BRADENTON — The skinny man walked into court Thursday in a simple, white outfit with a disheveled beard dangling to his chest.
He had wanted to be an engineer. He had wanted to make millions of dollars to feed the poor, to help the unwanted. But that was years ago.
Lawrence Joseph Ansaroff, a star soccer player in high school with a perfect math SAT score, got swept up in what police said was a cult.
With two others, authorities said he committed a string of robberies that grabbed national attention. The trio had been taking orders from a woman who dubbed herself “Queen Shahmia” and “The Daughter of God.”
That woman, Richelle Denise Bradshaw, is now known as inmate No. Y12836 at Broward Correctional Institution, and is serving a 25-year term for robbery and theft.
Judges declared the so-called manservants insane, and each was acquitted on charges in Pinellas, Manatee and Lee counties, among others. Each was ordered to undergo mental health treatment.
In court Thursday, a circuit judge in Bradenton ordered Ansaroff, 24, put in a less-restrictive setting to allow him to find a job and to live a more normal life than the hospital-based one he knows now.
He sat in court with his hands folded in his lap. A nurse, a security officer and a psychologist accompanied him from the Fort Lauderdale hospital where he has been living.
For his father, Joseph, a contractor in Fort Lauderdale, the judge’s decision was another small step in a road to recovery that is sure to be long.
“It’s been a struggle right from when this happened,” he said before Thursday’s hearing with Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky.
At the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Ansaroff explored religion as an engineering student. He was raised a Catholic; his family moved to Florida from Yugoslavia decades ago. He met Bradshaw, 38, at the college.
Joseph Ansaroff said his son lost weight. His refrigerator was bare. He had no money or jewelry. He was being brainwashed into giving his life to the queen.
“Then it slipped away from my hands,” he said.
Bradshaw said she and her followers were traveling along the west coast of Florida in late 1999 on a religious mission when Lee County sheriff’s deputies arrested the three men.
Authorities in Manatee County said Ansaroff was among the servants who robbed a grocery store and a restaurant.
Lee County sheriff’s deputies discovered Bradshaw and her servants were staying in an $800-per-night room at the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa.
Bradshaw was dressed in silk and adorned in gold jewelry.
The servants, then teens, bowed before her, fed her, rubbed her feet with lotion and carried a Persian rug for her, authorities said at the time. They peeled her fruit.
Since then, prison officials have written up inmate Bradshaw for disciplinary problems that include disobeying orders and possession of contraband.
Among the violations, she refused to clip her fingernails one time and misused state property when she made a snowman out of feminine pads.
“You don’t like it?” she asked the corrections officer who discovered the art in December 2003. “You worry about petty things too much.”
Psychologists diagnosed Ansaroff with paranoid schizophrenia.
A change in his conditional release would require another court hearing. He has hearings pending in other counties.
Two other so-called manservants who were arrested with Ansaroff have since wrapped up their mental health treatment programs.
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