CULT LEADER’S PROBLEMS GROW AS FOLLOWING SHRINKS
– by Gerald Renner, Courant Religion Writer
From: The Hartford Courant, Hartford, Connecticut
Page 1 Headliner Story, Tuesday June 1, 1993
The business of the “sinful messiah” has fallen on
hard times. Followers of Julius Schacknow, a cult leader
known as Brother Julius, have been deserting him as fast as
the central Connecticut business empire they built up in the
1980s has collapsed in the 1990s.
A dedicated corps of 200 devoted followers has
dwindled to perhaps 50 or fewer. Many who have quit tell
stories of sexual and financial explooitation, and say
Brother Julius is acting in an increasingly bizarre and
In addition, the federal government is seeking the
return of $2 million that is missing from two government-
protected pension funds set up for workers in a construction
Recent interviews with people who have broken with
Schacknow, sources close to the secretive cult and public
documents draw a picture of a disintegrating enterprise that
had been built up around the Bible-quoting preacher and his
“chief apostle,” who had a genius for business ventures.
Schacknow, 68, has declined to be interviewed by The
Courant for this story. He has operated in central
Connecticut for 23 years, ever since he moved from New
Jersey and proclaimed at an outdoor revival in Trumbull in
1970 that he was Jesus Christ reincarnated.
Several hundred idealistic young people, hungry for
spiritual direction, flocked to the guidance of the long-
haired preacher who wore a white robe and had mesmerizing
He set up a base in Meriden and commanded national
attention as a cult leader until, in 1976, he stopped making
public appearances. Driven by what they saw as a holy
mission to advance “the Work,” Schacknow’s followers
throughout the 1980s oversaw the building of an expanding,
multmillion-dollar real estate and construction business.
They achieved an outstanding financial success under
the direction of two of Schacknow’s closest associates, Paul
Sweetman, his “chief apostle,” and Joseph Joyce, another top
“apostle.” Among the businesses was J-Anne North/Century 21,
a real estate company based in Southington that operated
five Century 21 franchises in central Connecticut and did
$100 million in sales a year, national franchise records
Their contracting business, County Wide Construction
Co. and its affiliate, County Wide Home Improvement and
Maintenance Co., did major work for towns, private
developers and homeowners. Schacknow himself stayed aloof
from direct involvement in the businesses but exhorted his
followers to give their utmost. People who quit complained
that they put in long work days, were paid below-minimum
wages and sometimes were denied sales commissions.
But, if the 1980s marked the ascendancy of the self-
proclaimed messiah, his decline and fall is being tracked in
the 1990s. Many people have left him, former followers say,
including several of Schacknow’s “12 apostles,” the key men
who had been in charge. Schacknow, whose self-description
progressed from prophet to reincarnation of Jesus Christ and
finally to God almighty, is reported to be ailing. He
frequently calls off his six-hour-long Sunday services he
holds in a rented Veterans of Foreign Wars hall on Route 10
COINING THE PHRASE
Although David Koresh of the Branch Davidians in Waco,
Texas, called himself a “sinful messiah,” Schacknow
virtually coined the term in the 1970s claiming that he had
to sin himself to know what sin was like.
Born into a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1924,
Schacknow now converted to Christianity after he served in
the Navy in World War II. He recounts his conversion in an
autobiography he wrote in 1947 for admission to the Bible
Institute of Los Angeles, a fundamentalist school. He was an
outstanding student of the Bible. But from his earliest days
as a preacher he was being accused of using his charisma and
position as a religious leader to manipulate young women,
suggesting that it was God’s will that they sleep with him.
At least two women, including a stepdaughter, accused
Schacknow in separate lawsuits in 1986 and 1988 of having
sexually abused them when they were children. Their civil
suits were settled out of court for undisclosed sums, and no
criminal charges were ever brought against him.
All but one of the six Century 21 real estate
franchises the Juliusites ran have closed or been sold.
Joseph Joyce continues to run J-Anne North in Southington
with a reduced staff. County Wide has gone out of business.
The 130 people who worked for County Wide and had money
coming to them from two federally protected pension plans
have found that nothing is left to pay them, court records
Paul Sweetman and Alfred Dube Jr., another “apostle,”
were trustees of the plans. The U.S. Labor Department has
accused them of having taken more than $2 million from the
plans for personal loans and loans to companies in which
they had an interest. Sweetman and Dube agreed to reimburse
the pension plans $1.8 million by January 1994, and to waive
their rights to their share of more than $300,000, in an
order signed by federal Judge Alan H. Nevas in the U.S.
District Court in Bridgeport on Jan 28.
They made an initial payment of $10,000 but missed
making a $100,000 installment due April 28, said John Chavez,
a Labor Department spokesman in Boston. No further action is
being taken against them at this time because, Chavez said,
“They are continuing to show the department good faith
efforts to try to raise the money.” But those who are owed
the money raise questions about how much good faith Sweetman
and Dube are showing. “As far as I am concerned, I think
they took the money and squirreled it away and we won’t ever
see it,” said Bob Langston.
Langston, who had been a follower of Brother Julius
for nearly 20 years, had been in charge of County Wide’s
aluminum division. When he quit both the job and the cult,
he sought his pension money but, he said, “I was getting the
runaround from everyone.” He complained to the Labor
Department, which investigated and took civil action against
Sweetman and Dube.
In a consent decree with the Labor Department,
Sweetman and Dube cite assets that will be used to reimburse
the pension plans. But one asset they cite is highly
questionable. For instance, Sweetman and Dube said in the
consent decree that County Wide will assign $1.3 million due
to the pension plans from Prentiss House, Inc., which owned
a condominium development called Prentice House in the
Kensington section of Berlin.
What is not mentioned is that Sweetman is president
and the major shareholder in Prentiss House Inc., which has
a shaky financial base. It has not made mortgage payments on
the condominium development since February 1991 and is in
arrears on taxes to the town of Berlin, court records show.
Last month the Superior Court in New Britain ordered
the condominium development to be sold Nov. 6. Fleet Bank
holds the mortgage, which amounted to more than $1.4 million
in unpaid principal and interest two years ago. The
wholesale value of the property was assessed at about $1.7
million in a 1992 court document.
“If County Wide or Sweetman is anticipating any
revenue from Prentiss to pay toward the $2 million, I doubt
if there will be anything paid,” said Joseph Gall of Milford,
secretary of Prentiss House, Inc. He said he lost $175,000
when he went into partnership with Sweetman to convert a
factory building into condominiums. The factory building was
converted into condominiums by County Wide Construction,
Gall said. An initial estimate that the conversion would
cost $45 a square foot soared to $90 a square foot by the
time the job was done, Gall said.
Sweetman, who had been living in Cheshire, could not
be reached for comment. Dube, who also lives in Cheshire,
said, “I have nothing to say.” David Wayne Winters, who
represents Sweetman in negotiations with the Labor
Department, said, “I just cannot discuss my client’s
business. I just won’t comment.” Julius Schacknow is also
unavailable for comment. He has shunned public appearances
for 17 years and rarely gives interviews. He turned down a
request from the Courant for one last month.
In a two-hour interview with the Courant six years ago,
he reiterated his claims to divinity and said he had come to
call the world to repent. “I’m your creator and I’ve come to
punish the world for their sins, for their ungodliness,
their crookedness, breaking my commandments…and treating
people who love me as Jesus with contempt. …You are
interviewing Jesus, who has returned like a thief in the
night,” he said.
Of the allegations against him, he said: “I won’t
comment. You have no interest in the truth. You’re
interested in smutty material that will satisfy the lustful
eyes and ears of your public.”
He maintains the same position. He responded virtually
the same way to a reporter from the Boston Globe in an
interview in Boston last month.
Former followers say Schacknow circulates among seven
“wives,” staying with each one no more than one or two days
a week, a regimen he has followed for years. His main “wife”
lives in Berlin. An aide drives him from place to place
because he has never learned to drive, people close to him
But he leads a diminishing flock.
“All the big guns are leaving and when an apostle
leaves it has a great effect on everybody in his group,”
said John Goski, 41, formerly of Bristol, who spent 18 years
in the cult. Each apostle has charge of people who were born
under each of the 12 astrological signs. Goski said, so when
an apostle quits it has a demoralizing effect.
“He is threatening the people who leave him now,”
Goski said. The threats are not directly physical but a
warning that the deserters will reaf divine retribution.
“When I came out he threatened me. He said things like, ‘One
of your kids may die.’ Getting the courage to leave is the
real miracle,” said Goski, who joined Schacknow as a 20-
year-old looking for spiritual direction.
A web of friendships, family and work kept him tied to
the cult, even after he wanted to leave, Goski said. He
finally quit two years ago and has sinced moved with his
wife, Pat, and two children to northern New Jersey. Pat
Goski said Schacknow’s tolerance of sexual abuse of some
children in the cult caused many people to leave.
Schacknow’s son, Daniel Sweetman, 30, was sentenced in
Superior Court in Meriden in September to a year in prison
for sexually abusing four children. He was released on
probation in March. Police investigated allegations against
another cult member but said no parents would make a formal
complaint. Daniel Sweetman is the son of Schacknow and
Schacknow’s former wife, Joanne, Sweetman, who is known in
the cult as the “holy spirit.” She left Schacknow and has
been living with Paul Sweetman for at least 20 years, people
who know them, including their children, said.
Schacknow and Sweetman swapped wives in New Jersey in
the late 1960s, the sources said. Sweetman’s first wife,
Minnie, who went to live with Schacknow, died in 1970.
Schacknow has recently been pressuring women to share their
husbands because so many men have quit the cult, one woman
who had been with him nearly 20 years said.
“That was the big issue. It was very possible your
husband would have to take in another woman,” said the woman,
who quit two years ago. She declined to be publicly
identified because she did not want to be embarassed at her
place of employment. She said she and some other women
“weren’t going to sleep with Julius and we weren’t going to
swap wives. … He got into a rampage where he wanted to get
rid of people and he got rid of us.”
She said throwing people out of the group was
Schacknow’s way of exercising his authority. People usually
begged him to return, she said, but she and her husband
decided they had had enough.
“I guess Julius did us a favor,” she said.