Doctor accused of branding women in sex cult worked at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital

Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin/April 30, 2018

By Daniel Bice and Mary Spicuzza

The doctor accused of branding female members of a New York "sex cult" worked at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital and two of its affiliates as recently as last summer — and reportedly tried to recruit at least one of her Milwaukee patients.

Danielle D. Roberts, a 36-year-old family doctor, has been identified in multiple  media accounts as a leader of Nxivm, a controversial self-help group. Some female members were brainwashed by founder Keith Raniere, branded with his initials and coerced into having sex with him, authorities say. 

In recent weeks, Raniere and one of his top recruiters, former "Smallville" actress Allison Mack, were arrested and charged with sex-trafficking. The group and its bizarre practices have been making headlines for a number of years. 

The criminal complaint said Raniere, known as "Vanguard," created a system in which women are told they can advance in the group by acting as "slaves" to male "masters." Those at the highest level must do menial chores, follow near-starvation diets and keep the details of the group secret.

Members of the group have identified Roberts as the physician who branded them in the pubic area with a cauterizing iron to form a scar spelling K-R-A-M — Raniere's and Mack's initials.  Each woman was held down by four people during the procedure. No anesthesia was used.

Records show Roberts has worked in recent years at St. Mary's, Columbia St. Mary's Ozaukee in Mequon and Sacred Heart Rehabilitation Hospital.

Caryn Kaufman, a spokeswoman for Ascension Wisconsin, said Roberts was never employed directly by St. Mary's but worked for a staffing agency that provided temporary workers for the hospital. Ascension owns St. Mary's and its affiliates. 

“As soon as we learned of her alleged behavior in New York, we immediately notified the placement agency and revoked approval of Danielle Roberts for any future assignments at any of our sites of care," Kaufman said.

Ascension officials, however, did not say when Roberts began filling in at St. Mary's or when she was dropped. They also did not disclose how many hours a month she put in at the three facilities.

But the temp agency, CHG Healthcare, said it was unaware of the allegations against Roberts. 

Spencer Sutherland, senior public relations manager, said Roberts was an independent contractor who his firm assigned to Wisconsin hospitals for two stints — from October 2012 to November 2013 and from March 2016 to July 2017. She has not taken any assignments through his firm since then.

That is consistent with other records. 

Roberts' resumé says she began working in Wisconsin six years ago. She first received a temporary medical license here in January 2013 and a standard one three months later. Her Wisconsin credentials expired in February. She is still licensed in New York. 

A May 2016 posting on an internal St. Mary's message board listed Roberts as one of seven doctors and other health care officials who "have joined the Medical or Allied Health staff at one or more (Columbia St. Mary's) facility." 

Roberts, who lives in Westbury, N.Y., did not return calls and emails. Her attorney told ABC News that the accusations against her are "unfounded."

One of her former St. Mary's patients told the Journal Sentinel that Roberts tried to persuade him to attend a 16-day seminar hosted by exo/eso, an affiliate of Nxivm that she runs. She has posted a 20-minute video online in which she talks about "creating belief systems for miraculous healing."

Such 16-day seminars are said to cost up to $7,500. 

Damon Dorsey, a 57-year-old business consultant, said he went to St. Mary's after breaking several ribs, dislocating his shoulder and injuring his ankle in a bicycle accident in July 2017. He said Roberts was his doctor during his four-day stay. 

Dorsey said Roberts told him that she worked at St. Mary's one week a month. 

During one of their conversations, Dorsey said, the doctor talked up an "amazing guy" who was leading some New York seminars. He took her card and later got a text from Roberts.

But what struck Dorsey the most, he said, was the doctor's "disheveled appearance" and the fact that she seemed to be operating in "some kind of a haze." On his final day in the hospital, he searched her name online, finding out about her ties to Raniere and the allegations that she branded his followers.

He said he then filed a complaint on St. Mary's website, linking to a news story on the sex cult and Roberts. In response, he got a note thanking him for the information and vowing to follow up. The note had a request for confidentiality. He has heard nothing since.

"Hospitals should not have staff members doing torture and branding routines in cults," Dorsey said.

If he was able to find this information using Google, Dorsey said, he believed the hospital should have been able to do the same. 

He noted that Raniere teaches a philosophy that "pain is love," according to news accounts. 

"So, basically, I go to get healed and end up with a doctor whose cult believes that pain is necessary in loving relationships," Dorsey said in an email. "I can't make this stuff up!"

Dorsey said he still wasn't able to walk when Roberts signed off on his release. 

Later, Dorsey said he told his personal doctor about Roberts' ties to the cult, and the doctor was "completely flabbergasted" after looking up the news stories. "He couldn't even believe she was practicing," Dorsey said.

It does not appear that St. Mary's passed along Dorsey's complaint to state regulators at the Department of Safety and Professional Services.  

"The department has not received a complaint against Ms. Danielle D. Roberts, nor is there an active investigation with the Wisconsin Medical Examining Board," said Kirsten Reader, assistant deputy secretary. 

In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to recommend changes in how state regulators review complaints against doctors after they failed to act on complaints about Roberts and another Nxivm-linked physician last year. 

New inquiries into both doctors are currently underway, a spokesman for the governor told the New York Times.

Officials with Nxivm claim 16,000 people have participated in its training seminars, which they say improves people's lives by removing mental and emotional barriers.

Only a small number of participants climb the group's ladder to reach the most controversial level,  called DOS, short for “dominus obsequious sororium" — Latin for “master over the slave women." Others shorten the phrase to "dominant over submissive."

In her only public comments about Nxivm, Roberts brushed aside questions from a producer for the ABC news show "20/20" while attending a "human optimization" seminar in New York late last year. 

"We're at a wellness expo, and that's completely irrelevant from the purpose of why we are here today," Roberts said. "I'm sorry. There's no — there's no comment about that."

Asked specifically how many people she had branded, Roberts added, "There's a lot of allegations and there's nothing — there's no comment that we have."

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