AG suspends probe of NXIVM nonprofit

State investigation put on hold as federal criminal case intensifies

Albany Times-Union/April 9, 2018

By Brendan J. Lyons

Albany — The state attorney general's office has suspended its investigation of a nonprofit foundation associated with the NXIVM corporation due to an ongoing federal criminal probe of the organization.

The attorney general's office notified a state Supreme Court justice last week that its case against Clare W. Bronfman and Dr. Brandon Porter, who are both associated with a foundation that conducted brain-activity studies on behalf of NXIVM, will be put on hold temporarily. The notification was made a day before Porter and Bronfman had been ordered to produce documents in the case.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office had filed a court case in early March asking a judge to order Bronfman and Porter to turn over their records related to brain-activity and other human behavioral studies, which had been conducted without any apparent oversight. The attorney general's decision to suspend the probe followed the March 25 arrest of NXIVM founder Keith Raniere on federal charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor.

The state investigation focused on the nonprofit Ethical Science Foundation that was formed in 2007 by Bronfman, an heiress of the Seagram Co. business empire who has described herself as the operations director of NXIVM. Bronfman is listed in public records as the trustee and donor of the Ethical Science Foundation.

Internal Revenue Service records indicate the Ethical Science Foundation acquired more than $145,000 worth of computers, medical equipment and brain-activity monitors several years ago.

A 2015 IRS form filed by the nonprofit listed its "charitable activities" as "Tourettes study — studying the effects of a specific and innovative method has [sic] on individuals with Tourettes syndrome and obsessive compulsive disorder." The 2015 tax form said its expenses were $32,620.

Raniere, whose organization has been described by experts as a cult, was arrested on March 25 at a $10,000-a-week villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he fled to last November after the federal investigation began.

The criminal charges accuse Raniere of organizing a secret group within NXIVM in 2015 in which women were lured into a slave-master club and some were allegedly coerced into having sex with Raniere. NXIVM issued a public statement last year denying any connection between the secret club and Raniere or NXIVM, but federal prosecutors allege Raniere founded the club, in which multiple women were branded with the initials of Raniere and Allison Mack, an actress and Raniere's confidante.

The state Health Department faced scrutiny last year when it was reported that the agency had brushed off complaints about the brain studies and the branding, which was done by a licensed medical doctor, Danielle Roberts, associated with NXIVM.

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