By Tony Farina
The dogged determination of businessman-turned-journalist Frank Parlato, using the same no-holds-barred reporting he used to end the Maid of the Mist monopoly on both sides of the border by owner Jimmy Glynn just a few years ago, has paid off again with the arrest of the alleged mastermind of an Albany-based sex-slave cult called NXIVM.
Parlato, who once worked briefly for NXIVM and has been involved in a long-running legal battle with the cult, is being credited in numerous media accounts with spurring the probe by the U. S. Attorneys’ office in Brooklyn, leading to the arrest of cult leader Keith Raniere last month in Mexico on sex trafficking charges and forced labor conspiracy.
Raniere was arraigned last Friday before a federal judge in Brooklyn and held without bail pending a preliminary hearing April 27. Among those in the courtoom was former television star Catharine Oxenberg who has said her daughter, India, was among the women inducted into Raniere’s secret society.
A federal complaint alleges Raniere turned his female followers into slaves who were branded with his initials and coerced into having sex, activity that was first brought to light by Parlato’s reporting last June in the Niagara Falls Reporter and on several of his websites.
In a report on March 28, shortly after Raniere’s arrest, the New York Post identified Parlato as the reporter who first broke the story last June of women being forcibly branded as part of the NXIVM “sorority.” Parlato had worked for NXIVM in 2007 and 2008, and for some time has been relentlessly pursuing the shocking activities of the self-help group’s abuse of women once he learned from members and former members the extent of the slave-like branding and forced sexual activity.
In addition to the Post, the New York Times, Rolling Stone, and numerous other publications and broadcast media have frequently quoted Parlato’s reporting in their coverage of the Albany group which first gained national attention last October with a New York Times story headlined “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded,” the first in a series of stories that followed Parlato’s lead from months earlier.
After his arrest by Mexican authorities in a plush villa near Puerto Vallarta, Raniere, 57, was extradited to Texas and then moved to Oklahoma before his transporation to Brooklyn for his arraignment.
The FBI has also raided the home of Nancy Salzman, NXIVM president, as well as another home in upstate New York which Parlato believes belongs to a NXIVM-linked doctor, Brandon Porter.
“I’ve had the occasion in my experiences with NXIVM and with present and former members to learn just how far Raniere and his band have gone in their abuse of woman, many of them falling prey to the brainwashing supervised by Raniere and his top followers,” said Parlato. “The horror stories of lives lost and the pain and suffering of loved ones is just heartbreaking. I just needed to expose this group for what it is, and fortunately, authorities finally acted.”
Among those at the villa in Mexico when Raniere was finally arrested was Smallville actress Allison Mack who, according to Parlato, was heavily involved in the torture and branding of “slaves,” and he believes she will also be arrested shortly.
According to the federal complaint on Raniere’s arrest, as reported in Rolling Stone, NXIVM is run like a multi-level marketing scheme with members “encouraged to keep attending classes and to recruit others” into the group.
Classes can cost up to $5,000 for a five-day workshop, according to the complaint which alleges that many members descend into debt from the cost of the courses. And members are also expected to celebrate Raniere’s birthday during a weeklong celebration known as “Vanguard Week,” with Raniere known as Vanguard.
According to a federal detention memo and from Parlato’s own knowledge, Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman has financed Raniere’s operations for years, providing him millions for private air travel costs and other needs, including an island in Fiji.
“Whether from Hollywood or from anywhere USA, woman were seduced into the cult and turned into slaves for the pleasure of Raniere,” said Parlato. “It has inflicted great pain on many people and that’s what drove me to keep trying to expose the cult’s activites and bring them to an end. Finally, it appears that has happened.”
The reporting by Parlato that led to the federal investigation of the NXIVM cult and the arrest of Raniere follows his work in 2015 that exposed the relationship of Maid of the Mist owner Jimmy Glynn with the Canadian government which gave Glynn a monopoly on both sides of the river for his iconic boat ride.
The result of that reporting was that the Canadian government opened up the boat tours to public bidding and secured a huge windfall in payments from the new operators totaling $500 million over 30 years compared to the $81 miilion Glynn had agreed to pay under the old contract before he was ousted in the bidding process.
The new Canadian operator also agreed to pay New York State $100 million more than Glynn over the next 30 years if he won a bidding competition but was blocked by a back-room deal between the governor and the Glynn people without a bidding process. But it did result in a new rate for Glynn on the American side that is three times more in boat revenue for the state over 30 years.
Sometimes, it takes a lot of hard work to move people and governments to take action, and it takes a firm resolve to make the case and give it exposure even when it is met with little or no response. In the Glynn case, it took many, many months of reporting to convince Canadian officials they were being taken for a ride and that an open bidding process could pay huge dividends for years to come. New York State could have done even better had they taken that same open-bidding path, but the back-room deal saved Glynn.
As for NXIVM, Raniere took Parlato to court, alleging he had been defrauded in a Los Angeles real estate deal. Parlato counter-sued and the civil action is still pending. But Parlato not only fought back in court, he used his dogged reporting skills to ferret out the inner workings of the cult and expose their deeds in story after story until the federal investigation was finally commenced. A lesser effort would not have succeeded.