The tragic end of Dr. Mark Sawusch’s life all started in an ice cream shop in Venice Beach.
On June 23, 2017, Sawusch — a brilliant, but troubled ophthalmologist who struggled with bipolar disorder — met Anton David and Anna Moore. It was a fateful encounter that would eventually lead to his death and the plundering of his vast fortune.
David, whose real name is Anthony Flores, was a guru-esque figure with long, flowing hair and a beard, who worked as a hair stylist on film shoots. Moore, a pixie-like blond, was an actress and singer. Both also ran a yoga center in Fresno, Calif., and 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.
By the end of the day, the three had hopped into Sawusch’s Tesla for an impromptu road trip to Northern California. At the end of the week, David and Moore had moved into Sawusch’s multi-million dollar beachfront home in Malibu, Calif., federal prosecutors said.
“If this helps you in any way, or if there is anything we can do for you, we will be happy to assist you,” David allegedly wrote in a text message to Sawusch. “Our desire is to add ease and flow to your life and be of great service. Sincerely, your new friends: Anton & Anna.”
A questionable friendship
Over the next 11 months, the couple began presenting themselves as Sawusch’s caretaker while his mental health spiraled further out of control, according to court documents. But federal prosecutors now say they were really grifters who only had their eyes on Sawusch’s vast fortune worth over $60 million.
As the months passed, David and Moore allegedly fed Sawusch a steady diet 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.
At the same time, prosecutors say David and Moore began exerting a tighter grip on Sawusch’s finances. Over the next several months, as Sawusch went in and out of treatment facilities and even jail, the pair soon gained power of attorney over his accounts.
“ “I am his power of attorney and executive life assistant.””
— Anton David allegedly told a friend via text.
David and Moore began hiring assistants to purportedly help with Sawusch’s care, but prosecutors said they were primarily used to aid the pair’s careers instead.
“I am his power of attorney and executive life assistant. My goal is to integrate him into love and light. He is a potential investor for all of my contacts,” prosecutors say David wrote in a text message to an acquaintance.
Then on May 27, 2018, Sawusch died suddenly at home at the age of 57. The coroner’s office listed the cause of death as the result of mixing ketamine with alcohol. His death was deemed an accident.
As Sawusch’s family began sorting through his estate, they soon discovered that nearly $3 million was missing, having been transferred into accounts controlled by David and Moore. But that wasn’t the end of it, prosecutors said. In the months that followed, the pair moved back into Sawusch’s house, claiming it now belonged to them and that they were entitled to a third of his fortune. A lengthy legal fight ensued between the pair and Sawusch’s family.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles announced that they had charged David and Moore with multiple counts of fraud, identity theft and money laundering. The 46-year-old David was arrested last week in Fresno. The 39-year-old Moore, who has since moved to Monterrey, Mexico, was picked up on Tuesday as she got off a flight in Houston.
The pair remain in custody and could not be reached for comment. Messages left with the public defenders appointed to represent them at their initial court hearings weren’t immediately returned. A message left with an attorney who represented them in the civil case brought by Sawusch’s family also wasn’t immediately returned.
In a post on Facebook seeking to raise money for his legal defense shortly after his arrest, David wrote to his friends: “I can assure you, on my soul, that I am innocent.” He pleaded not guilty in court.
A troubled life
For much of his life, Sawusch had managed his struggle with bipolar disorder with success. A graduate of the University of Chicago’s medical school who completed his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he then moved to California and built a thriving ophthalmology practice in the Pacific Palisades, specializing as a surgeon.
He was also a savvy investor, whose smart financial choices helped him build a sizable fortune worth tens of millions of dollars and allowed him to buy the beachfront house in Malibu.
But in his 50s, he was dealt a series of setbacks and his life started to unwind, according to a narrative written by his sister and elderly mother — his only survivors — that was included in court documents filed as part of his family’s civil suit against Flores and Moore.
“ “Mark was a very private person and his family respected that.” ”
— Adam Streisand, the Sawusch family’s lawyer.
Following a divorce, Sawusch began unraveling and his family said he had to be hospitalized eight times between 2015 and 2017. In 2016, he suffered a serious accident that left both his hands severely burned, making it impossible for him to ever perform surgeries again. Not long after, his father died and he broke up with a girlfriend, further fueling his depressive spiral and leaving his finances in turmoil.
Several arrests for petty crimes like vandalism, public drunkenness, walking out on restaurant bills and battery followed. His family lived in Florida, so were unable to keep a close enough eye on him to provide the help he needed.
“Mark was a very private person and his family respected that,” said Adam Streisand, the lawyer who represented Sawusch’s mother and sister in the civil case against David and Moore. “They were completely unaware of what was happening until the end, unfortunately.”
When Sawusch met David and Moore, the situation grew far worse, authorities said.
Born in San Francisco, Moore had aspired to be an actress from childhood. She earned a bachelor of fine arts from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts and further studied theater in London and the Netherlands, according to her biography on IMDB, before returning to California to have a go at building a film career.
She got her break in 2007 with a small role in the film “The Life Before Her Eyes” starring Uma Thurman, Evan Rachel Wood and Oscar Isaac. A string of roles in small films and in television series like “Criminal Minds” and “Love Bites,” followed, but Moore never quite broke through.
Since college, Moore had been enamored with yoga and eventually made her way to Fresno where she co-founded the Fulton Yoga Collective with David, a professional hair stylist who had worked on numerous film and music video shoots.
Together, they ran the yoga school and a window cleaning business for several years before meeting Sawusch, while frequently traveling to Los Angeles to pursue their careers in the film industry.
State of vulnerability
When they met Sawusch, he was in an extremely vulnerable state, his family said, ripe to be taken advantage of.
“During his hospitalizations in May and June 2017, hospital staff described Dr. Sawusch as ‘extremely psychotic and manic,’ ‘agitated and combative,’ and suicidal with a ‘poor’ capacity for attending to his activities of daily living,” according to the civil suit
As their relationship with Sawusch became deeper, authorities said they took steps to isolate him from his family and friends. Soon, messages checking up on Sawusch were responded to by David, who said all communications were to go through him,
At one point, Sawusch was arrested again, after which David and Moore convinced him to grant them power of attorney so they could access his money to put up assets for his bail.
Soon after, David wrote to a friend: “I got power of attorney for the beach house,” to which the friend replied: “Boom,” according to court filings.
“ “They just want justice for Mark who was tragically manipulated and exploited when he was so vulnerable.” ”
— Adam Streisand, the Sawusch fmaily’s laywer.
Prosecutors said that David and Moore started transferring money out of Sawusch’s accounts to ones they controlled. They even cashed in a life insurance policy worth nearly $500,000, federal prosecutors alleged.
Over the next year, Sawusch’s condition worsened and he began receiving weekly ketamine infusions to keep his depression in check, court documents said. Days before his death, Sawusch experienced a severe manic episode while on LSD, which led David and Moore to fear he would throw them out, prosecutors said. That led them to speed up their efforts to transfer his money, setting up several million dollar withdrawals over the coming days,
Two days before his death, Sawusch threw David and Moore out, according to court documents. But over the next few days, they continued to monitor him via home surveillance cameras installed in his Malibu home and were aware of his worsening condition up until his death, prosecutors said.
“They were watching and they did nothing,” Streisand said. “It’s one of the most horrendous things I have ever seen.”
A day after Sawusch died, prosecutors said David withdrew $500,000 from an account for which he had power of attorney.
Over the following years, Sawusch’s sister and mother sought to have David and Moore removed from all of his accounts and then pursued a civil case to get the money back. Over time, they managed to recover much of it, but $1 million remains missing, despite a court order demanding David and Moore give it back.
“My clients are gratified that the U.S. attorney moved to take this case to the grand jury,” Streisand said. “It’s still bittersweet, but they just want justice for Mark who was tragically manipulated and exploited when he was so vulnerable.”