Thanks to the recommendation of my friend, G. Steven Pigeon, and following an interview in Albany, I began work for the self-help group NXIVM (pronounced Nexium).
NXIVM is a New York for-profit corporation, headed by the self-proclaimed spiritually advanced genius and teacher Keith Raniere and his chief assistant, Nancy Salzman, a nurse-hypnotist.
When I arrived, I knew little of NXIVM other than Keith Raniere was reputed to have one of the highest IQ’s in the world – a 1988 test reportedly placed his IQ at between 188 and 194; that his organization was funded by two heirs of the Seagram’s liquor fortune, Clare and Sara Bronfman, both in their early 30’s; and that the company was being widely labeled as a “cult” in the media.
After striking up a convivial relationship with several of Raniere’s top assistants, and defining what would likely be a solid course of work, I relocated to Albany to work as a consultant.
It was September 2007.
Raniere decided what work I should do, and the work at first would consist mainly of aiding NXIVM get out from the publicity mess it placed itself in.
It was an organization populated, for the most part, with vibrant, attractive, seemingly intelligent women – who were all infatuated with Raniere, weeping with joy at his munificence, or crying with guilt that they were not worthy of their revered teacher’s love.
Some women were less emotional, explaining intellectually why they chose to follow Raniere and, in some instances, forsake their parents, their careers, their husbands and sometimes their children.
As Jesus is quoted in Luke, “Whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple.”
These women admitted that Raniere was to them a new Christ or Buddha.
“He is like a pure mirror,” Salzman told me. “By looking at him, he reflects back who you are.”
Raniere had almost exclusively chosen attractive, professional women to lead to a “higher path”. A financial planner, a masseuse, bookkeepers, businesswomen, a hair stylist, a physical therapist, a legal liaison, writers, actresses, models, a female auto mechanic, a ballerina, saleswomen, and heiresses, of course.
One by one, they told how Raniere saved them. Many had deep problems in their past.
Maybe Raniere was a rare and special being whose overflowing compassion made him attractive to intelligent and spiritually oriented women.
Perhaps the negative press accusations of his being a leader of a cult that brainwashed followers was nothing more than a misunderstanding. My role here could be to explain to a jaded media that Raniere and his followers only appeared zany, fanatical and misled, but that Raniere’s life and teachings might actually be worthwhile.
The proof was in the women in his organization – intelligent, accomplished, attractive, admirable women.
I began working to counter a slew of negative stories – starting with the New York Post, The Albany Times Union and The Village Voice, but as the weeks passed I learned that Raniere was more than just a spiritual teacher casting pearls of wisdom from lofty heights.
His teachings were not in the tradition of the Hindu swami or Buddhist or Franciscan monk coming out to teach after a 20-year vow of silence in a monastery.
Raniere was having sex with his female followers.
At its root, among the inner circle, the true believers, NXIVM was imbued, laden, over-spilling, with sex.
Sex was part and parcel of whatever this was, a cult, a self-help group, an extended family, a religion.
I also observed that while Raniere pleased some of the women on both physical and psychological levels, some were not so pleased and appeared eager to have a boyfriend or a husband. They wanted that devotion born of monogamy and closeness that stimulates the highest tenderness between a man and a woman – that transformative, idealizing power – of two people who are devoted only to each other; this was something that Raniere, the guru, with his stable of female devotees, was unable to offer.
Although Raniere kept his polygamy hidden from his rank and file students, he secretly maintained sexual relationships with scores of women in varying degrees – from those with whom he had regular, sexual encounters – to sporadic – when he was in the mood – sex with a bevy, waiting in turn.
His inner circle embraced his polygamy, and worked to find new women for him.
On one occasion, a female devotee asked my opinion, about a pretty, buxom brunette. Did I think she would be helped out in life if Raniere were to bed her?
My answer was “no”, that she might later regret what would be for her – as it would be to him – a casual encounter.
This was typical behavior of his inner circle – seeking new women for their leader; there was a marked absence of jealousy, similar to the sisterhood of wives among the harems of the east.
Still, it was a well-guarded secret. The majority of his followers knew nothing of his polygamy. They would have been shocked.
A HAPPY SISTERHOOD
During the three months I worked among them, most of the women seemed content. Their relationship with Raniere was a quiet, settled fact.
The gregariousness of the women, their warmth and friendliness – and their assistance in my work, which was to expand significantly, led to a good deal of success.
During an Albany Indian summer and into the early winter snows of late 2007, I enjoyed Raniere and his followers’ company.
While I did not see him as a spiritually divine being, he seemed to be a charming, humorous man, who, while hardly ever putting on a pair of shoes, and wearing tee shirts and sweat pants, was controlling a successful business and had a harem of beautiful women.
HE SLEPT BY DAY
Raniere and I would talk regularly at night and his friendliness made me feel that, as with everything human, there is a good and bright side and another side, fraught with fear and error.
And I was attracted to the work of undoing what I believed were unfair allegations that his business was actually a cult.
We never spoke in the morning, as Raniere was unavailable until late afternoon.
Some of his closest associates would chuckle at the oft repeated claim that Raniere slept only one or two hours a day.
Having sex with so many women – sometimes several at the same time – sometimes several, sequentially during the night – required him to sleep most of the day.
As former girlfriend, Toni Natalie remarked, “This is bullshit that Keith never sleeps—Keith sleeps all day long. He sleeps all day long.”
HE SOUGHT TO INCREASE THE HAREM
Not all of the NXIVM women, of course, were being bedded by Raniere. His inner circle numbered around 12 at the time.
But Raniere was on the lookout to increase the inner circle – from his outer circle – which consisted of about 80 – who were fulltime workers, many, apparently, paid off the books. These lived in NXIVM housing or in homes nearby and whose lives were devoted to NXIVM.
Most of these knew nothing of his sex practices.
There was also a third circle of followers, consisting of several hundred who had outside jobs, whose lives were not entirely NXIVM based, but who regularly attended classes for which they paid thousands per year.
As Raniere told me at our first meeting, at Nancy Salzman’s house, should he decide to allow people to see him, all he would have to do is make a phone call and 300 people would come in less than an hour.
“Just to be able to see him,” Nancy added, sitting on a plush couch in her living room, a few feet above a basement safe that contained, I later was told, as much as $2 million in cash.
Raniere rarely made personal appearances.
His reason was that because he was so spiritually advanced if he walked among the lower level of humanity, his students, it would drain his energy.
It was like touching the hem of the garment of Christ; or how the disciples of the ailing Ramakrishna tried to keep the multitudes away so that the sins of the people were not transferred to the holy man when they touched his feet.
Most of the students saw him only on rare occasions, unless of course he determined to bed them.
RANIERE EXPLAINS SEX TO THE INNER CIRCLE
Once someone was allowed into his inner circle, however, Raniere was demanding. He told his women that they must remain thin, requiring them to maintain a vegetarian diet, as he did himself; and that fat disturbed his subtle energies.
“Keith feels that his physical body is a manifestation of universal cause and effect,” one of his women said.
As Raniere explained “I’m unified” which meant he was enlightened. And he told his inner circle that before he was born he made a commitment to help them become enlightened in this lifetime and that each was chosen for a special role.
“Because of that,” Barbara Bouchey, one of his inner circle women, explained, “it was important that we worked together as a group and we were representative or symbolic, of evolving people, and that should we evolve, that the archetype that we represented would evolve with us.”
They believed that Raniere knew, with every woman, what separated her from being enlightened; he knew exactly what “layers of confusions” kept her from becoming more evolved.
He would help mentor without giving the answer directly, but only the clues – sometimes in the bedroom – where she would be more attentive – so that she might succeed herself.
He told the women also that he had total recall of his previous lives; he knew before he was born that his mission was to help people become enlightened; and that he made commitments to meet certain people in this lifetime and be their spiritual teacher.
I observed that, in the case of attractive, slender and rich women, he committed to bed them too.
In spinning these yarns to women whom I was increasingly seeing as gullible, Raniere would go to great lengths to fill them with guilt.
To discipline his harem, the women were blamed when Raniere was sick, or said he was sick, which happened often, it seemed.
When Bouchey, for instance, did not buy into his “spiritual” explanations, she was admonished by Raniere and his women, that she had had an adverse effect on his body.
“If I took drugs or alcohol… he would feel that in his body antigenically,” she said. “If I ate meat or fish, that that would be like poison in his body, and that if I had a negative reaction to him or to others, that could also have a very negative effect on him….. I was taking his life force… robbing him of years of his life because of my negative reactions,” she said Raniere told her.
I concluded that he was simply having too much sex and was exhausted.
THE IDYLL ENDS
There are some – including possibly Raniere himself – who think I am to blame for the revelation of Raniere’s harem to the public at large.
Several months into my work with NXIVM, I was asked to help find funding for an ongoing Los Angeles real estate venture that had been funded by the heiresses, the Bronfman sisters, who were now very much a part of Raniere’s inner circle.
I left Albany and went to Los Angeles.
There, I discovered that the sisters, who had invested $26 million – at Raniere’s recommendation – had been defrauded out of about $10 million by an absconding partner and they stood to lose their entire investment in the project.
Moving quickly, I recovered their assets, but in so doing I had to expose Raniere’s spectacular blundering in recommending the Los Angeles real estate venture to the Bronfmans, and to his inner circle, and to Raniere.
The revelation came as a shock to the women, particularly Bouchey, who resigned from the Executive Board of NXIVM.
It was only the tip of the iceberg.
I probed deeper into the fraud and started a lawsuit for the Bronfmans in Los Angeles, winning an important injunction to gain control of their assets. Raniere, however, suddenly chose to cut off communications and terminated our business relationship.
I was fired within days of recovering $26 million in stolen assets for the Bronfmans.
But the cat was out of the bag.
Soon after, Bouchey broke from NXIVM, leading a group of nine NXIVM women who left with her and cratering the upper echelon of Raniere’s organization, perhaps irrevocably.
STAGGERING FINANCIAL LOSSES
The Los Angeles lawsuit I started on behalf of the Bronfmans – before I was fired by Raniere – revealed the true extent of the dwindling of the Bronfmans’ fortune and how Raniere had squandered (perhaps stolen) more than $100 million of the Bronfmans’ money.
As The New York Post reported on March 26, 2010:
Two Seagram’s liquor heiresses have blown nearly $100 million on an upstate group headed by a shady Svengali….
Billionaire mogul Edgar Bronfman Sr. is “considering legal action” to restrict the trust funds of daughters Clare, 30, and Sara, 33, after they lost $65 million in a commodities-trading scheme, according to one insider.
The failed investment plan and the Bronfman sisters’ staggering financial loss were revealed in court papers filed in Los Angeles….
The scheme was engineered by Keith Raniere, a Brooklyn-born smooth talker who has been investigated for fraud in several states and is described in legal documents as a “compulsive gambler.”
Raniere, 49, now heads a controversial Albany-based group, NXIVM… that conducts “group awareness seminars.”
The Bronfman girls are among his most devoted acolytes….
Over the years, Clare and Sara have pumped millions into Raniere’s group, buying him more than a dozen upstate properties and even letting him fly around in their private plane.
The Los Angeles lawsuit says that starting in 2006, the sisters pumped $65 million into the commodities scheme, which, along with a $26 million real-estate deal, quickly went south.
Raniere — who was trading the commodities using a mathematical plan he had concocted — blamed the financial losses on Edgar Bronfman. Raniere said there was a “conspiracy” and the “market was rigged” against him because the mogul didn’t want his girls involved with NXIVM, court papers allege.
THE LID ALSO COMES OFF ON HIS HAREM
What also came out in the Los Angeles lawsuit was not only how Raniere manipulated the loss of the Bronfman fortune but how he manipulated the women he kept around him.
Not only the gullible Bronfmans, but other women.
For example, Raniere misled several women into believing they were the only woman in his life.
There was the story of Svetlana Kotlin, an attractive Russian, who owned and operated a physical therapy business near NXIVM headquarters.
Kotlin thought she was having a monogamous relationship with Raniere. When she discovered she was one of many, she was hurt and decided to break up with him.
Bouchey recalled how three inner circle women: Nancy Salzman, her daughter, Lauren Salzman, and Pam Cafritz, descended on Svetlana and told her that the desire for monogamy was “an attachment, and she needed to work (on) this, and if she were to leave that she might kill him because he was now intimately connected with her.”
Raniere “tried to make her jealous,” by “start(ing) to do things with women in front of her,” Bouchey recalled.
It didn’t work. Svetlana chose to leave Raniere.
INDUCTING MONOGAMOUS WOMEN INTO POLYGAMY
Some chose to stay.
Both Bouchey, a successful financial planner, and Toni Natalie, who partnered in a business with Raniere, claim that at first they thought they had a monogamous relationship with Raniere.
That he had women employees and students, who were, in many cases, their warm and close personal friends, made for a comfortable secure relationship.
When they discovered Raniere “cheated” – was constantly “cheating”, their worlds fell apart.
Raniere’s inner circle, however, led by Salzman, Cafritz and others, closed in.
Raniere instructed his inner circle that to be “evolved” or “empowered” they must let go of attachments. Sex is no different than playing tennis.
His inner circle would ask the reluctant polygamist, “Do you own Keith’s penis?” or “What’s the difference between Keith sleeping with somebody versus playing the violin?”
In the case of Bouchey, and Natalie, it worked. Both women welcomed their sisters and abided polygamy – for a time.
However, this polyamory with Raniere was strictly a one way street: Raniere was free to have sexual relationships with any number of women, but he demanded that his women have sex only with him.
He could become jealous, too. One NXIVM member told me that when Raniere found out she had slept with another man, he became enraged and raped her on the spot.
But other men were rarely a problem.
Few men were allowed entry into the group.
One of them, Peter, a successfully businessman, attended a Halloween party at Salzman’s house, with mostly inner circle women.
When he saw Keith dressed with a bathrobe and a large, artificial penis sticking out, he realized that, “oh, my God, he’s having sex probably with most of the women in this room.”
That was not all that troubled him. Peter had a daughter in her late teens with whom Raniere was flirting and making intimate gestures towards her. Peter and his daughter left the organization.
OTHERS LEAVE TOO
Former NXIVM coaches, Susan Dones and Kim Woolhouse, quit after they found out Raniere was sleeping with most of the members of the NXIVM executive board.
Dones alleged that students are “prey” for Raniere and training sessions are “used as a venue to stalk their students … who might fit into Raniere’s profile of sexual conquest.”
Raniere, who loves to punish as much as he loves to have sex, soon came to hate me. Perhaps blame for his problems.
Ironic. I had come to help with NXIVM’s publicity problems and in the end – after I was fired – I inadvertently exponentially caused their media exposure.
Still, Raniere cannot be dismissed lightly.
With Bronfman money, he was able to persuade the Bronfmans, who really ought to have been grateful for what I did for them, to sue me.
Then he converted that civil dispute into a criminal complaint against me.
And the battle is on.
In our Cult of NXIVM series, as we probe how Raniere stripped the Bronfmans of more than $100 million, and how the sisters tried to hide it, possibly illegally to evade taxes, we will look at the individual roles of many of the women Raniere influenced.
Among the women:
Kristin Snyder, a young professional, who paid $16,000 for NXIVM classes, with the result that she tried to dispense with sleep.
“(Raniere) doesn’t sleep, so I don’t need to sleep,” she said. During training, she came to believe she had been sexually abused as a child and was responsible for the explosion of the space shuttle Columbia. She committed suicide leaving a note saying that NXIVM “brainwashed” her.
Gina Melita, who claims she was 15 when Raniere took her virginity.
Gina Hutchinson, whose sister Heidi claims Raniere raped her when she was 15. Gina cannot be interviewed. She committed suicide.
Rhiannon Rogers; Raniere offered to tutor her with her mother’s consent. Raniere had sex with the 12-year-old approximately 60 times before she ran away.
Cecilia Stieglitz, who had a mental breakdown after taking classes. “I felt that I had to decide between my boyfriend and my life, and Keith,” she said after spending two years in treatment, taking antipsychotic and antidepressant medications. “that’s when I broke. ….. he [Raniere] wants to have the control of your life.”
Barbara Bouchey was told she must have a sexual relationship with Raniere because she was “chosen” to bear his child. He also told Bouchey that in a previous life she was the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, one of the architects of the Holocaust.
Susan Dones says Raniere was having sexual relationships with multiple women, sometimes with more than one of them at the same time but who had to keep their relationship a secret because it was feared that many members were not “evolved enough”.
Nancy and Lauren Salzman, mother and daughter, both slavishly devoted to Raniere.
Pam Cafritz, daughter of wealthy DC socialites, who assiduously recruited women and girls as sexual objects for Raniere.
Kristin Keeffe, who fled from Raniere after having spent decades with him. She wrote, “All the worst things you know about NXIVM are true but there is so much more horrendous things going on … including … psychological and sexual abuse and imprisonment of multiple illegal aliens.”
Toni Natalie: After being raped by Raniere, with her child just steps away in another room, she says, when she tried to leave, Raniere sent her threatening letters, hired private investigator Juval Aviv to investigate her; the FBI showed up at her door, Raniere sued her and his inner circle descended on her.
They reportedly broke into her house to recover letters Raniere had written to Natalie about his visions for her bearing his child, plus tapes, documents, records, and photographs, including one of Raniere, allegedly with a bow tied around his erect penis.
Natalie called Raniere “a sex addict with bizarre desires and needs.”
Kristen Kreuk, Allison Mack, Nicki Clyne; TV actresses who gave up their careers to follow Raniere.
Mariana Fernandez, reportedly lives with Raniere and Cafritz.
Daniella Fernandez, Marianna’s sister, reportedly imprisoned by Raniere in a house NXIVM owns.
Analea De La Fuente Holland, reportedly, in the service of Raniere, put her husband’s fortune (and more) at Raniere’s disposal.
Plus: Karen Unterreiner, Dawn Morrison, Siobahn Hotaling, Loretta Garza, Melissa Rodriguez, Melanie Button, Karen Abney, Kim Woolhouse, Ester Chiapone, Kathy Russell, Mary O’Donnell, Carole Bergeron, Christy Lahousen, Kim Connelly, Ivy Navarez and the late Barbara Jeske.