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On Mother’s Day in 2018, Dr. Mark Sawusch tried LSD for the first time.
Standing on the sand in front of his Malibu beach house, he began his trip by joining hands with a pair of yoga gurus who had become his friends and caretakers in the final year of his troubled life. Soon after, a whale breached the ocean’s surface just 50 feet from the shore.
The gurus said Sawusch had researched and planned the experience for months, hoping it would provide some psychic solace and free him from his inner turmoil following years of struggling with bipolar disorder. Instead, it would trigger a terrifying downward spiral that would end with the doctor’s death at the age of 57, just two weeks later.
The details of Sawusch’s tragic final weeks were detailed in deposition testimony given in 2019 by the gurus, Anthony Flores and Anna Moore, as part of a civil suit brought by the doctor’s family who accused them of stealing millions from him as his mental state unraveled.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors in Los Angeles charged the pair with allegedly being grifters who fed the doctor a steady stream of drugs to keep him discombobulated while they quietly transferred money from Sawusch, who had a personal fortune of some $60 million.
To help with Sawusch’s legal, medical and financial affairs, Flores and Moore hired several assistants. They also kept a staff of masseurs on standby to help the doctor relax, testifying that he sometimes received up to 10 hours of massages a day.
Flores and Moore have argued that everything was done at Sawusch’s direction, including taking drugs like LSD, marijuana and ketamine, an animal tranquilizer and club drug that has also been experimented with to treat severe depression. Both Flores and Moore have pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges federal prosecutors have made against them.
Messages left with their attorneys weren’t immediately returned.
When Flores and Moore moved into Sawusch’s Malibu beach house, they described Sawusch as clearly being in need of help, expressing suicidal thoughts and heavily abusing alcohol, which exacerbated his mental health struggles. They said he spent many days walking around his house wearing an open robe with nothing underneath and talking to two seagulls who would often visit. He named the birds George and Madam George.
Two years earlier, Sawusch had been a highly successful eye surgeon with a practice in Pacific Palisades. Prosecutors say he also was a skilled investor and amassed a large fortune through shrewd and timely trading.
But then a short-lived marriage fell apart, and in 2016, Sawusch suffered serious burns to his hands when he touched a wire inside an electric piano in his home. The accident left him unable to continue getting malpractice insurance, derailing his career, according to the testimony.
Over the next year, Sawusch’s mental state seriously declined, leading to him being hospitalized eight times in roughly 12 months. At one point, he was arrested three times in a week for getting into a fight, walking out on a bar tab and throwing rocks at cars passing on the Pacific Coast Highway. Sawusch’s only relatives — a sister and an octogenarian mother — live in Florida and say they were unaware how deep a state of distress he had fallen into, said Adam Streisand, a lawyer representing them.
Then, in June 2017, he met Flores and Moore at a Venice Beach vegan ice cream shop, and within a week they had moved into his home, prosecutors said.
Flores, who went mostly by Anton David, was a hairstylist for movie shoots, and Moore, a pixie-like blond, had some success in Hollywood as an actress. Both yoga fanatics, the pair exuded a spiritual vibe that appealed to Sawusch, who had dabbled with Buddhism and yoga in the past, according to court documents.
Soon, Flores and Moore say they got Sawusch to stop drinking, take up healthier waiting habits and helped him be more consistent taking his medications. According to testimony, Sawusch was prescribed a long list of antidepressants and antipsychotic medications, including seroquel, lamotrigine, lorazepam, gabapentin and zolpidem.
He also began taking ketamine infusion treatments. While still experimental, they have been shown to have some effectiveness relieving symptoms of severe depression. Treatments are administered in a doctor’s office but often leave a patient significantly groggy and addled afterwards.
According to testimony, Sawusch underwent 43 ketamine infusion sessions at a specialist’s office over the last six months of his life — a number so high that his doctor advised he take a break or risk damaging his kidneys or bladder. Sawusch also took low-dose ketamine lozenges when at home.
Flores testified that Sawusch said he wanted to continue as he felt the treatments were helping him. Flores said he told the doctor he agreed.
As the couple were aiding Sawusch, they also were gaining control over his finances, establishing power of attorney over his accounts, and transferring money to others that they controlled, prosecutors allege.
A long, strange trip
By the time of the Mother’s Day acid trip, Flores and Moore had been living with Sawusch in his Malibu beach house for nearly 11 months.
Flores recalled the day beginning with “a bonding ceremony where we all held hands and shared what our intentions and desires were for our day.” The three were led through the experience by a purple-robed shaman named Erez Topanga, who provided the LSD, according to transcripts of the testimony.
The experience was “beautiful,” Flores said, marked by a visit by “a giant whale” that surfaced in the waves “less than 50 yards from the beach house.”
“It was so close you could see the barnacles and its eye and all of the gills,” he testified. “And we went back inside and continued to enjoy the sunset and I think we got in the hot tub later on that night.”
“ “Mark had been researching it, and he was very knowledgeable about it, especially as a medical practitioner.” ”
Others who worked in the house said that the experience seemed to help Sawusch initially, leading him to open up and appear more relaxed and happy in the days that followed. But after a second acid trip several days later during which Sawusch, Flores and Moore attended a screening of Stanley Kubrick’s epic sci-fi film, “2001: A Space Odyssey,” things changed for the worse, the testimony revealed.
Following that episode, Sawusch began speaking loudly to himself at length and frequently rocking back and forth as he sat as a period of extreme mania set in, according to the testimony.
When Flores took Sawusch for his next ketamine infusion session, the doctors at the clinic cut the treatment short, saying Sawusch appeared to be in a highly manic state, according to the transcripts.
Flores said that Sawusch had been ingesting the LSD in liquid form, taking the doses through droplets placed under his tongue, some of which Flores administered himself. He admitted at one point he gave Sawusch as many as four drops of the drug at one time at the doctor’s direction. The typical dose is usually just one.
No one knows how much LSD Sawusch took in those final two weeks. Flores said the doctor kept hold of the vial and he couldn’t be sure if he had been dosing himself. When asked if he thought it was a good idea for someone with Sawusch’s mental health issues to be taking psychedelic drugs, Flores said he just was following the doctor’s orders.
“Mark had been researching it, and he was very knowledgeable about it, especially as a medical practitioner,” he testified. “I had no reason to question Mark’s decision to do what he did.”
Three days before his death, Sawusch took more acid and stayed up much of the night in a highly agitated state, screaming and pouring out his heart to Flores, who tried to calm him down.
Text messages from that night between Flores and Moore, who remained in a separate room, that were entered into the deposition testimony, painted an extremely volatile scene.
“I’m afraid,” Moore wrote, saying she had propped a chair against the door to protect herself. “I’m afraid there will be violence.”
She said she also worried that Sawusch was going to throw them out of the house and wondered where they would go. Flores wrote back not to worry as he had a plan.
In one text, Flores wrote that he believed Sawusch had taken six drops of LSD that day.
In his testimony, Flores said Moore was perhaps overreacting, and Sawusch was simply behaving the way he did when he was “having a bipolar episode, which is like talking at the top of his lungs, telling you to go do something and then telling you not to do something.”
“Anna is a delicate person, and Mark is a very tall, like six-foot plus man who is capable of acting like a complete jerk, and I’m capable of dealing with people who are complete jerks differently than she is,” he said.
Prosecutors say that the night ended with Sawusch throwing the couple out of his house, although in his testimony, Flores insisted they decided to leave in order to give Sawusch some space. They then decamped to a $1,200 a night room at the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, which they paid for with Sawusch’s money, prosecutors said.
George and Madam George
The following day would turn out to be Sawsuch’s last.
He remained at home under the watchful eye of two separate massage therapists who arrived for their shifts to find Sawusch in a terrifying state.
Surveillance cameras within his home captured the day’s events, which were described in the deposition testimony by Flores and other staff members who had viewed the footage.
“ “Mark lived out his life at his beach house where he loved to be.” ”
For much of the day, Sawusch aggressively paced around the living room, talking to himself and the seagulls, George and Madam George, while looking out the window using binoculars he slammed into his face so hard it left bruising around his eyes.
Then he began drinking bottles and bottles of what appeared to be water and kombucha so excessively that it caused him to begin throwing up. He then started standing up and sitting down on the sofa over and over again.
Eventually, he sat down on the sofa and never got up again. When the massage therapists did their shift change, they discovered Sawusch was unresponsive and his skin appeared gray. They called Flores who told them to call 911, according to court documents.
After an investigation by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s office, Sawusch was determined to have died of a toxic mix of ketamine and alcohol. The death was deemed accidental.
When asked how watching the footage of Sawusch dying made him feel, Flores said he had mixed emotions.
“Sad and just devastated,” he said. “I think Mark lived out his life at his beach house where he loved to be. He spent his last day of his life with his birds: George and Madam George. He was looking out at dolphins like we did all the time with binoculars, and whales.”