What's to become of NXIVM?

After Keith Raniere's conviction, shuttered organization faces uncertain future

Albany Times-Union/June 22, 2019

By Robert Gavin

New York — As NXIVM leader Keith Raniere faces life in prison for sex trafficking, forced labor and racketeering, the Capital Region-based organization he commanded for two decades remains shuttered.

A federal jury's quick conviction of Raniere, 58, on all criminal counts and racketeering acts Wednesday was a resounding repudiation of the purported self-help guru known within NXIVM as "Vanguard." According to one prosecution witness, it could also prove to be a knockout punch for the business that was built on his teachings.

"I don't expect to see NXIVM continuing in any meaningful way," said Rick Ross, head of the New Jersey-based Cult Education Institute and a longtime foe of Raniere. NXIVM pursued Ross in an unsuccessful 14-year legal battle that he described on the stand in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn earlier this month.

Although NXIVM was never charged in the federal prosecution, the purported self-improvement business must now contend with not only the loss of Raniere but the guilty pleas of its operations director and Seagram's heiress Clare Bronfman, president Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman — who testified at Raniere's trial — and longtime NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell. All four women, along with NXIVM member and TV actress Allison Mack, pleaded guilty to federal felony charges in March and April.

"I have heard that there are splinter groups that are getting together that are extolling the philosophy of 'rational inquiry' as laid out by Keith Raniere," Ross said. "Are there people getting together? Yes. ... But they have no charismatic leader, they have no meaningful assets, they have no meaningful cash flow. I think that NXIVM will dissipate. I don't think that anyone will step into the ... power vacuum and reinstitute the group, and unite the group factions or people that are left in the residue of what's happened."

Michael Sullivan, a Boston-based attorney for NXIVM, said in a brief interview Friday that the business remains intact. "It's an entity, a legal entity," he said.

But Sullivan — a former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 2001-2009 — declined to say anything about its current leadership structure, including who might remain on its executive board.

In an April court filing in the federal case against Raniere, Sullivan stated that, "As far as I am aware Nancy Salzman has not resigned her role as President of NXIVM Corp., but is taking no active role in its management at this time."

The same April filing said that Bronfman, Lauren Salzman and Omar Boone were the sole remaining members of an executive board that had experienced the resignations of three other members since the beginning of 2018. Raniere was arrested in Mexico in March 2018 and extradited to the U.S. (Attorneys for Bronfman and Nancy and Lauren Salzman did not respond to emails seeking comment.)

NXIVM announced it was suspending its operations a year ago. Sullivan asserted in the filing that while it had suspended its training programs, day-to-day business functions had continued.

"The Corporation has not been dissolved, and is not defunct; rather, it continues to meet its obligations," Sullivan stated. "Nor am I aware that it is a bankrupt entity."

In the two months since then, however, Nancy Salzman agreed to forfeit more than $515,000 seized during March 2018 FBI searches of NXIVM-linked properties in Knox Woods, the leafy Halfmoon neighborhood where Raniere and almost two dozen of the group's members lived.

Salzman also handed over the title to properties on Hale Drive and Generals Way in Halfmoon, and the buildings that comprised NXIVM's main corporate offices on New Karner Road in Colonie. (Lauren Salzman's forfeiture order references the same cash and properties.) Nancy Salzman also relinquished a Steinway piano seized from her Halfmoon home.

A forfeiture order for Bronfman filed last week confirmed that she was required to pay $6 million to the government by June 18.

NXIVM's leaders also managed a network of corporate entities, many of them organized around Raniere's teachings or other business ventures. A letter to the court from Sullivan filed in early April noted that he had been retained to represent NXIVM as well as a dozen other entities whose operations were discussed during the trial, including NXIVM Mexico, JNESS LLC (another women's group organized by NXIVM), Society of Protectors LLC (a men's group) and more. Sullivan's letter noted that he was uncertain about their organizational structure.

Sullivan went on to identify nine other entities he had been asked to represent in relation to the case, though he was waiting for confirmation from the executor of the estate of Pamela Cafritz, a NXIVM leader and Raniere confidant who died of cancer in 2016.

During the trial, a huge trove of digital evidence — texts, emails, audio recordings and videos — lifted the veil on Raniere's secret "master/slave" group, which was known as The Vow and later as Dominus Obsequious Sororium or DOS, which translates from Latin as "Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions."

The evidence showed Raniere served as "Grand Master" over a pyramid structure of "slaves," including women who were physically branded with his initials in a ceremony that involved the use of a cauterizing pen.

The trial exposed actions by Raniere that even his lead attorney Marc Agnifilo, speaking after the verdict, said could be viewed as "repulsive" — including demanding his DOS slaves subsist on 500-calorie-a-day diets; having sex with girls as young as 15; and making his female followers provide him with sexually explicit images as "collateral" to guarantee their loyalty.

Others have remained loyal to Raniere.

At least eight loyalists showed up in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn to watch the closing arguments in his trial. Former members of NXIVM who attended the proceedings have told the Times Union they strongly believe there are still diehard Raniere supporters who continue to live in the Capital Region. Others believe NXIVM maintains a small presence in Brooklyn, where Raniere remained in custody since his March 2018 arrest in Mexico.

Marc Elliot, an inspirational speaker who credits Raniere's teachings with helping him overcome Tourette syndrome, recently announced his next speaking topic will be "Who's Next?: The Rise of Character Assassination and Loss of Human Decency," which refers to his belief that NXIVM was unfairly targeted as a "sex cult" by the media and "hate" blogs.

"These media sources have caused prejudice and hate directed toward (Elliot) and his friends, damaging their reputations and ability to function in society," Elliot's website recently stated. "This has become the next and current challenge to overcome in his life."

That copy appears to have been scrubbed from Elliot's website in recent days, and the reservation page for a speech planned for Wednesday in Manhattan is no longer active. Elliot did not respond to requests for comment.

NXIVM has maintained a presence in Mexico. Loreta Garza, who was identified at trial as a member of Raniere's inner circle and a "first-line" slave in DOS, has run Rainbow Cultural Garden, a international chain of schools built on Raniere's teachings that claimed to in immerse children in nine languages at once. Rosa Laura Junco, the daughter of a media mogul in Mexico, was according to testimony another first-line DOS slave.

Two former NXIVM board members, Emiliano Salinas — the son of former Mexico president Carlos Salinas de Gortari — and his business partner Alejandro "Alex" Betancourt, publicly distanced themselves from Raniere after his arrest.

The months ahead will bring a series of court appearances by NXIVM's leaders.

Nancy Salzman pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy; her daughter and Mack to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy; Russell pleaded guilty to visa fraud.

Bronfman, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain and fraudulent use of identification documents, will be sentenced on Sept. 25. It's the same day Raniere will learn his punishment.

He faces up to life in prison.

Ross, who has studied cults for more than three decades, said Raniere's followers are unlikely to reconstitute.

"When an organization is defined by a charismatic leader who is the driving force of the group, and it's essentially a personality-driven group, when the leader dies or is incarcerated it's like the hub dropping out of a wheel," Ross said. "The wheel begins to collapse."

Casey Seiler contributed to this report.

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