Complaints About Branding Inside Secretive Group Are Under Review

The New York Times/October 19, 2017

By Barry Meier

Officials in New York State plan to review why regulators and others did not act after women involved with a secretive group reported they had been branded with a cauterizing device or traumatized during an “experiment,” said a spokesman for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

The review will also examine whether state officials should now pursue those complaints, said that spokesman, Richard Azzopardi. The women were former members of an Albany-based group called Nxivm that offers self-improvement courses.

In a related development, a Nxivm-affiliated physician resigned Wednesday from the staff of St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, hospital officials said.

The doctor, Brandon Porter, is accused of having run a study in which women were shown video clips while their brain waves were recorded and facial expressions videotaped. Participants were not warned beforehand that some of the clips were extremely violent, including scenes of women being killed and dismembered, according to a complaint filed with the New York State Department of Health.

Medical regulators also did not act on a complaint filed against another licensed physician, Danielle Roberts, who reportedly used a surgical device to burn a brand below the hip of women during their initiation into a secret sorority within Nxivm.

Some women said they reported the branding to state police officials. Police officials declined to pursue the complaint, saying the women’s actions had been consensual, a text message showed.

The developments came after the publication on Tuesday of an article in The New York Times about Nxivm and the practices of the secret sorority. The article cited a text message indicating that Nxivm’s leader, Keith Raniere, who is known as “Vanguard,” was aware that some female members were being branded and that the symbol used contained his initials as a “tribute” to him.

Late Wednesday, Nxivm released a statement through an affiliate, stating that an unnamed media outlet had “unfoundedly, and incorrectly, linked NXIVM corporation, and its related companies, with a social group.”

The statement asserted that the article “might be a criminal product of criminal minds,” and said NXIVM “will explore any and all legal remedies.”

“NXIVM was not able to participate in this story because it painfully held true to the due process of our free world justice system,” the statement said.

During a three-month period, officials of Nxivm did not respond to repeated requests by The Times for interviews and responses. Neither Dr. Porter nor Dr. Roberts responded to repeated inquiries.

Mr. Azzopardi said in his statement: “The allegations in this article are disturbing. Counsel’s Office will be reviewing this matter to determine if applicable laws, regulations and procedures were followed by the agencies cited in this report and that review will determine if further action is warranted.”

In a letter, the State Department of Health declined to take action on a complaint filed in July against Dr. Roberts because she had not been acting as a doctor treating a patient when she reportedly performed branding.

In a separate complaint filed in August, a former member of Nxivm, Jennifer Kobelt, 28, described Dr. Porter as the physician who treated Mr. Raniere’s followers when they got ill and the “main scientist” who conducted tests involving the group.

Last year, Ms. Kobelt said, Dr. Porter drove her to a former restaurant called Apropos in Clifton Park, N.Y., a town not far from Albany that is now used by Nxivm as a meeting center.

There, he showed her a series of video clips, three of which were so violent that the images “have haunted me for almost a year now,” she stated in her complaint.

In of one them, Mexican cartel members are seen killing four women. “Please look into this ASAP,” Ms. Kobelt wrote. “This man needs to be stopped.”

In September, medical regulators informed her that they were declining to act on her complaint because Dr. Porter’s supposed actions did not meet the agency’s definition of “medical misconduct,” their letter shows.

A spokesman for St. Peter’s Hospital said Dr. Porter resigned from his part-time position after officials there met with him to discuss the allegations cited in The Times article.

The New York State Commissioner of Health, Dr. Howard Zucker, did not respond to two emails sent to him on Wednesday.

Correction: October 19, 2017 -- An earlier version of this article misstated the hospital where Dr. Brandon Porter worked. It is St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, not St. Francis.

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