By Frank Parlato
Clare and Sara Bronfman, heirs to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, and purported cult members, filed a complaint against me with the FBI claiming I defrauded them out of $1 million.
The federal government is actively investigating whether the Bronfmans are my victims. But they are the ones who should be investigated since there are many victims – including myself – of the Bronfman sisters and the man who leads them, Keith Raniere.
Raniere – who made the 1989 “The Guinness Book of World Records” for his high IQ – estimated to be between 188 and 194 – was born in Brooklyn in 1960, claimed to speak full sentences at age one, taught himself high-school math in 19 hours when he was 12 and completed three years of college math and computer-language classes by the age of 13.
He graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, New York, in 1982, having majored in physics, math, and biology, and later worked as a computer programmer and consultant.
He says he considers himself to be an enlightened spiritual being on par with such as the Dalai Lama, achieving what he calls “Unification”.
Followers, mostly female, have described him as a “soft-spoken, humble genius” and some of these consider him to be like a Christ or Buddha born to save humanity.
Raniere has a penchant for attractive, affluent women and apparently teen and pre-teen girls.
In 1984, Raniere, 24, took 15-year-old Gina Melita’s “virginity in a dark room, her T-shirt left flecked with blood,” as reported in the Albany Times Union, based on interviews with Melita. Raniere also dated 15-year old, Gina Hutchinson who he convinced to drop out of school and be tutored by him.
Her older sister, Heidi, told the Times Union that she caught Raniere sneaking out of her sister’s bedroom and Raniere explained that Gina’s “soul was much older than her biological age” and she was actually a Buddhist goddess who came to earth to be with him.
After Raniere convinced her that she destroyed her spiritual path by not maintaining sexual fidelity to him, Gina committed suicide on park grounds adjoining the Karma Triyana Dharmachakra Buddhist monastery in Woodstock, NY when she shot herself in the head.
Aside from his spiritual and intellectual accomplishments, Raniere has a knack for business.
In the 1990s, Raniere launched Consumers’ Buyline, a members-only buying club headquartered near Albany that promised lucrative commissions to old customers for recruiting new ones. By the end of 1993 Raniere claimed he sold $1 billion in goods and services, employed 80 people and had 250,000 members paying $15 a month for the right to sell his goods. He claimed he was worth $50 million.
One of his saleswomen had a 12-year-old daughter, named Rhiannon. When Raniere offered free tutoring to the girl, her mother jumped at the chance since she thought Raniere was “an Einstein.”
“He was supposed to teach her Latin and algebra,” The Albany Times Union wrote, after interviewing Rhiannon and her mother, 22 years later. “Instead, she said, he told her she hugged like a child, her arms wrapped around him but her hips pushed away. He taught her to hug the way adults do, pelvis-to-pelvis.”
Rhiannon recalled that Raniere had sex with her in his townhouse, in empty offices, in an elevator, and a broom closet. After about 60 encounters, she ran away from home.
“He took my innocence,” she said. ‘I can never get that back.’”
Raniere also lavished attention on married women as well.
Toni Natalie, a top salesman for Consumers Buy Line, and living in Rochester, was married and raising an adopted son when Raniere invited her and her husband to his Albany area headquarters.
According to her interview in Metroland, Natalie said, “Before I knew it, he had me convinced that my husband was cheating on me and was having an affair with my nanny. It was all a lie . . . the next thing I knew, I was divorced and living in Albany”.
Natalie soon became Raniere’s girlfriend but she became disturbed when she discovered he had sex with many women he kept around him.
Raniere counseled her that a “threesome” would heal her issues. He also encouraged her to give up custody of her son while promising that she would bear his (Raniere’s) child and that this child would save the world.
This disturbed Natalie since doctors had told that she was unable to have children, she says, “So I tried to break it off with him.”
Unhappily for Raniere, at the same time, Consumer’s Buy Line declined, debt mushroomed, and customers complained. Regulators in more than a 15 states began to investigate.
In 1993, New York Attorney General Robert Abrams filed a civil suit alleging Consumers’ Buyline was similar to an illegal pyramid scheme.
By 1996, Raniere closed the company and signed an order agreeing to pay fines, and never participate in an illegal chain distribution scheme again.
Raniere then changed his plans.
He studied Scientology, Ericksonian hypnosis, and Neurolinguistic programing. He shed his business suits, and donned sweat pants, tee shirts and sandals, grew his hair and beard long, and formed a company which he later called NXIVM (pronounced like the patented drug NEXIUM) – a self -help coaching organization – putting a female follower, Nancy Salzman, a registered nurse and master hypnotist as president.
Raniere’s nickname for Salzman was “Mesmer.”
While still living with Natalie and later in a townhouse north of Albany with several female followers, Raniere started modeling himself as a guru in line with Hindu religious leaders such as Swami Muktananda.
He gave up his driver’s license, said he had no bank account, not even a bed of his own and that he chose to forgo any salary from the coaching program he created.
“I consider everything payment for what I’ve done,” he said.
He also began to disseminate books to his female followers such as “The Guru Disciple Relationship” and “Chasm of Fire” that encouraged people to follow their teacher unquestioningly and that enlightenment can only be achieved by renouncing worldly desires.
Among the attachments Raniere insisted his followers renounce is monogamy, money, control of their daily schedules and their attachment to knowing things.
NXIVM claims that by using Raniere’s teaching techniques it “conducts professional success training programs for executives and other individuals concerned with developing their skills and achieving their goals.”
A five-day course costs around $3,000; a 16-day course costs $7,500. Students pay up to $10,000 for 16 days of lectures and emotional probing in daily 17-hour sessions called “intensives.”
Students remove shoes for class, learn special handshakes and wear colored sashes in six different colors and with up to four stripes in each color to signify rank in the organization.
The goal is to reach the black sash, which signifies a student is “unified” – which no student ever yet achieved.
Students bow to Raniere, who gave himself the title “Vanguard”.
In order to move up to higher sash ranking, a student must recruit new students and contribute time as a volunteer.
NXIVM has been described as a multi-layered plan in which some members get commission for recruiting others, and the money flows up the chain to those at the top of the “corporation”.
Several NXIVM teachers/salespeople make over $200,000 per year. More than 12,000 people have taken the courses.
The NXIVM program describes people who oppose Raniere as “suppressives” or “parasites.”
“All parasitic strategies lower self-esteem and therefore destroy value,” Raniere wrote. “It is our intent to rid the world of those things that destroy value.”
Positioned as an ethics course, it is based on hypnosis, as students go through 17 hours a day of hypnotic induction to accept Raniere as an enlightened being.
Days begin at 8 a.m. with the “ESP handclap.”
Students learn about “Money,” “Face of the Universe,” “Control, Freedom & Surrender” and more.
After sleepless nights and 17-hour days of workshops, Cecilia Stieglitz, a 28-year-old woman from a prominent Mexican family, says she had hallucinations and had a mental breakdown at her hotel near Albany. She went to a hospital and required psychiatric treatment.
“Parasites” are people who suffer, creating problems where none exist and craving attention, Raniere teaches.
“Suppressives” see good but want to destroy it.
As Raniere developed his NXIVM philosophies, he developed techniques to recruit and teach women.
Christine Marie met Raniere in 1998 when she was hired to write marketing materials.
“He …. told me that I was such an innocent, pure soul that I didn’t even belong on this planet,” Marie told the Times Union.
Of her second visit, she recalled, “I remember him looking me in the eyes and touching me on the cheek and saying one day we’ll have a child together, and the child would be an avatar and the child would help change the world.”
After she had sex with him, Raniere “sat me down and told me I was now part of his inner circle and committed for life and I could never be physically involved with another man.”
When she asked if he was involved with other women, he said he was. She observed that many women shared his townhouse. Marie decided to leave the group and did not have his avatar baby.
Natalie recalls Raniere used NXIVM courses to instruct women in sexual practice.
Raniere invited her to attend his childhood sexuality class. He told students, including Natalie, that mothers in some tribes perform oral sex on their children to soothe them.
Natalie thought the class was created just for her.
As Raniere developed his humanitarian theories, he developed a strategy to avoid paying taxes.
He urged followers not to file tax returns. Some NXIVM instructors and employees, like Raniere, do not report income to the government, according to multiple sources and court filings.
NXIVM has been dissolved as a corporate entity by the New York State Department of State for not paying taxes.
After the failure of Consumer’s Buy Line, Raniere advised female followers to put their names on his various corporate entities.
Natalie says Raniere never wanted his name on the dozens of corporate entities he helped create. Raniere felt if regulators closed one company down its sister company could pick up where the other one left off. He also would refuse to open government mail because it would prove he had seen it.
In time, Toni Natalie became convinced she must leave Raniere.
According to Natalie, and several other ex-members of NXIVM, Raniere told Natalie that she was, in a previous life, Herman Goering, a leading member of Hitler’s Nazi Party and that NXIVM leaders were formerly Jewish victims.
Natalie also told a federal judge that “I was raped repeatedly by Raniere, each time with him telling me it was harder on him than it was on me, that we needed to be together so that I could share in his energy, and that I needed to remain silent so as to not wake up my child who was sleeping in a nearby room.”
When Natalie broke up with Raniere, his women followers showed up at her home, insisting she come back because she was killing him and destroying everything for everyone by walking away.
“They would break into my house and flip pictures upside down, they’d unmake my bed, steal clothes out of my closet,” Natalie said. “They stole my mail, they shut off my phone; they shut off my electricity. They called me up and asked me if I knew where my son was.”
For his part, Raniere sent Natalie a six-page typed letter that had a diagram that plotted her “life map” showing her karmic “path to demise” if she did not come back.
“I later discovered this path leads to not very nice things for you and it appears my Sweetheart may well go to jail. I pray this does not happen but I don’t think my Sweetheart has anyone to help her where she is,” Raniere wrote in the letter which was placed into court records.
After her business and relationship with Raniere collapsed, Natalie was responsible for debts that had been put in her name by Raniere. She filed for bankruptcy. Raniere filed motions against Natalie to oppose her discharge.
Bankruptcy Judge Robert Littlefield wrote that Raniere’s effort “smacks of a jilted fellow’s attempt at revenge or retaliation against his former girlfriend, with many attempts at tripping her up along the way.”
Nxivm hired a private investigator to monitor her home and look into her private life and business activities.
Several times, she says, she was visited by F.B.I. agents.
Meantime, Raniere raised his sights towards more affluent women.
He was living with Pamela Cafritz, daughter of Buffy and William Cafritz, Washington DC real estate developers and socialites. Pam had a monthly allowance of $20,000 which she dedicated to Raniere.
In 2000, Barbara Bouchey, a financial manager from Saratoga County, started taking NXIVM courses, having been recruited by Salzman.
Raniere soon made efforts to seduce Bouchey since she could bring in her wealthy and influential clientele.
Raniere told Bouchey she must have a sexual relationship with him because she was “chosen” to bear his child, she said in a deposition.
This seemed odd to her since Bouchey had been previously told she was unable to bear children.
Raniere also told Bouchey she was, in a previous life, the Nazi, Reinhard Heydrich, one of the main architects of the Holocaust.
And Raniere told Bouchey he had come up with a mathematical formula that would enable them to make a fortune in commodities.
Bouchey said in court statements that she gave Raniere $1.6 million so he could test his formula.
When this commodities’ investment scheme started losing money, Raniere blamed the failure on Bouchey’s emotional reaction to losing money which was influencing the universal forces and affecting him negatively on a spiritual level, Bouchey recalled in a 2009 deposition.
Bouchey soon lost her life savings.
Happily for Raniere, Seagram’s heiress Sara Bronfman, 25, joined NXIVM in the fall of 2002. Her sister, Clare, 23, followed soon afterward.
Sara marveled at how much Raniere was able to teach her. And she soon became romantically involved with NXIVM trainer Edgar Boone who ran a Mexican NXIVM training center.
After they broke up, sources say, Sara began a furtive relationship with Raniere, who would be dropped off at hotels to rendezvous with the heiress.
As Sara would later explain on her blog, she was “in search of finding ways to bring peace to the world” and Sara rose quickly in the ranks of NXIVM leaders. She was put on Nxivm’s board and given the title of “Minister of Humanities”.
TO BE CONTINUED…