Papers reveal secrets

NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's private mission and fear of government unveiled by testimony

The Albany Times-Union/January 31, 2011

Albany - The leader of an Albany County self-improvement business called NXIVM is depicted in an extraordinary new disclosure in federal court as being an ethically challenged visionary who feared government investigation, planned to create a new country in Australia and advised close associates to evade taxes.

The sworn testimony contested by NXIVM lawyers, taken privately in October 2009, discusses inner workings of NXIVM and the leadership and personal behavior of Keith Raniere. A Clifton Park resident, Raniere is the creator of NXIVM, based in the suburb of Colonie, which has been operating for more than a decade offering courses to people seeking to learn Raniere's philosophies on ethics and humanitarian principles.

"He was concerned that mostly like that there was some kind of conspiracy within the government, that the government was aware of him, was watching him, and looking for reasons to put him out of business or ... do something with him," according to a deposition of Barbara Bouchey, once an executive board member of NXIVM. Her deposition, taken in October 2009, was filed in federal court in Albany last month.

In court papers, lawyers representing NXIVM's interests call Bouchey's statements wrong and say that she has aligned herself with NXIVM's opponents.

Numerous uncomplimentary depictions by Bouchey emerge in her testimony about the NXIVM corporation, Raniere and Raniere's "inner circle," yet her statements were filed by lawyers representing NXIVM's and Raniere's interests in lawsuits that have been going on for more than seven years in federal court in New Jersey. NXIVM lawyers in those cases filed a request in federal district court here seeking to compel Bouchey to submit to a second deposition in the New Jersey cases to allow for cross-examination. The New Jersey cases began with NXIVM suing cult watchdog Rick Ross who publicized information about NXIVM's courses on his website. Ross has countersued NXIVM, alleging invasion of privacy and claiming NXIVM obtained private records about him.

Bouchey's 236-page sworn testimony, taken by attorneys representing Ross and others, recounts how Raniere and some of his top aides discussed trying to get "dirt" on Ross by using private investigators to obtain his bank and telephone records, and go through his trash. In her testimony, Bouchey described witnessing discussions of a break-in at the home of a former Raniere girlfriend and business partner, Toni Natalie, to get some of Raniere's things, as well as plans to have several members of the NXIVM group sue Natalie to try to keep her "quiet" about what she knows.

Another discussion, according to Bouchey's testimony, involved theories considered within NXIVM that a NXIVM's student's apparent suicide was really an attempt by the woman to flee a drug ring. Police said that woman, Kristin Snyder, last seen in February 2003, left a note near an Alaska waterway saying she'd intended to kill herself and describing her then-recent studies with NXIVM.

Raniere, 50, was thoroughly in charge of NXIVM, directing a team of mostly women, Bouchey said under oath.

He encouraged some of them to "get off the grid, meaning not to have a tax ID number, not to file their tax returns."

"Keith had various ways to inspire and influence someone to understand or perceive that in the end really he knew more, saw more, understood more, was smarter, more intelligent ... had what is called ... earned authority," Bouchey said.

In the legal request where Bouchey's sworn statement became public, NXIVM lawyer John D. Shyer said Bouchey made many "unflattering" statements which, he argues, are "specious."

Lawyers for Raniere, NXIVM and other associates of NXIVM did not return calls late last week, but Steve Coffey, who has represented the group, said late last year that Bouchey has made many inaccurate statements. Bouchey declined a request for an interview.

In her deposition, Bouchey, a financial manager from Saratoga County, said she was aware of NXIVM associates she worked for, Sara and Clare Bronfman, forming a non-profit group called the Ethical Humanitarian Foundation, created to develop Raniere's projects. Bouchey said the Bronfmans arranged to have the charity named a beneficiary of their trust funds and they created a large mock check to present to Raniere to symbolize the commitment. "I think it was like $20 million or something like that on it," Bouchey testified. That foundation, Bouchey said, paid for a $40,000 piano for Raniere kept at the home of NXIVM's president.

The foundation, or a related one, helped pay for the costs of an education program developed by Raniere for a young boy "mysteriously" brought as a newborn into the NXIVM family about three years ago, Bouchey testified. That program involves having nannies speak to the child only in foreign languages.

In her testimony, Bouchey said Raniere and his group had two missions, a public one to spread a science-based philosophy to students of NXIVM who paid up to $10,000 a week; the other being what only Raniere's closest followers knew.

"What was discussed was that Keith being an evolved human being before he came into this lifetime had made a commitment to some of the people in the inner group to help them become enlightened or help them evolve in this lifetime," Bouchey said. "Because of that it was important that we worked together as a group."

She said Raniere had intimate relationships with several women involved in NXIVM but that was supposed to remain secret, as were Raniere's plans to create his own currency and own country. One plan involved finding Native American people to see if they could be brought into the group to create sovereign land like an Indian reservation, she said. Another plan involved exploring Australia to see if NXIVM could create its own country within that continent.

Bouchey testified that she and eight other women left NXIVM because of alleged ethical breaches involving Raniere.

She does not spell out the problems that caused the rupture, in April 2009, although in a separate court case in Washington state, one of the nine women, Susan Dones, has testified that she had a problem with Raniere sleeping with and getting funds from women who were members of NXIVM.

She said the women who broke away shared concerns about "Raniere's behavior."

"From my understanding from a therapeutic background that when you're dealing with clients on an emotional level it is a conflict of interest to have sexual relationships with them and to also take money from them," Dones testified.

Ross said he believes the submission by his adversaries of the Bouchey testimony isn't smart since the material involves revelations NXIVM has seemed to want to keep private. His lawyer, Peter Skolnik, said the filing is difficult to figure out but if NXIVM now tries to seal the records, it is too late. "Thus, any attempt by any party to put this genie back in the bottle will be completely futile," he said.

While NXIVM's side made the Bouchey depositions an exhibit in one court, in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Albany, lawyers for NXIVM and the Bronfmans have lodged suits against Bouchey. Clare Bronfman seeks nearly $3.2 million and Sara Bronfman seeks $2.7 million, for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and financial losses; the sisters also have a claim for defamation without a dollar amount for damages sought. NXIVM seeks $10 million.

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