This is another installment of a series where I am the journalist covering my own federal indictment on- 19 criminal counts. Last week I wrote about cult leader Keith Raniere and the two women who fund and empower him – Seagram heiresses, Clare and Sara Bronfman.
The trio had a role behind the federal investigation that led to my indictment. It may have been a corrupt role.
Clare, 36, and Sara Bronfman, 39, are sisters. Their father, the late Jewish Canadian billionaire Edgar Bronfman, Sr. was chief executive of Seagrams and president of the World Jewish Congress.
Raniere was listed in the Guinness Book of Records (1989 edition) as having one of the highest IQ’s in the world, reportedly gauged between 188-194.
In the 1990’s, Raniere’s business was shut down after NYS Attorney General, Robert Abrams, accused him of running a Ponzi type scheme.
Raniere then grew his beard and hair long, shed his business suits for tee shirts, sweat pants and sandals, and announced he was an enlightened being having reached “Unification”.
He created a “life improvement” coaching company called NXIVM (pronounced like the patented drug NEXIUM) which gives seminars – utilizing hypnosis and other programing techniques.
Students bow to Raniere, who gave himself the title “Vanguard” and who, as they advance, are awarded sashes in different colors to signify their rank in the organization.
Raniere has attracted scores of serious followers, most of them female.
In an investigative series in the Albany Times Union, James Odato interviewed several women and family members who claim Raniere raped them as underage girls, seduced them as married women, or raped them as adult women.
One of the women, Gina Hutchinson, who was 15, her sister claims, when Raniere first raped her, committed suicide.
Kristin Marie Snyder, a 35-year-old environmental consultant in Alaska, who spent $16,000 on NXIVM programs from November 2002 to February 2003, according to Alaska State Police, committed suicide on Feb. 6, 2003. She left a suicide note which read, “I attended a course called Executive Success Programs (a.k.a. Nexivm) (sic)… I was brainwashed and my emotional center of the brain was killed/turned off. I still have feeling in my external skin, but my internal organs are rotting. Please contact my parents … if you find me or this note. I am sorry life, I didn’t know I was already dead.”
Another woman, Barbara Bouchey claimed Raniere squandered her life savings – some $1.6 million – in bad commodities investments.
Raniere told Bouchey he devised a formula to beat the commodities market, she said in court filings in 2009.
He lost every dollar she gave him to invest, she said.
Around 2002, Raniere met Sara Bronfman, 25, when she attended one of the seminars. Within weeks, Sara dedicated herself to Raniere’s causes and afterwards bought more than a dozen properties for NXIVM and its members in the Albany area.
Sara also introduced her sister, Clare, who was interested in horse jumping contests. Raniere counseled Clare that it was an “ethical breach” to abuse horses by inflicting the pain of a riding crop and that she had more important things to do with her wealth and power as a Bronfman.
Clare sold or retired her horses, put her $7 million New Hope, Pennsylvania estate—with its state-of-the-art equestrian facilities—on the market, and began financing Raniere’s projects.
Both sisters moved to Albany to be near Raniere.
In 2003, Raniere appeared on the cover of Forbes Magazine. Called “Cult of Personality”, the story detailed Sara’s and Clare’s involvement in NXIVM.
In the article, while admiring the yellow sash around her chest, Sara tells Forbes, “coming from a family where I’ve never had to earn anything before in my life, [it] was a very, very moving experience for me to be awarded this yellow sash. It was the first thing that I had earned on just my merits.”
Forbes quoted their billionaire father who called NXIVM, “a cult”.
The article also reported that Raniere claimed he had no bank accounts in his name despite the fact that NXIVM appeared to be earning millions and that the seminars appeared to use “classic brainwashing techniques.”
After the story was published, Raniere told the Bronfman sisters their father had bought off Forbes and blamed Clare for turning her father against him by revealing to him that she had “loaned” millions of dollars to NXIVM.
In a show of loyalty to Raniere, Clare implanted a virus on her father’s computer, so NXIVM could secretly monitor his emails, according to Kristen M. Keeffe, who was part of the inner circle that ran NXIVM.
The Bronfmans sisters also increased their financial support of Raniere.
From January 2005 to late 2007, Raniere lost $65.6 million of Bronfman money, allegedly trading in the commodities market through First Principles, a company registered in NXIVM president Nancy Salzman’s name, and using a commodities broker by the name of Yuri Plyam.
According to former NXIVM consultant, Joseph J. O’Hara, there was tax fraud involved, claiming that Raniere changed the account name retroactively to falsely take losses for a corporation he controlled.
Clare Bronfman told this writer her father “had figured out a plot with the commodities clearing firm” to counter Raniere’s positions in orange juice futures which caused the stupendous losses.
According to statements provided to this writer by Clare Bronfman, she and Sara apparently illegally listed this $65.6 million gift to Raniere as a loan despite the fact that Raniere claims to have zero income and no assets.
While losing tens of millions in alleged commodities trading, Raniere also began a series of lawsuits against his enemies.
A NXIVM official estimated the sisters have paid $20 million in legal fees over the last 12 years.
Raniere also used Bronfman money to invest in political consultants, lawyers, and private investigators to obtain indictments of his enemies, hiring those who had prior or current working relationships with judges or prosecutors.
Raniere offered this writer incentives to obtain information that would lead to indictments against O’Hara and cult tracker Rick Ross.
Raniere sued Ross in federal court, alleging copyright infringement for publishing excerpts of NXIVM’s “secret” manual on his website.
Raniere sued former member Stephanie Franco, who gave Ross the secret manual and forensic psychiatrist, Dr. John Hochman, who wrote that NXIVM’s classes were “expensive brainwashing.”
Raniere, who arranged for the Bronfmans to lend O’Hara $2 million on land purchases, prompted the Bronfmans to sue him after he quit working for NXIVM because of what he deemed illegal activities including tax evasion.
They also hired former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger who met with Saratoga County District Attorney James Murphy and Albany County District Attorney David Soares to obtain a criminal indictment against O’Hara.
Soares permitted one of Raniere’s followers to work at the DA’s office to help develop a case against O’Hara and got a grand jury to indict O’Hara in 2007 for alleged grand larceny.
The charge was dismissed by a state judge for insufficient proof.
In 2006, Raniere persuaded the Bronfmans to invest $26.4 million in a Los Angeles real estate project with, ironically, the same man who was the broker for the $65.6 million in commodities losses – Yuri Plyam.
The plan was to build mansions in Los Angeles County and was structured as a joint venture with Plyam and set up through a company called Precision Development. Raniere’s name would appear on none of the documents.
Neither would the Bronfman’s at first.
In December 2007, as the Bronfmans consultant, I was informed that the Bronfmans were out of money – their original trust depleted and was asked to help them find a $5 million loan to keep the Los Angeles project going.
I went to California to investigate and concluded that Plyam had absconded with $10 million of the $26.4 million the Bronfmans had wired to him.
I confronted Plyam and was able to secure the Bronfmans majority control in 26 properties, evicted Plyam from possessory control, and became 1/3 partner in the project.
I also commenced a lawsuit on behalf of the Bronfmans which they won, securing a judgment against Plyam for $10.3 million.
However, this discovery of fraud in the real estate project, coming as it did on the heels of the commodities losses, led to consternation in Raniere’s circle.
I questioned Clare Bronfman as to whether there were any receipts for the $65.6 million she gifted to Raniere that proved it actually went into commodity trades.
She answered she had no receipts but trusted Raniere.
Within days, Raniere cut off communications with me. An attorney for the Bronfmans informed me that our partnership was terminated.
Meantime, Raniere persuaded the sisters to ask their father for a loan of $60 million from a trust they would inherit upon his death.
They borrowed it and, according to Bouchey, the trustees “were very anxious to have that money go back into the trust.”
But not everything was rosy for Raniere.
A year after my exposing massive losses in the real estate deal and questioning the authenticity of the commodities trades, nine women, including longtime Raniere lover and finance director, Bouchey left NXIVM.
NXIVM and Bronfmans brought 7 lawsuits against Bouchey, and reported her to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority for criminal investigation.
Clare Bronfman asked the district attorney of Saratoga County to bring charges of extortion against Bouchey because she asked Raniere to pay back the original $1.6 million he lost in the commodities market.
“They’ll go to the ends of the earth to destroy you,” said Susan Dones, who, along with Kim Woolhouse, also left Raniere.
These women were sued by NXIVM on claims they violated confidentiality agreements.
The judge, Brian D. Lynch, wrote that “NXIVM’s pursuit of Woolhouse ….sheds light on its true motivations. Her ‘sin’ was to attempt to walk away after discovering that NXIVM was not what she thought or hoped. In return, she was labeled as ‘suppressive,’ a term that NXIVM applies to former associates who leave the company or whom NXIVM perceives to be its enemies, and subjected to protracted litigation from two large law firms and a phalanx of attorneys.”
In 2011, after winning the lawsuit I started for them against Plyam, the Bronfmans also sued me.
Within months of filing the lawsuit, the Bronfmans filed a complaint against me with the FBI.
Another enemy who was pursued was Albany Times Union reporter James Odato, who began reporting on NXIVM after he discovered in 2007 that Joseph Bruno, then majority leader of the New York State Senate, received $30,000 in cash and another $34,000 of in-kind donations from the Bronfman sisters.
In more than thirty-five articles about NXIVM, Odato traced how the Bronfman sisters funneled cash to Raniere.
Odato’s series also documented NXIVM’s history as a “‘litigation machine’ that pursues largely meritless lawsuits to punish and silence those who speak ill of the group’s leader -— litigating with a level of intensity that judges have described as entirely ‘disproportionate’ and ‘deplorable.’”
In March 2013, NXIVM filed a civil complaint against Odato and Suzanna Andrews, who had written a critical article in Vanity Fair, John Tighe, a blogger who was critical of NXIVM, Toni Natalie, one of Raniere’s former lovers, and O’Hara, alleging they used the password and username of a former NXIVM “client” to access and copy confidential, proprietary information about NXIVM.
Odato lost his job at the Times Union.
The lawsuit was dismissed after the judge discovered that Clare Bronfman lied about the date she discovered the computer trespass, having moved the date up to fall within the two-year statute of limitations.
NXIVM also filed criminal “computer trespassing complaints” with the New York State Police against Bouchey, Natalie, O’Hara and Tighe. When the local DA declined to prosecute, a state judge appointed a special prosecutor, Holly Trexler, a former Albany County assistant district attorney, to “consider” NXIVM’s allegations.
In October 2013, Tighe, O’Hara, Bouchey, and Natalie were indicted.
Shortly after, Raniere’s top lieutenant, Kristin Keeffe abruptly left the organization.
Her whereabouts are unknown.
Keeffe has since claimed that Clare Bronfman paid a Canadian investigative firm, Canaprobe Group, close to $1 million to uncover financial records of U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., her father, Edgar Bronfman, George R. Hearst III, publisher of the Times Union; Rex Smith, the newspaper’s editor and Odato; and six judges who presided over cases involving NXIVM or its critics: U.S. District Chief Judge Gary L. Sharpe; U.S. Magistrate Randolph F. Treece; U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Robert E. Littlefield Jr., and U.S. Senior Judge Thomas J. McAvoy, U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh and U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk.
Keeffe also accused Raniere of conspiring with Emiliano Salinas, founder and co-owner of the Mexico City NXIVM center and son of former Mexican President Carlos Salinas, of plotting to lure four women, Bouchey, Natalie, Dones, and Kim Woolhouse, all former girlfriends or associates of Raniere’s, to Mexico in order to have them arrested on false charges and thrown in prison.
Natalie provided the Times Union with copies of emails from a Mexican journalist who sent them to Natalie trying to convince her to come on an all-expense paid trip to Mexico for an interview regarding NXIVM. The journalist declined to comment when contacted by the Times Union.
In emails attributed to Keeffe, as published in the Times Union, she wrote, “All the worst things you know about NXIVM are true but there is so much more horrendous things going on even you will be horrified.”
Keeffe claims Clare Bronfman, Raniere and others “are involved in continuing ongoing criminal conduct including but not limited to psychological and sexual abuse and imprisonment of multiple illegal aliens for the last decade.”
Several NXIVM members know about the imprisonment of Daniella Fernandez, an illegal alien who was allegedly imprisoned for two and a half years in an apartment owned by NXIVM Properties Inc. at 12 Wilton Court, a townhouse in Knox Woods in Clifton Park three blocks from Raniere’s townhouse.
Daniella was placed in isolation with only a pen and paper in order to work on her “issues”, her confinement supervised by Lauren Salzman, Nancy Salzman’s daughter, who, sources say, was romantically involved with Raniere.
Fernandez’s ordeal ended when she escaped by climbing out the second floor window and returned to Mexico.
While Daniella was in confinement, her sister, Marianna, also an illegal Mexican alien, was (and is) a live in lover of Raniere’s along with his longtime lover, Pamela Cafritz, daughter of wealthy DC socialites Buffy and William Cafritz.
Today, Sara Bronfman continues to fund NXIVM but has married and is less involved on a daily basis.
Conversely, Clare is now second in command. She finances NXIVM’s litigation and “indictment of enemies” initiatives, heads administration, accounting and IT.
Federal investigators might be well advised to take a look at the Bronfman – Raniere enterprises.
They may find tax evasion, false imprisonment, perjury to FBI agents, foreign corrupt practices, fraud, conspiracy to forge documents, money laundering, wire fraud, immigration violations and misuse of tax-exempt funds.
Meantime, this writer will demonstrate these crimes and a host of others in shocking, gripping detail as I publish documents and interviews of eye witnesses – including past and present NXIVM members.