Star power of pol 'cult'

New York Post/October 7, 2007

An upstate motivational group that critics have branded a cult has attracted a galaxy of star students, including a former U.S. surgeon general, the daughter of a Mexican president and a Hollywood actress.

NEXIVM also boasts a stellar roster of politicians it has favored with campaign bucks.

Its top members and devotees showered Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton with more than $39,000 and New York's Senate Republicans with $66,000 in cash and jet flights, as The Post reported last week. Also, several have given to the campaigns of Barack Obama, Tom Daschle and Gov. Spitzer.

But behind the politicking and the courting of the rich and famous, the group harbors a dark history: Its leader, Keith Raniere, has been accused of running a pyramid scheme, driving a 35-year-old student to drown herself, and hiring a high-powered investigation firm to dig up private bank records and sexual dirt on his detractors.

Since 1998, members of the Albany-based group has contributed more than $111,000 to national campaigns, records show.

It has also peddled its "executive success" and personal-growth seminars to a purported 400,000 students, who paid up to $7,500 each for its sessions.

Rosters included Antonia Novello, a former surgeon general who was New York state health commissioner, Ana Cristina Fox, the daughter of former Mexican president Vicente Fox, and Kristin Kreuk, who plays Lana Lang on TV's "Smallville."

But critics accuse NEXIVM - pronounced nex-ee-um - of brainwashing members, who are paid commissions to bring in recruits.

Students must bow down to Raniere - known as "Vanguard" - and his top underlings during the draining 10-to-12-hour-a-day classes.

Novello "took one class and didn't think much of it," a source close to her told The Post.

The parents of Kristin Snyder, 35, who drowned herself during a 16-day NEXIVM course in Alaska in 2003, say group leaders ignored signs she needed psychiatric care.

Snyder left a suicide note, in which she wrote that the seminar had emotionally deadened her, before she went kayaking in icy Resurrection Bay near Anchorage.

"They totally ignored her cries for help," her mother, Jonnie, told The Post last week.

A business executive who took a five-day, $2,500 training course described the experience as "sensory deprivation."

"By the middle of the week, they're digging into people's backgrounds and the things they believe, basically hunting for emotional hot buttons they can use to manipulate people. It's astonishing how quickly they can turn some of the participants into emotional puddles," the executive said.

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