Former student speaks out on ‘cult-like group’ operating in Leesburg High School

LEESBURG, Fla. — A former student at Leesburg High School is speaking out about the cult-like group she said formed at a local high school that involved into a secret and, at times, inappropriate society.


Lena Hammond, now a college student, enjoyed playing percussion. From that, she joined a small Bible study group that involved longtime Leesburg High School band director Gabriel Fielder, who was the leader who “eventually started calling himself governor,” Hammond said.

The group also included Leonardo “Lenny” Finelli, a Leesburg High School counselor who helped with the band.

READ: State records shed light on ‘cult-like’ secret society operating at Leesburg High School

Hammond said some started referring to the group as a cult shortly after it started. She left early on because she felt uncomfortable with how closed off it got.

Records show it became more organized and registered as a nonprofit group called The Elder Council.

Meetings were moved to Fielder’s 13-acre ranch property in Marion County, where members did chores, held meetings and tithed.

READ: Leesburg band director, counselor accused of operating ‘cult-like’ secret society within school

“Many of the students donated upwards of like $1,200 in the time that the group was active,” Hammond said.

The district investigation shows that, at some point, members of the group started using apps so they could track each other’s movements.

READ: Body of father believed to have been killed by son, 18, found in Orange County lake

Earlier this year, one of Hammond’s friends, a former student who is now an adult, told Leesburg police and school officials it was a “cult-like secret society.” And while he was a minor, Finelli allegedly sent him sexually explicit messages.

Finelli denied that part to school officials. However, the district investigation determined Finelli attempted to have a sexual or romantic relationship with the student.

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Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal, WFTV.com

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.