attention of Morton Schillinger, the new Director of the New York State Psychological Association. Gordon DaCosta
Gordon DaCosta
Among DaCosta's bogus titles was that of archbishop in the Free Protestant episcopal Church, an organization with no ties to the Anglican Church or any other church and presided over by "the Reverend" Benjamin Eckhardt, the president of Philathea College! Eckhardt started Philathea in 1946; it was chartered as a religious training school that could only grant a diploma called a "Licentiate of Theology". Eckhardt's repeated attempts to have the charter amended to include degree-granting powers were routinely denied by Canadian authorities. Yet by 1970 Philathea was offering three kinds of Bachelors degrees as well as a Doctor of Philosophy degree. When Ed & Mildred's GROW business came under scrutiny the NY Attorney General started an inquiry into Philathea as well. It was discovered that many people claiming Ph.D's from Philathea were running businesses such as the "Institute of Applied Psychotherapy" and contracting with New York City's Health Department to run drug-treatment and similar pseudo-therapy programs.

Morton Schillinger was trying to get licensing regulation passed by the Legislature, but he was opposed by Ed & Mildred's organized network of quacks & cronies who lobbied aggressively against regulation - Ed & Mildred even tried to get their own bill passed that would create a "behavioral scientist" professional status. They were not only mis-representing their own credentials they were now seeking official recognition from the establishment they were so blatantly defying. The Attorney General began an investigation into Ed, Mildred & GROW and found that Ed received his Ph.D. after spending two months at a "campus" in Palm Beach and Mildred admitted to having no degrees at all because she didn't "believe" in them. But she did believe in granting non-accredited doctorate degrees to GROW students so they could "compete with the establishment."

GROW and Philathea were offering what was called a "collaboration Doctor of Theology" degree. The Department of Consumer Affairs began a fraud investigation of the Smiths & GROW and they were told to stop offering the doctorate degree with Philathea. Eckhardt claimed to be "phasing out" the doctoral program due to "misrepresentation by former students" who were now in New York and "had been exposed". GROW then started offering degrees through DaCosta's Indiana Northern University. The New York Times began reporting on the Smiths plans to open a network of therapy clinics staffed by GROW / INU graduates through another Smith business called "Centers for Human Development" or CHD, which was currently charging up to $225 for couples Encounter group retreats called "Gestalt Retreat to the Berkshires", "Nite-to-Morn Encounter in psychodrama & fantasy" and "Encounter by the Sea on Fire Island". The Smiths planned to expand CHD to 100 clinics in the city that would take in $30 million annually in therapy fees and be staffed by GROW / INU graduates thereby generating another $4 million in tuition fees.

In May of 1972 the State Department of Education ruled that the GROW / INU "extension" degree program was illegal. The Smiths broke ties with DaCosta and initated a lawsuit against Morton Schillinger, alleging libel, defamation and interference with their business. They obtained the pro-bono services of William Kunstler, the notoriously radical attorney that had represented the Chicago Eight, members of the Black Panther Party and the Weather Underground. Mildred Smith convinced Kunstler that her right to free speech was being violated by Schillinger and the legitimate psychological establishment. Schillinger filed an affirmative defense stating that "truth is a complete defense to an action for libel" and then filed a counter suit claiming malicious prosecution.

By December the Attorney General's investigation had led to a public hearing of evidence of "widespread quackery, sexual misconduct and deception of clients by unlicensed therapists and others purporting to practice as psychotherapists, psychoanalysts, hypnotists and marriage counselors". Their findings described cult-like environments where sex is imposed on female clients, patients are forced to sever ties to the outside world and give up control over their finances, parents must sometimes pay therapists to "release" their children from therapy, and emotional abuse and sexual exploitation lead to depression and suicide. The Smiths dropped their lawsuit against Schillinger and closed GROW but the Attorney General was set to pursue fraud charges against them. The Smiths quickly left town and went into hiding.