NXIVM doctor facing state charges

Health Department cites "fright study" and other conduct

Albany Times-Union/May 5, 2018

By Steve Barnes

Brandon B. Porter, a medical doctor who conducted controversial brain-activity and other human behavioral research on behalf of the NXIVM corporation, faces two dozen charges from a state oversight board, which accuses him of gross negligence for studies that included showing subjects videos of actual dismemberment and murder of women.

The charges, filed April 24 by the Board for Professional Medical Conduct, detail 24 offenses related to the so-called unsanctioned "fright study" and other alleged conduct by Porter. The charges allege moral unfitness to practice medicine, gross negligence, incompetence and fraud in practicing medicine, and failure to keep records and file required reports.

The board is a division of the state health department, which faced scrutiny last year when it was reported that the agency had brushed off complaints about the brain studies. Porter was also a subject of an investigation by the state attorney general's office into a NXIVM-affiliated foundation that conducted the studies, as was Clare W. Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram Co. business empire who has described herself as the operations director of NXIVM. The investigation was suspended by the attorney general's office last month due to an ongoing federal criminal probe of NXIVM.

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 the 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.

Jennifer Kobelt, an aspiring actress who was part of NXIVM until June 2017, said last year in a complaint to the health department and in an interview with the Times Union that Porter showed her disturbing videos during an August 2016 session in a commercial building in Halfmoon regularly used by NXIVM to host training seminars and other events.

Kobelt told the Times Union that Porter seated her in front of a television and attached electrodes to her scalp before putting what Kobelt said NXIVM associates called the "brain cap" on her head.

Kobelt said wearing the brain cap was not unusual: She and others had often allowed Porter to monitor their brain activity, usually when they were watching videos of lectures by Raniere.

In this case, however, Porter took notes on a laptop while he showed Kobelt a scene from the 1998 drama "American History X" in which a black man is stomped to death by a neo-Nazi, the brutal gang-rape scene from the Jodie Foster film "The Accused," a film clip in which a conscious man is forced to eat part of his own brain, and what appeared to be footage from an actual mass murder: women being decapitated and dismembered, seemingly by members of a drug cartel.

Kobelt, who said she was told up to 100 people had taken part in the same study, said no one told her what the study was for or what to expect, nor did she sign documents acknowledging she had been informed of the details of the study or its purpose, or that she was consenting to taking part.

In the 17-page document announcing the Board for Professional Medical Conduct's charges against Porter, first reported by the New York Post, the videos are described as part of a "fright study." The charges list 16 violations of state law or state or federal guidelines, and deviations from accepted medical and scientific practice. The charges also cite Porter for similar violations for studies on obsessive-compulsive disorder and Tourette's syndrome conducted between 2012 and 2017, and for brain-wave studies in 2015 and 2016 related to classes, coaching, training and so-called professional-advancement courses offered by NXIVM and its affiliated Executive Success Programs. Porter is also accused of failing to report to authorities that, during a NXIVM conference at a Lake George facility in late summer 2016, many of the 300 to 400 attendees, including 50 to 60 children, became ill with an "undetermined infectious disease" with flu-like symptoms, vomiting and diarrhea. As a licensed medical doctor, Porter was obligated to report the outbreak.

A hearing on Porter's charges is scheduled for June 27 at the health department's offices in Menands. Porter faces suspension or revocation of his medical license if found guilty.

Porter worked for St. Peter's Hospital in Albany until October, when he resigned after The New York Times reported that at least 20 women associated with NXIVM were lured into a secret club within the organization that required them to consent to being branded in their pubic area. The women said they were never told that the unusual-looking brand was a design that included the initials of Raniere and Allison Mack, an actress and NXIVM associate who is said to have started the secret women's group with Raniere.

Raniere and Mack on Friday appeared in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to answer charges they coerced women into joining the secret sex cult. The federal probe accuses them of sex slavery and human trafficking.

U.S. Attorney Moira Penza said in court Friday the investigation is continuing, and that a new indictment will be filed soon against Raniere and Mack. She indicated others are likely to face charges as well.

Raniere, a 57-year-old known within NXIVM as "Vanguard," allegedly served as a "grand master" over female members of the organization — including Mack — who were forced to provide material known as "collateral" in order to join the club known as Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), which means "Master Over the Slave Women," according to a federal complaint.

If the women tried to leave, they faced the threat that the collateral — such as damaging information about their family members or pictures of their genitalia — would be released, the complaint said.

Raniere and Mack pleaded not guilty. Their attorneys said the pair deny the charges and characterized as consensual the branding, membership in the sex club and participation in its activities.

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