NXIVM critic's plea over child gets little action

Albany Times-Union/August 3, 2010

Albany - A major critic of the leaders of a Colonie-based organization that litigants describe as a cult is blasting Attorney General Andrew Cuomo for disregarding warnings about alleged misdeeds and suspicious activities, such as members acquiring and instructing a child.

Attorney Joseph J. O'Hara said Cuomo's office has shown little interest in complaint letters he sent in June and July. The letters urged Cuomo, who is running as a Democrat for governor, to take a look at NXIVM and some of its top loyalists and underwriters, including the wealthy sisters Clare and Sara Bronfman, who live in the Capital Region. In the letters, O'Hara alleged they misused foundation money to benefit NXIVM leader Keith Raniere of Clifton Park.

O'Hara told Cuomo, whose office oversees charities, that tax-exempt foundation funds were used to buy Raniere an expensive piano and to pay for nannies helping to raise a child named Gaelen who is being raised through a novel Raniere education program. The 3-year-old child is living in Clifton Park with a NXIVM devotee who is not his biological mother. The child, according to former NXIVM officials, was obtained by a NXIVM student in Michigan and brought back to Saratoga County to live among a cluster of townhouses where NXIVM students and instructors live.

NXIVM, which operates a self-awareness training regime called Executive Success Programs from its Colonie headquarters, follows Raniere's philosophical teachings of looking at life from a new ethical perspective in which people are either parasites or producers.

O'Hara, in an interview, said he has urged Cuomo to investigate twice in recent months because of his growing concerns that NXIVM officials are raising the boy in a way that could cause him harm.

O'Hara, who worked for NXIVM officials several years ago, implies that Cuomo, who has received considerable campaign donations from the Bronfman family, is not eager to investigate for political reasons. "I understand why anyone who is running for office would be reluctant to investigate the members of a family as wealthy and as influential as the Bronfman family," he said. "It seems to me, however, that Gaelen's safety is much more important than any political considerations."

A person in the attorney general's office said a review was started after receiving O'Hara's letter. A person familiar with the attorney general's office said that Cuomo's representative has reached out to officials with the Bronfman-led foundation regarding the use of charitable assets and its registration status.

The person said that allegations in O'Hara's letters appear to be more suited for a district attorney or a social services department. O'Hara said he doesn't have faith in local DAs. Representatives of NXIVM and the Bronfmans did not return calls, including attorneys for the Albany law firm of O'Connell and Aronowitz who O'Hara, in one of his letters, asserted may have misstated facts. For instance, Pamela Nichols, in a letter to Saratoga County blogger John Tighe, a local NXIVM watchdog, stated that Kristen Keeffe, a NXIVM paralegal worker and activist, is the mother of the boy. O'Hara said this is not supported by testimony in a sworn statement obtained through a court action. The letter to Tighe threatened legal action if he continued blog postings about Gaelen. Tighe said he called local authorities about his concerns about the boy but was told they are unable to act on hearsay.

O'Hara said in his letter to Cuomo that he first raised concerns to federal authorities and the attorney general's office about activities involving NXIVM officials in 2005. O'Hara, a former Albany Firebirds president and onetime owner of the Capital Region Pontiacs and Albany Patroons basketball teams, was sued by NXIVM and was accused of larceny by the Bronfmans. The civil case was settled and criminal charges were dropped.

O'Hara said he thinks Gaelen is being subjected to experimentation because he is being raised by a number of nannies who speak to him in different languages -- Egyptian, Chinese, Russian, German, Hindi and Spanish -- and who attend NXIVM classes. The boy is on a rigorous schedule, eats a raw foods diet and rarely interacts with other children, according to people familiar with the program.

Some child development experts, briefed on Gaelen's situation, raised questions. Lily Filmore, a retired University of California at Berkeley language professor, said the program, which Raniere calls the Rainbow Cultural Garden, sounds "highly unusual" and could be confusing to the child.

"The longer that this pretentious experiment goes on, the more likely the chances are that the child will suffer psychological trauma," O'Hara said.

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