From one strange ‘cult’ to another: NXIVM whistleblower had served in another sect, IDs doctor as member who branded women

New York Daily News/May 16, 2019

By Shayna Jacobs and Leonard Greene

his wasn’t his first rodeo.

The whistleblower testifying about a “sex cult” posing as a self-help organization said he was a member of another controversial sect before signing on with the NXIVM group.

Mark Vicente, under questioning from prosecutors, also described pictures from a NXIVM retreat in Fiji, and identified a woman in one photo as the doctor recruited to brand NXIVM loyalists. He said Dr. Danielle Roberts, who posed in a group shot with several bikini-clad members in a resort pool, was “the person who actually did the branding.”

But when Vicente, who has been dishing dirt about NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, was asked about Ramtha, the “enlightenment school” that held Vicente’s allegiance before jumping ship, he was hardly as eager to spill any secrets

“I don’t know how much I can say,” an uneasy Vicente told jurors hearing evidence at Raniere’s conspiracy and sex trafficking trial Thursday in Brooklyn Federal Court.

”There may be legal issues for me.”

Judge Nicholas Garaufis reminded Vicente that he swore to tell the truth when he took the witness stand.

“You’re under oath,” Garaufis said. “This is a court proceeding.”

Vicente went on to describe Ramtha founder J. Z. Knight’s leadership, which drew in such celebrities as Linda Evans and Shirley MacLaine. Knight, who claims to channel a 35,000-year-old warrior, says she blends ancient wisdom, the power of consciousness and science in her teachings.

Critics, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, say she’s a hate teacher who disparages Catholics, gays, Mexicans and Jews.

Vicente, under cross examination, claimed Knight put him in danger when she said in front of 1,000 “zealous” followers that “I would die a horrible death.”

Raniere “teased” Vicente about his Ramtha ties when he first joined NXIVM, saying he needed to be “deprogrammed,” Vicente said.

Raniere’s lawyers appeared to be using Vicente’s past “cult” membership to discredit his testimony about Raniere’s group.

The next witness Thursday, businessman Stephen Herbits, said Raniere lieutenant Clare Bronfman, a Seagram’s liquor heiress, asked him to use his political ties to get NXIVM’s enemies indicted. When Herbits refused, he said he ended up on the list, which was unearthed during a police search in the home of NXIVM co-founder and president, Nancy Salzman, who has already pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy charge.

The list included cult investigator Rick Ross, Albany DA David Soares, ex-New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer.

Raniere, 58, has pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking and exploiting victims including a 15-year-old Mexican girl he allegedly had sex with and photographed nude.

He claims his encounters with the alleged victims were consensual.

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Five of Raniere’s followers, including actress Allison Mack and Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, have pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges.

Lauren Salzman, a “first-line master” under Raniere and the daughter of Nancy Salzman, will take the stand Friday as a cooperating witness.

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