Nine years with NXIVM

Buried under deluge of lawsuits, woman begins to reveal her life inside secretive group

The Albany Times-Union/July 29, 2011

Albany - In 2000, when she joined the secretive Colonie-based training group called NXIVM, Barbara J. Bouchey headed a mature financial planning company managing $90 million in client funds. She was independently wealthy, undergoing a divorce and optimistic about trying a self-improvement program.

By her own account, Bouchey threw herself into the study. She learned NXIVM's philosophies and was given special attention by NXIVM followers and its founder, Keith Raniere, who is known inside the group as "Vanguard." In time, she said, she became one of his lovers and a NXIVM executive board member. She began recruiting more students to learn from Raniere, a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute graduate who boasts having a genius IQ.

But today, Bouchey, 51, is deeply in debt and consumed by the legal fight of her life. She says that, in her opinion, she is a target. Since she left NXIVM in 2009, hundreds of court filings about her have been entered in six different lawsuits naming Bouchey, including by Clare and Sara Bronfman, the wealthy heirs to the Seagrams fortune who have emerged as NXIVM's strongest backers.

She has testified that when she was in NXIVM, Raniere, 50, of Clifton Park, guided lawsuits against opponents.

Bouchey says she believes she is being harassed through the courts to prevent her from revealing details of her time with Raniere. To date, however, courts have largely authorized NXIVM's requests.

Her life savings, she says, are lost, and she is being driven into greater financial peril because of the legal campaign directed at her. In 16 months, Bouchey has found herself involved in four other NXIVM-related cases in four different courts in three different states. Her bankruptcy case alone took nine months and amassed over 8,000 pages of legal documents in 338 filings, including lawsuits in which her adversaries -- NXIVM and the Bronfmans -- issued more than 50 subpoenas to her business associates and vendors which, Bouchey contends, "had nothing to do with my filing personal bankruptcy." Ultimately, Bouchey's bankruptcy claim was dismissed.

Last week, a state judge announced in court that he was approving a restraining order sought by NXIVM and the Bronfmans limiting what Bouchey can say.

As the highest ranking NXIVM member to leave the group, Bouchey is in a unique position to say a lot. But she said she must limit her observations because she is restricted by court order from giving a full account of her nine years in Raniere's organization and in helping the Bronfmans manage a portion of their money. She says she doesn't know where to turn as she fends off litigation without being able to afford a lawyer.

"I wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety attacks," she said in a tearful meeting with the Times Union in late June. "When is it ever going to stop? When are they going to leave me alone?"

During four hours of interview, Bouchey would not answer all questions. At the time she was under temporary restraining orders obtained by NXIVM and her former clients, the Bronfman sisters, which limited disclosures. After a July 21 hearing, the orders became an injunction backed by $10,000 bonds.

As she confronts two new lawsuits in Albany alleging she and others attempted to extort more than $2 million from NXIVM, the Saratoga County resident says she believes NXIVM is trying to silence her.

Acting as her own attorney, Bouchey said at the court hearings involving the suits that she would not consider a consent agreement proposed by the judge to end the litigation in exchange for her permanently honoring terms in the restraining orders. She said she feared that NXIVM and the Bronfmans would try to silence her beyond what's contained in the agreement. She told the judge that in the past, the Bronfmans have accused her of breaching confidentiality when news reports surfaced about the Bronfmans or NXIVM and they assumed she was the source of the information.

"The mere word of Bronfman out of my mouth in any form or shape will have me slammed in (court)," she told Judge Roger McDonough.

William Savino, a lawyer for the Bronfmans, pointed to an April 9, 2009, letter to NXIVM leaders in which Bouchey and several others who left the group said they planned to go to the press. "If she didn't try to get out her story, she wouldn't be caught in this tornado," Savino said.

NXIVM (pronounced 'nex-eee-um,' like the popular acid-reflux drug), headquartered near Albany International Airport, is a self-improvement training enterprise that has also operated under the name Executive Success Programs. It has drawn thousands to its training programs, charging up to $10,000 for a week for courses.

Attorneys for NXIVM, contacted for response to Bouchey's claims, did not respond or would not comment. Repeated efforts by the Times Union to interview Raniere in recent months have been similarly rebuffed.

Bouchey said defending herself from NXIVM's litigation is sapping her time and resources. She broke down in tears as she described her loneliness and fear since breaking from the group she said she thought of as "family."

She became a part of the group in 2000 after taking a NXIVM course at the suggestion of Nancy Salzman, the president of NXIVM, Bouchey said in court papers. She said she had used Salzman, a nurse, for private "therapy sessions" as she was going through a divorce. Bouchey said her nine years as a NXIVM member and leader, including several as a girlfriend of Raniere, came to a halt in April 2009 because she believed Raniere was committing "ethical breaches." As she said in a deposition made public by a NXIVM law firm: "There were nine of us total that spent 12 hours with Keith addressing what we referred to as his ethical breaches and the breaches of the company and leadership and the executive board and other various people."

Most active members of NXIVM, Bouchey said, do not know the lifestyle and philosophies of an inner circle led by Raniere. She said NXIVM's inner circle supported Raniere's lifestyle and held it against her when she complained about his multiple relationships with women. Raniere and his followers decided she was guilty of an "ethical breach" when she withheld her affections from Raniere, she said.

She said she was told "I should be intimately sexually involved with him, because after all he was in love with me, I was a key part of the company, this was just my issue, and was not considered normal to have this issue."

Bouchey decided to speak to the Times Union, she said, because she desperately needs legal support. She said she is searching for help with the voluminous litigation. She said after she and eight other women quit NXIVM together "a legal assault and attack began that has only increased in time." To date, Bouchey said, she has amassed about $400,000 in legal bills, a key reason she filed a claim of personal bankruptcy, which a judge dismissed in May after chastising her for not disclosing all her assets, an omission, she said, that would have never happened if she had satisfactory legal counsel.

"I'm really tired," she said. She said she's awaiting justice from the courts but "immensely disenchanted, discouraged and disappointed in our legal system."

"What the Bronfmans and NXIVM have employed as a strategy, and it's an effective strategy... to bombard the court with thousands and thousands and thousands of pages of allegations and accusations," she said, referring to her view of the voluminous court filings. She described being personally overwhelmed.

The restraining orders granted to her adversaries direct her to refrain from discussing her knowledge of NXIVM operations or finances of the Bronfmans, for whom she was a financial planner. The lawsuits allege she breached her fiduciary duties by publicly disclosing financial information or proprietary material to the press and in other lawsuits, which she denies. Bouchey is trying to hold onto her license as a certified financial planner against such allegations. Bouchey says she only provided information when legally required to do so.

The Bronfman sisters allege she is intentionally trying to sabotage NXIVM and is retaliating because they terminated her services after she left NXIVM. Her attempt at extortion, they claim, came in the form of a letter Bouchey emailed to NXIVM executives calling for a payment of more than $2 million. The letter was sent in April 2009, on behalf of nine women who left the group and claim they are owed money, Bouchey said. She claims she is owed $1.65 million and that Salzman and Raniere promised repayment using NXIVM funds.

The letter said "if these requests are not met we will move forward by contacting the press," the Bronfmans point out in their suit. Bouchey said that line was put in after substantial debate among the group and it was not a criminal act. The two suits contain dozens of allegations, which she denies.

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