A bandleader at Leesburg High School in Florida resigned amid an investigation after he was accused of operating a ‘cult-like’ group for students that masqueraded as a Bible study group.
Gabriel Fielder would allegedly invite teens to his 13-acre farm, on the outskirts of Leesburg, 40 miles north west of Orlando, where the high schoolers would be forced to do manual labor to prepare for, what Fielder claimed, was the approaching apocalypse.
The bandleader also reportedly ordered the teens to pay tithes – compulsory donations made to a church – to his group, known as The Elder Council, reports The Daily Commercial.
They were reportedly forbidden from telling their parents about the group in case they thought it was a ‘cult’.
Gabriel Fielder joined Leesburg High School and was the leader of the school’s Swarm of Sound band
Working with Fielder in running The Elder Council, set up in 2018, was Leesburg guidance counsellor Leonardo aka Lenny Finelli.
Online records show that Finelli and Fielder registered a non-profit in Leesburg named The Elder Council Inc. in November 2019.
The whistle was blown on the pair’s operation when Finelli was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a male student.
Finelli allegedly share inappropriate texts with the teen in September 2020 and then dated him when the student turned 18 in November 2021, reports Click Orlando.
Fielder owns a 13-acre farm on the outskirts of Leesburg where forced students to perform manual labor
According to one former member of the cult, Fielder would often speak about the apocalypse and attempt out of body experiences
The pair’s alleged relationship lasted for three months.
That student told his therapist about the activities on Fielder’s farms. The therapist then went to school authorities.
A former member of The Elder Council described the group’s activities to The Daily Commercial: ‘He told us basically that he had such a close relationship with God that it was very, very, very rare and uncommon for him to get things wrong. And his thing was, ‘If I’m wrong, then God’s going to correct me, you guys don’t need to correct me.’
The former member said that after a while, Fielder began to attempt to control elements the teenager’s lives while also speaking in tongues and attempting to have out-of-body experiences.
Leonardo aka Lenny Finelli is also accused of sending inappropriate messages to a male student
Gabriel Fielder registered The Elders Club as a non-profit in Florida in November 2019
That included using the Life360 app to monitor their locations.
Fielder would reportedly tell students that the purpose of the manual labor was related to the upcoming apocalypse.
He told the member: ‘Don’t describe this like that because your parents aren’t open to all of this stuff yet. They’re going to think we’re a cult.’
An online bio for Fielder when he ran for a seat on Leesburg City Council quotes him as saying: ‘I believe we were designed to be creators, and not consumers. By teaching and guiding people to be self-sufficient, you are lifting them out of dependence on others and improving the culture one person at a time.’
The former member told The Daily Commercial that members of the group began to break off from Fielder in 2021 leading to dissolution of The Elder Council.
Those who detracted from the group were known as witches.
Neither Fielder or Finelli will face any charges in relation to The Elder Council. Both resigned amid an investigation in May 2022.
Officials from Lake County Schools were adamant that the club was not sanctioned by the district nor did any meetings take place at school
In Fielder’s resignation documents, he cites his reason for leaving the school as pursuing employment outside of education while Finelli says that he is leaving for ‘personal reasons.’
Finelli also noted in his filing that he did not show up for work for four days while he was under an initial investigation.
The unnamed former member told The Daily Commercial: ‘It rocked me to think that I could be in a cult and that everything in my life is completely wrong. But I don’t even know if he understood how damaging he was to all of us. I don’t think he does. And I honestly don’t believe it was completely malicious.’
Sherri Owens, the communications coordinator for Lake County Schools, said in a statement that the group was not affiliated with the school district and that meetings didn’t take place on school property.
According to Fielder’s LinkedIn page, he’s a graduate of Florida State University and the University of Florida, where he studied education and music. Fielder attended Leesburg High School, graduating in 1997.
Fielder began working at Leesburg High School in August 2002. He lists his duties as: ‘Serving as a board member of a non profit organization, designing and implementing curriculum for the music classroom, web design, event planning, coordinating budgets, travel planning, fundraising, and music instruction.’