NXIVM's neighborhood shocked anew by trial revelations

Knox Woods residents stunned to learn what was going on behind closed doors

Albany Times-Union/June 4, 2019

By Robert Gavin

Halfmoon — In Knox Woods, residents still speak about NXIVM in hushed tones.

Keith Raniere, the spiritual leader of the self-help organization and roughly two dozen of his top disciples lived in the tree-lined townhouse development sandwiched between Route 236 and Lape Road, a short distance from Route 9.

Raniere, known within NXIVM as "Vanguard," is on trial in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, where the 58-year-old is facing charges of racketeering, conspiracy, sex trafficking and forced labor. The trial is scheduled to resume Wednesday.

But his past presence in the suburban complex — and the strong belief among many Knox Woods residents that some of Raniere's followers still live there — remains in the thoughts and fears of locals.

Several residents in Knox Woods agreed to speak to the Times Union, yet none were willing to provide their names. ("You're not going to put it in the paper, are you?" asked one resident). They were also aware the residences of certain NXIVM members have been equipped with surveillance cameras.

"I think it's comical," said a man who lives on Wilton Court. "People are just like, 'Where do I live?' I'm just like, 'Ever hear of NXIVM? ... They're all my neighbors.'"

The man said he regularly saw Raniere walking along the roads in Knox Woods with attractive women. Trial testimony indicates he had been sexually involved with more than 20 women in NXIVM — including at least one who was allegedly underage at the time.

"It just seemed like every other day or every third day he would have a new girlfriend. ... They all looked like models," he said. "After a while, he would always turn around to see if anyone was actually following him."

A woman on Wilton Court said NXIVM members kept to themselves. "I didn't know they were doing what they were doing over here," she added.

Near the entrance to Knox Woods, a sign warns that it's a neighborhood watch area: "Report Suspicious Activities to Saratoga County Sheriff's Dept."

Testimony in the trial has detailed reasons why some may have become suspicious. On Friday, Knox Woods property owner Sheila Jelonek testified that a woman named "Kathy O'Sullivan" — identified as NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell, who in April pleaded guilty to visa fraud — made annual cash payments to cover the rent for a condominium on Victory Way. She delivered the cash in a bag at a Starbucks, the witness said, in $50 and $100 denominations.

In June 2018, Jelonek said, Russell failed to return her calls about possible renewal of the lease. (Russell was indicted and arrested the following month.) When Jelonek entered the residence, she spotted a tripod camera by the bed, magnets on the refrigerator spelling out profane sexual messages and a photo of Raniere, whose arrest in Mexico three months earlier had drawn international attention.

Part of the government's case includes allegations that Raniere controlled a secret "master/slave" club within NXIVM in which women who agreed to join were physically branded with his initials and told to provide "collateral" — damaging information about themselves and/or naked photos — to guarantee loyalty.

Wilton Court residents sounded surprised to learn they lived on the block where a young Mexican woman in NXIVM was allegedly confined to an upstairs room for nearly two years due to what she said was an "ethical breach." The woman, who became sexually involved with Raniere when she was 18, earned his jealousy after she dared to kiss another man, the witness said.

Part of the residence where she was allegedly confined, now decorated with an American flag, faces the woods.

"I'm not too happy about it," said a woman who lives nearby on Wilton Court. "If I had ever seen someone that looked like they were in danger, I certainly would have spoken up about it."

The resident, who said she has lived in other parts of Knox Woods, added: "I knew (NXIVM members) were in this neighborhood ... but I was very upset to find out that one lived right next door. One day, I saw (a member) sitting on a fence and talking with a prospective member about the organization, and trying to talk her into joining. I think she did join. I think I heard her say, 'Yeah, I think I want to do this.'"

The woman said when she lived in another part of Knox Woods, a member of NXIVM lived above her.

"They had a late-night meeting, and I was annoyed because they made so much noise. There was a lot of people up there. You could hear all these people talking and yelling. And then eventually, I heard somebody having sex up there," she said. "None of these people really knew each other. They all had just been introduced."

Other concerns about the group were more mundane: Another neighbor on Wilton Court said large numbers of guests of NXIVM members would at times take up parking spaces in the complex.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn displayed for the jury a list of 17 properties in the Halfmoon area connected to NXIVM, including homes in Knox Woods on Flintlock Lane, where Raniere and many of his sexual partners lived; Generals Way; Grenadier Court; Victory Way; Wilton Court and Hale Drive.

Federal investigators raided 8 Hale Drive, which was identified as Raniere's "executive library" and a location he used for sex.  A red "X" is now on the door of the property, though it's unclear if it meets that standard definition of being uninhabitable.

Raniere's home at 3 Flintlock Lane was a short walk across the street to the residence of Allison Mack, a former star of the television show "Smallville" and a high-ranking NXIVM member. Mack pleaded guilty in April to racketeering and conspiracy charges.

Near the development's pool and tennis courts, Mack's blue BMW sedan remains parked. The actress, who assisted Raniere in the development of the master/slave club, does not appear to have returned to Knox Woods since her arrest last spring; she spent much of the past year in California under home detention.

Testimony at trial has revealed that Raniere wanted members of his inner circle to live in the complex or face consequences.

Former NXIVM higher-up Lauren Salzman, who lived on Hale Drive for more than a decade, testified that when NXIVM member Nicki Clyne, an actress and former star of "Battlestar Galactica," rented an apartment about two miles from Knox Woods, "Keith called her and told her that it was a breach and she should live closer."

Clyne moved back to Knox Woods, Salzman said.

Salzman also testified that when a certain NXIVM member moved into the complex, Raniere directed her mother, NXIVM President Nancy Salzman, "to tell him that it was a security risk to be there for Keith and so he was asked to move out."

"Did he move out?"Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar asked Salzman.

"Yes, he did," she replied.

Lauren Salzman owns a single-family residence on nearby Lape Road, which is adjacent to the Knox Woods development, and her mother Nancy owns a single-family residence on Oregon Court, within walking distance to Raniere's residence, that was also raided by the FBI in March 2018 following Raniere's arrest.

Lauren Salzman testified that Raniere was irked at a homeowners association within Knox Woods because it rejected his proposal to be allowed to have a sort of satellite-type camera system on members' residences.

She said Raniere wanted NXIVM members who owned residences there to try to vote the current board of the association out and take it over.

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