Prosecution to call famed psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner as expert witness to prove NXIVM is ‘cult-like’!

Dr. Michael Welner

The prosecution in the case against Keith Raniere Et Al plans to call psychiatrist Dr. Michael Welner as an expert witness to help establish that Nxivm compares closely to other “cult-like operations.”

Dr. Welner, a clinical and forensic psychiatrist and Chairman of The Forensic Panel, has acted as lead forensic psychiatric examiner in numerous prominent criminal proceedings.

According to the prosecution’s filing, Dr. Welner is going to testify about how the actions of Raniere and the other Nxivm/DOS co-defendants compare to practices of other cult-like groups and how such actions – including abuse of the teacher-student dynamic – facilitate financial and sexual exploitation.

These practices include:

  • Using aggressive recruiting tactics to lure recruits and foster their dependence.
  • Grooming the moral and value systems of members to conform with the objectives of the organization.
  • Undermining their senses of self in order to submit to control and exploitation.
  • Cultivating total deference and grooming towards a charismatic leader who has no accountability;
  • Leveraging emotional vulnerability and intimate trust to control follower.
  • Creating extreme power imbalances.
  • Not tolerating dissent – and emotionally manipulating followers to remain absolutely obedient through an accusatory atmosphere in which betrayal is suspected and charged; withholding their connection to a group on which they are dependent; and shunning.
  • Isolating members from friends and family.
  • Demonizing critics as “suppressives”.
  • Shunning defectors.
  • Limiting the beliefs, behaviors and emotions that members are allowed to exhibit.
  • Creating financial dependence.
  • Gathering compromising material on members and exploiting it to create compliance out of fear.
  • Controlling the emotional attachments of members.
  • Controlling the sex lives of members.

Among the notable cases that Dr. Welner has been prominently involved in are:

Dr. Welner has also consulted to courts or examined perpetrators on numerous mass shooting and attempted mass shooting cases, including Colorado’s James Holmes, NBC gunman William Tager, corrections officer George Banks, who killed 13, Tavares Calloway, and bias-hatred mass shooters Richard Baumhammers, Ronald Taylor, and Ronald Crumpley.

Dr. Welner has been featured in network television news coverage of forensic psychiatry issues and authored numerous publications for professional and public audiences.

The prosecution described Dr. Welner as follows:

“Dr. Welner has studied … cult-like organizations, large-group awareness trainings, the ‘human potential movement’, religious sects and chain-marketing organizations (the ‘comparative groups’), including financial and sexual exploitation and the psychological dynamics within the comparative groups. This includes the techniques of how intense attention and recruitment contributes to special relationships within which such exploitation takes place, and then to isolation through which recruits are controlled and exploitation perpetuates. As a clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Welner also has experience treating people who have left organizations like those described above.

“He has also conducted extensive research…  on polygamous sect leaders and their followers, and has presented findings of this research at national forensic science meetings. This research illustrates the qualities of leaders and how they relate to their organizations and followers, how they relate to the outside world and prevent scrutiny, how the ideals of the organizations as set up by leaders enable the absolute power through which sexual and financial exploitation can happen. In the same research, Dr. Welner explored the followers of such organizations, what makes them vulnerable, and what makes it difficult for them to extricate themselves.

“Dr. Welner … conducted … research on drug-facilitated sex assault perpetrators and their modus operandi (including the way they relate to their victims after the fact), as well as their victimology. In particular, he has examined the various ways in which some, including people with no criminal background or history of sexual offending, manipulate power differential and opportunism to sexually exploit employees in what would otherwise be ordinary encounters.

“He has also extensively studied … situations of coercive influence…. . This involves an understanding of how…  the mentor/teacher is able to cultivate silence and even complicity. He has consulted on a number of cases in which grooming behavior is alleged to have taken place, in both criminal and civil context, and to both those accusing others of grooming and themselves accused.

“In addition, Dr. Welner has presented before national meetings and other professional audiences on financial exploitation, the assessment of populations vulnerable to financial exploitation, and the vectors of such exploitation. This work is notable for its concentration on how intelligent and informed people can be taken advantage of because of emotional vulnerabilities that play out in the relationship between victim and victimizer”.

Although it did not reveal other names, the prosecution indicated it is planning to call other expert witnesses to testify about these three topics:

(1) The psychiatric and physiological effects of social, perceptual and occupational isolation including deleterious effects on mental functioning, such as depression, obsessive thoughts, agitation, confusion and suicidal ideation and behavior;

(2) The behavior of victims of sex crimes including common misconceptions about victim behavior, such as why victims often delay reporting to law enforcement and others, why victims continue to communicate and maintain relationships with their assailants and why victims often do not physically attack their assailants; and

(3) The psychiatric and physiological effects of lack of sleep and severe calorie restriction.

The current date to begin the trial is April 29th – but that date may be pushed back by one or more superseding indictments. The prosecution’s provision of the information about its expert witness is in conformity with its duty to provide defendants with details about what information and evidence it plans to present to the jury.

The Eastern District of New York has a 97% conviction rate when it goes to trial. Defendants who go to trial and are convicted tend to get the maximum allowable sentences.


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Frank Parlato


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  • Unsurprisingly, the “practices” list above reads right out of the Amway scam playbook. Raniere must be making his former Amway upline proud.

  • Whatever happened to the old fashioned notion of people taking charge of their own fates and souls?
    The notion that our ancestors had in the Nineteenth Century.
    Whatever happened to the notion of standing up to the world’s bullies and cowards no matter what the consequences?

    People’s moral failures help groups like NXIVM survive and thrive.


    Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

    In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.

    Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

    It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul

      • My parents grew up during the Depression and World War 2.
        They gave me a very simple message:
        Never start a fight
        But if someone starts a fight with you make them regret the day they were born.
        Hit them back twice as hard as they hit you.

        If America was less concerned about being loved by the world and more concerned about being respected and yes even being feared, then America would be a safer country.

    • I think Shadowstate alluding to :

      Whatever happened to self

      Whatever happened to personal responsibility?

      Whatever happened to righteousness?

      I remember my grandparents they were like how you describe your parents.

      Great poem by the way

  • Finally, FR publishes an authoritative piece relevant to the trial vs the hearsay and opinions of those looking to unload their anger and hostility to anyone who will listen.

    Welner will provide expert testimony for understanding the normative behavior of victims of cults and sexual abuse. This will put Nvium into a very dangerous context. However, please keep in mind, Albany attorney, Paul Derohannesian is an expert in sexual abuse and has written extensively about the interviewing of sexual survivors and those accused of sexual crimes. He is straightforward and un-assuming and will not alienate the jury. This will be a trial worth listening to finer points of what constitutes sexual abuse and sex trafficking and the role of free will and free choice in these matters etc.

    As always, the defense only has to raise doubt in the minds of 1 juror to hang the jury and have a mistrial or not-guilty verdict declared. This case is far from decided especially if the prosecution must prove knowledge and intent to commit a crime.

    • While this “expert” is interesting, cults are protected by the First Amendment of speech, religion, assembly, etc., so actual crimes need to be proven, not the existance of a cult. The cult connection may make for a pretty wrapper, but it’s what’s inside that counts for convictions.

    • Those who can’t do, teach. Writing a textbook isn’t the same as winning at trial. Just because DerOhannesian talks on Court TV as a so-called expert (meaning someone from out-of-town who is expensive doesn’t mean he has any accomplishments.
      Name one high profile sex offender he represented and won an acquittal.
      Besides he has a moustache that looks like a 70s porn star.

  • Ruh-rho!

    Who is the Defense going to call in rebuttal? Santa Claus? The Easter Bunny?

    Steal from the Marks… I mean Marc AgniSTEALO?

    • Despite your obvious jealousy of Agnifilo, who is still collecting payments for billable hours while you are not, maybe it’s time for you to start thinking about this exact question you have raised, Dennis. Who is the Defense going to call in rebuttal? And that goes for not “only” the Nxivm defense. It’s an equally important consideration for all who may be accused of crimes, yourself (Dennis Burke) and Sandweg included.

      P.S. If you wouldn’t have gotten yourself in hot water, you have been wouldn’t be conflicted out from representing your former client, Clare Bronfman, who you now constantly badmouth in your posts here. You too could still be milking Clare’s bank account instead of spending your evenings angrily drunk posting on Frank’s blog under ten or more aliases calling Agnifilo AgniSTEALO because of your envy and jealousy.

      • Anonymous,

        I will believe Ron Jeremy is Mouse posting on the Frankreport before I believe mouse is Dennis Burke.

        Why the drama Anonymous?

        Mouse = Anonymous = not Dennis Burke

    • Hey Dennis Burke, what’s this…a pattern? First, you act like someone is your friend and/or partner in an endeavor, then when things don’t go the way you wanted, you turn around, and stab your former colleagues in the back, with defamatory untrue characterizations or accusations. Why are you calling Mark Agnifilo by the defamatory name “AgniSTEALO”, implying that Keith Raniere’s lawyer is somehow “stealing” money, just because Agnifilo is still charging billable hours on the case while you’re apparently no longer able to do so, possibly because you’re now under investigation yourself?

      In the case of Nxivm, Dennis Burke first worked to defend the cult in the first half of 2018, going so far (per reports of counsel familiar with the Nxivm case) as to contact actual or potential Nxivm witnesses by phone, threatening parties they ought to “do things the Nxivm way…” (apparently), “or else.” At that time, it seemed like Dennis Burke, who represented Clare Bronfman as one of her attorneys, was a team player on Nxivm band of brute force legal practitioners, amongst those many legal and non-legal personas sometimes referred to on Frank Report as Clare’s team of “flying monkeys.”

      Clare Bronfman’s approach to brute force litigation was described in a memo submitted to Judge Garaufis by assistant prosecuting U.S. Attorney Moira Penza in July of 2018: “Bronfman’s efforts to target and silence critics of Raniere is particularly concerning in light of the broader pattern of harassment, coercion and abusive litigation that is described as one of the means and methods of the conspirators in the superseding indictment.”

      Furthermore, it has been frequently stated since Nxivm’s complicated legal defense strategies materialized, in theory at least, that Dennis Burke (who is a former federal prosecutor) helped to mastermind or masterminded himself the complex joint defense agreements between multiple Nxivm attorneys as part of Burke’s effort to thwart the government’s prosecution of the Nxivm enterprise.

      But now apparently something has changed between Dennis Burke and at least one of the twenty or more attorneys representing Nxivm defendants. An apparent sign of bad blood between former colleagues has surfaced on Frank Report as several of what are believed to be Dennis Burke’s pseudonym accounts have started to refer to Keith Raniere’s lawyer, Mark Agnifilo, as “AgniSTEALO.”

      It has been seen before in Dennis Burke’s history when something happens that is unfavorable Burke (quite possibly caused by Burke’s own errors), Denny the Disgraced prosecutor angrily reacts by deciding he’s going to retaliate by manufacturing the appearance of improprieties. Next step? Burke starts accusing his former friends or colleagues of “stealing.” Sound familiar? Burke took a similar approach when retaliating against his former business colleague, Jeffrey Peterson.

      In recent weeks and months, we’ve seen Dennis Burke aliases on the Frank Report website make a shift to referring to Keith Raniere’s attorney, Mark Agnifilo, as “AgniSTEALO.” Burke apparently has split ways with Agnifilo, probably because Burke may have been conflicted out of his representation of Clare Bronfman, due to Burke himself appearing in the government’s Nxivm prosecution documents for his role in possible misconduct relating to immigration documents improperly obtained for Mariana Fernandez, the mother of one of Vanguard’s children.

      It’s a similar retaliatory approach Burke has taken towards his former business partner, technology entrepreneur Jeffrey Peterson.

      In his business history, Dennis Burke one time held the role of chief of compliance for a business venture with Peterson, yet Burke turned on Peterson after Peterson didn’t join the Mexico branch of Nxivm in 2014. Details are outlined by a lawsuit Peterson filed against Burke in federal court in Massachusetts this past December 14 of 2018, case no. 1:18-cv-12572, first amended Jan. 4, 2019, second amendment pending, per Peterson’s Twitter posts on social media.

      According to Peterson’s lawsuit, Burke launched a retaliatory defamatory campaign after Peterson didn’t join the Mexico branch of Nxivm. Burke’s defamation included untrue accusations that Peterson had supposedly “misappropriated funds.” In fact, in the business venture, Burke himself was in charge of overseeing authorization documents from all of the company investors, and himself voted to authorize funds transfers as a member of the company’s Board of Directors.

      When Burke became angry with Peterson, Burke knowingly started a pattern of making untruthful claims such transfers were “unauthorized,” despite the existence of extensive documentation proving Burke himself had authorized such transfers in writing and at recorded company Board meetings. It’s a similar pattern seen with Burke’s pseudonym accounts on Frank Report now starting to refer to Mark Agnifilo by the defamatory name “AgniSTEALO”, implying “theft,” when it’s likely Agnifilo’s is not “stealing.”

      So, what’s next. Is Dennis Burke now going to accuse Agnifilo of a “fraudulent scheme,” (as he did with Peterson) call him on the phone and explain “how it [supposedly] works” in criminal law … (Burke’s words) … “anything can be portrayed as a scheme if prosecutors want it to be … anything can be prosecuted if prosecutors want it to be” … “criminal law is different than civil” … “prosecutors can indict anyone when they’re told to by someone with credibility [implicitly pointing to himself]” … “all you need are connections with prosecutors, circumstantial evidence is permitted” … “prosecutors can indict a ham sandwich, [improperly, with vague allegations, if they want to]”, these are the Dennis Burke doctrines, fully compatible with Nxivm tactics and procedures. Obtain what you want through force, by causing fear…cause fear by threatening to improperly accuse people of a crime or threatening to somehow participate in a process that will result in improperly bringing criminal charges against someone, a.k.a. blackmail and extortion.

      Hey Dennis, are you going to make the claim that essentially the entire amount billed by Agnifilo was “theft,” even though detailed written agreements and documentation exist regarding such transfers of funds, with hopes to cause an FBI investigation against Agnifilo? Isn’t that how you roll, Mr. “use law enforcement as a weapon against your enemies?” Starting to sound familiar, again?

      And sadly, some of what Dennis Burke claims about the improper indictment of innocent parties, has proven to be true more than once, particularly as to persons who have been subjected to Nxivm’s brute force legal tactics.

      Burke, as a licensed attorney who was formerly employed as a state and federal prosecutor, knows well that blackmail and extortion are criminal violations under state and federal laws. Maybe that’s part of the reason why he got along so well with Nxivm personalities such as Clare Bronfman. Burke has a record of threatening, defaming, and harassing his colleagues going back years. The use of such scorched-earth tactics by Burke is evident from his behavior against ATF agent John Dodson and others in the Fast and Furious scandal, and Burke’s conduct towards Burke’s former business partner, Jeffrey Peterson, as evidenced by Peterson’s lawsuit against Burke, and others.

      A bit of good news here, considering Dennis Burke’s mounting legal problems, is that Burke’s conduct towards Agnifilo by using the name “AgniSTEALO” may not rise to the level of blackmail and extortion, as in certain of Burke’s other conduct. In the case of Agnifilo, it looks like simple defamation, at least so far.

      By the way, Dennis Burke arrogantly tells his friends in Arizona that he isn’t afraid to defame people, and that he doesn’t care about lawsuits. Seems like Dennis Burke isn’t afraid of much, recently.

      Why not?

      Has Dennis Burke been emboldened? And if so, by what, or who?

      Hopefully, if Dennis Burke feels the need to cover his tracks as it relates to the joint defense agreements between Nxivm attorneys, parties won’t suffer a similar fate as former Border Patrol officer Brian Terry; agent Terry lost his life when someone, or some group, tried to cover their tracks as it related to Burke’s Obama-era “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal, in which weapons were trafficked to Mexican cartels by agencies of the United States government while Burke was United States Attorney for Arizona.

      As it relates to the Fast and Furious arms trafficking scandal, Agent Terry’s family believes their son was murdered as part of a cover-up. Brian Terry’s brother, Kent Terry, has asked President Trump to open an investigation against Dennis Burke and others in connection with the murder.

      Hey Dennis, did you and the Mexico guys really arrange the murder of people to cover your tracks, arrange to have a “fall guy” prosecuted in Tucson, Arizona? If that’s true — and I’m not saying it is — but if it is, that’s beyond messed up. Who else are you going to try to murder, to cover your tracks?

      As President Trump’s administration has pointed out, there is no statute of limitations for the crimes committed against Brian Terry and others in connection with the Fast and Furious scandal. Apparent “show trials” recently held in Tucson, Arizona, may only go so far to create the appearance that the complicated questions raised by Fast and Furious have been fully resolved.

      Important questions still remain. Who exactly was involved in the Brian Terry cover-up, and how might any such parties connect to Dennis Burke? And if Dennis Burke is still working for such interests, today, how might such interests connect back to the Nxivm case?

      The families involved, and the American people deserve answers to these questions.

      In the meantime, it is curious to see Burke attacking Keith Raniere’s attorney Mark Agnifilo, who is a former Burke colleague, by calling him “AgniSTEALO.” As has been described here, Retaliating against former colleagues by making false accusations of “theft” or other improprieties is similar retaliatory conduct seen from Burke throughout Burke’s scandalous history, well published in DOJ investigative documents and the national media.

      Dennis Burke’s retaliatory tactics against his former co-workers were well documented in a 21-page report issued by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) published in May of 2013. The report described how when confronted, Burke refused to cooperate with DOJ investigators: “Burke [told] the OIG investigative counsel that he was at the airport preparing to board a flight and would be on vacation the following week, but that he would meet with the OIG for an interview when he returned. However, Burke resigned as U.S. Attorney on August 29, 2011, and declined the OIG’s subsequent requests for an interview.”

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” In addition, he was credited in the Starz docuseries 'Seduced' for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premieres on May 22, 2022.

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Contact Frank with tips or for help.
Phone / Text: (305) 783-7083