Ex-Husband Rusty DeCook Speaks From the Heart – About His Son – and Toni Natalie

MK10ART's portrait of Toni Natalie
Editor’s Note: Rusty DeCook was the third husband of Toni Natalie and is mentioned several times in her new book, ‘The Program: Inside the Mind of Keith Raniere and the Rise and Fall of NXIVM  [Published by Grand Central Publishing.]

When they were married, they adopted a son, Michael, a newborn, and raised him together for his first five and half years. Then Toni entered into an adulterous relationship with Keith Raniere, and left Rusty, also leaving her son Michael with Rusty for about eight months.

For the next three years, Michael spent his school years with Toni [and Keith Raniere] and summers with his father.

When he was with Toni, Michael was placed on an extreme low calorie diet and punished if he ate a cookie. The first thing that happened when Michael returned to Albany, at the end of summer – was not his mother hugging him. She put him on a scale to see if he had gained any excess weight.

Michael looked forward all the school year for the months her would be with his father. And when third grade ended, he went home to his dad to spend the summer. He was now entering the fourth grade and old enough to realize the abuse and sadness he was undergoing, living with a psychopath [Raniere] and his obedient and exacting mother.

Michael begged his father to remain with him. Rusty wanted him to remain too and, happily, Keith and Toni agreed to let the boy stay with his dad – at age nine. He never returned to Toni, and she had zero input in his upbringing ever after.

Rusty was too much an old school gentlemen to even seek any child support from Toni. Rusty both physically and financially raised his son.

Toni has written that she was a brave and self-sacrificing, single mother. She claimed she sent Michael back to Rusty only to get him safely away from Raniere. The facts suggests otherwise. For Toni remained with Raniere for quite some time after her son went back to live with his father. It was only when Toni began an adulterous relationship with Scott Foley that she left Raniere, getting Foley to leave his wife and abandon his children – as they motored off to the Florida Keys in a RV.

After she returned to Rochester, Toni did not reenter her son’s life, though she lived in the same community.

So now, in her book, Toni, with the same kind of reckless disregard for her son, takes quite a few gratuitous shots at his father.

This is strange because Rusty is not really an important person in the Keith Raniere- Toni Natalie story. Most classy people who write memoirs try to show a little discretion toward living people who are not the villains of their stories. You have to wonder why Toni put down her son’s father – even if what she wrote was true?   For the sake of her son’s image of his father, most decent people would try to make the father look good, or at least avoid taking ugly and demeaning shots at him – especially when he is not a major part of her memoir.

But it may be worse, because the stories may not even be true.  We have already shown that Toni has lied about things – including a stupid lie that she dropped out of high school in the 10th grade [we found her senior picture in her high school yearbook.]

And, as Toni says in her book about Keith Raniere, “And if he was willing to lie about something provable, how could he be trusted with anything else?”  It applies to Toni as well.

In a subsequent post, we will feature an interview with Rusty to address the veracity of some of Toni’s claims about him and Michael.

For now, let us give Rusty the space to say, in his own words, his view.   I think it is fair to say in closing that Toni brought this on herself. I doubt Rusty would called her out on her alleged lies, if she had not first demeaned them.

By Rusty DeCook

I vowed to stay out of the Toni Natalie/Nxivm conspiracy and I have been able to accomplish this for some 25 years.  I have always tried to remain civil with Toni through the years, mostly for the sake of my son, but also because it would serve no purpose to do otherwise.

Unfortunately, I have been unwillingly dragged back into that delusional world that I so wanted to avoid.  Toni has written a book in which she saw fit to trash me as well as people that are now gone, but that I still care very deeply about.  I cannot see how painting me in a disparaging light would add to the story she hoped to tell.

So, I find it necessary at this time to say my piece and then hopefully return to the simple and uncomplicated life I have enjoyed since Toni decided to move on.

First of all, Toni and Keith tried everything in their bag of tricks to distance my son from me, including always referring to me as Rusty and never Dad.  For example, when I called they would say, “Mike, Rusty’s on the phone,”  never, “Your Dad is on the phone.”  Michael did not go by Michael DeCook in Albany, he was known as Michael Natalie. This posed a huge challenge for me when trying to obtain his school and medical records as I was also unaware of this.

In the early chapters of her book, Toni claims that we had a bad marriage, loveless, I think was the way she put it.

Well, that’s not at all the way I recall it. Did we enjoy the passion of a newlywed couple at that point? No. Did we go without sex for three years?  Hell NO.  Was I a Superman in the bedroom when it came to Toni?  Well, although I would rather not point fingers, let’s just say I often thought Toni had a small piece of Kryptonite under her pillow.

I was in my 30’s when Toni and I were together. Do you think I was taking cold showers for three years?

Toni insinuated I might have had an affair. Unlike her, I took our wedding vows seriously.  Never was I unfaithful while being married to Toni. Owning multiple businesses, staffed by mostly attractive women in their late 20’s, I must say the opportunity presented itself on numerous occasions and it took everything I had to refuse, which I always did.

Toni talks about how my businesses were failing. Again, she was half correct.  But as usual, a key fact was omitted.  No matter how much money you take in, if you are spending more than that to keep someone satisfied, you are in a pickle.  To be candid, at the end of our marriage I was in a pickle. Not because of a lack of business, but by Toni’s never-ending spending and desire to keep up with the Joneses.

She states, I asked Keith for a loan. ABSOLUTELY NOT.  Keith and I had discussed my situation at one point and he offered me a $10,000 loan, but said he would have to have it back in 60 days. I refused.

There are so many memories that I thought I could tuck away in a place I would never be returning to. Now that I’ve been forced to address some of the things that were said about me, I hope I’m able to stuff them back in that dark hole.  I have no desire to engage in a back and forth with Toni about things that took place 25 plus years ago.  I hope my input here helps people to see the other side.

Believe what you will. To me it makes little difference what others think as long as I know the truth.  The only thing I have ever cared about and will until my dying days is my son, Michael, who calls me Pop.  Michael is my world and always will be. Since the day I laid eyes on him in that lawyer’s office in Chicago, he has been my life.  I have done the very best I knew how in raising Mike alone and seeing what an intelligent, gentle, caring person he has become. I think I did OK.

About the author

Frank Parlato


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  • I’m reading the comments and people are acting like this is shocking—it’s not. Also, life isn’t always black and white. Frank’s commentary in this instance is polarizing but Rusty’s is more earnest. The truth is often a lot more complicated, and often not factual in the lenses of human memory.

    As an adult who has had two divorced parents, I honestly don’t listen to what they say about each other. I observed how I felt around my parents and how they treated me. That determines my opinion of them and how much I involve them in my life.

    I’m listening to the book on audible and I am not totally sure how she insulted the son of her father. She said he was a really loving but that they just lost a spark in the relationship. She doesn’t seem attracted to him, but that says more about her than it does him (she seemed superficial). After hearing her account of Rusty, I personally imagined him as someone I would give a big hug to—just a great dude.

    I do think what she allowed Keith to do to her son is horrible. But it is also a classic sign of untreated PTSD. Read the book “The Body Keeps to Actors”. This isn’t news. She suffered childhood abuse and gaslighting so she was already primed—Keith’s behavior was easily normalized based on her upbringing. Her son is really lucky to have such a devoted dad and grandma who were close and more stable. It seems like she knew this on some level and didn’t trust herself, so it makes sense that she stayed away from her kid for some time after.

    Furthermore, there are studies that show that human memory is really unreliable—memoirs are memoirs for a reason. They usually considered a less reliable form of non-fiction and given some creative leeway. Trauma also impacts memory, particularly episodic.

    Again, those who go through trauma exhibit toxic traits or enable abuse to some degree until they heal their own wounds, so none of this is any sort of revelation. Of course, she had some toxic behaviors!! Doesn’t excuse it but again, this isn’t news. Even the stars of The Vow admitted that they regretted their involvement in Keith’s brainwashing.

    I don’t think she meant to spread misinformation. I think if you want your side of the story out, you gotta share it. And that’s what Rusty did. We don’t need to go on a crusade against Toni.

  • With regard to Toni’s behavior…

    Here are 4 ‘separate’ things which tell me that she loves herself more than her son.

    1) When her son was young and miserable around Keith, instead of making Michael want to remain in her custody (by breaking away from Keith and his harsh dieting methods) — she chose to remain true to her selfish lifestyle, while simultaneously abdicating her parental responsibilities.

    2) Instead of visiting her son regularly (after that point) and trying to make an ‘effort’ to remain in his life in some meaningful capacity, she instead placed her own selfish lifestyle ahead of her son by remaining out of his life for many formative years, even though she allegedly lived in the same general area for a while. What kind of mom does that?

    3) When her son was older around 2010-2011 (according to Heidi) Michael had come to live with Toni for a while — but within a short period of time, Toni was angry with her son (and allegedly kicked him out of her home) for superficial issues like “not closing the garage door” or “eating the wrong foods”. What kind of mom tosses their son out of her home for such superficial reasons? I’ll tell you what kind — the kind who love their own lifestyle more than their own child.

    4) When writing her book, she made unnecessary insults against her son’s father without even thinking about the pain it may cause her son. She KNEW that her son loves his dad yet she still went out of her way to publicly insult his dad gratuitously. This tells me that Toni doesn’t care one iota about her son’s feelings and has never had a TRUE ‘change of heart’ about the abdication of her parental role.

    In my opinion, that’s much more than just garden variety ‘narcissism’. 🙂

    ….and when you add up the other bogus elements which Frank has shown exists in her book, I’m pretty sure that any psych expert would have a FIELD DAY examining Toni’s life and telling us what types of personality/mental disorders she may or may not suffer from. 🙂

  • A great article.

    Rusty loved and raised his son, like a good parent does.

    The fact that Toni could complain about Rusty’s parenting (after she abdicated her own parental responsibilities for selfish reasons) is beyond ‘Twilight Zone’ material.

    It’s clear that Michael is the most important thing in the world to Rusty.

    It’s also clear that Michael is NOT the most important thing in the world to Toni (either now or back then) — which is completely ‘counter-natural’ to the feelings of a loving parent.

    If Michael was the most important thing in the world to Toni —- she would not have made unnecessary insults against his father in such a public way.

    If she loved her son more than anything, she would have considered her son’s feelings and remained silent on the breakup with his father — that is, she would have put her son’s feelings above ‘profit’. Shame on her.

    I also believe Rusty’s story over Toni’s story any day of the week.

    The truth has a way of being self evident.

    Thus, it’s clear that she’s not only guilty of trying to humiliate her own son’s father (which is bad enough, if she claims to LOVE her son) —- but it looks as though she may have lied while doing this. That’s adding insult to injury.

    She seems to be going out of her way to hurt what remains of her family (her son), just for the sake of profit.

    Anyway, in my opinion, I’m not convinced she’s just a classic narcissist. I believe it’s probably more than that.


    PS — Frank, you should consult a psych expert (for an article) regarding what you know about Toni’s behavior as a parent and the bogus claims made in her book — and ask them to classify what type of personality she may possibly have.

    It won’t be a real diagnosis of course (since it’s being done from afar) but they can probably offer insights into possible personality/mental disorders which Toni may or may not suffer from.

    I just find it hard to believe that any psych expert could look at her behavior, failures and actions over her life —- and say that she’s 100% normal. lol. 🙂

  • I would like to thank everyone for all the kind remarks you have posted. They truly mean a lot.

    As I have said, I had no desire to get involved in this 25-year-old fiasco but found it impossible to ignore once Toni decided to humiliate me in her book. I found it very hurtful as well as nonfactual.

    This is something Mike will no doubt read at some point and I just didn’t think it was necessary to paint me in such a disparaging light.

    Thankfully, Mike is way smarter than Toni or me, so I’m sure he won’t be fooled for one minute.

    So again, Thank you all so very much.

  • Rusty seems like a decent man and loving father. I get the feeling doing this was not comfortable for him. Thank you, Frank and Rusty, for shining light into a pretty shady corner of the Nxivm saga.

    Usually, those who lie still have some respect for the truth – it is the rod against which they falsify. TN seems more like a KAR level bullshitter, i.e. No respect whatsoever for the truth, therefore just bullshit on the fly, with no real feeling for the consequences of falsehood, and genuine surprise that there would be any, when caught out?

  • If I was Toni’s son, I would never speak to her again for throwing the one person who was always there for me “my father” under the bus like she did.

    Trying to make up for the years of being an absent mother is one thing. Telling bald-faced lies about your dad, those are parent/child divorce words.

    Michael is all the family Toni has/had left. The rest of her birth family (half-siblings) wants nothing to do with her really.

  • “The only thing I have ever cared about and will until my dying days is my son, Michael, who calls me Pop. Michael is my world and always will be. Since the day I laid eyes on him in that lawyer’s office in Chicago, he has been my life. I have done the very best I knew how in raising Mike alone and seeing what an intelligent, gentle, caring person he has become. I think I did OK.”

    Bravo, sir. This is a wonderful statement of the love of a parent for a child. I doubt there is a similar string of 5 connected sentences extolling human virtue in Toni’s entire book.

  • Reduced to tears reading this. God bless you and YOUR son, Rusty.

    I hope Toni gets sued for slander for her lies against someone. Prolly only picking on gentle Rusty ‘cuz she knows if she “provably” lies about NX —or tells the truth about Keith’s sexual deficits — Clare’ll make certain she won’t see a dime off her dimestore novel.

    (I hope Chet Hardin does ok by it, though.)

  • From Books & Books, The Studios of Key West, this is part of the last paragraph of their review of Toni Natalie’s memoir.

    ” But far from being a victim’s story, in the spirit of Erin Brockovich, Toni’s is a nuanced narrative of a multi-dimensional woman saving herself, and then working tirelessly to help other women do the same for themselves. Today Toni is happy, reunited with her son, and surrounded by family and friends….”

    Well, isn’t that SPECIAL?

    Luckily for me, a summer course which I took when I was fourteen at Amherst College, about Abraham Lincoln, taught me a big lesson about revisionist history, as well as its motivations. I thank my dad for being willing to take time and effort, always to help show me the ways to think things over for myself and to persist with reading and research. Dad asked me if I wanted to take that class.

    This Natalie memoir was written, from what I see, like Erica Jong’s 1973 memoir, Fear of Flying, which was a deliberate combination of autobiography and fiction. But Erica Jong knew that this was going to be her entire premise, even as she composed her bestseller and coined the phrase “the zipless fuck.” Just like Sylvia Plath’s book, The Bell Jar, this literary method of narrative was designed to be a roman à clef.

    Maybe Toni Natalie has lost, or has not ever had, the capacity to reconize the differences between truth and fiction. As for Toni Natalie being described as “multi-dimensional,” that looks like a big, big smelly cow plop. So she has followed right along with her “program” of self-aggrandizement. At the expense of so many people, some of whom have told us about their experiences with her here, and now including Rusty and his son, Michael. Back to burn them again, eh? Seems more like a classic case of projection.

  • I’ll do a shorter versiion.

    Toni uses people, lies, tells her stories to paint everyone else as wrong and herself as a victim and/or saviour making sacrifce for the good of others. She’s self-aggrandizing and takes no responsiblity for ler lack of character or actions.

    The fact is, her story regarding what transpired regarding her involvement and knowledgoe of what was going on with Raniere and all the other Nxvim lunatics is certainly in doubt. She probably left Raniere, because as was the case with Rusty, there was no more money to be had for her, she knew full well he was sleeping with others and she thought she found the next stooge in her rampage.

    My hat is off to you, Rusty. You were royally screwed over and was still able to keep it together for your son.

    • I was about to post something very similar. Just another sad case of a person blaming all their poor decisions on others. Toni takes absolutely no responsibility for anything. It is extremely sad and takes a certain level of narcissism to reach old age and still be at it. A lot of normal people will sort their shit out and still have some decent years in them to make amends. But not this one. What a piece of work.

  • “And if he was willing to lie about something provable, how could he be trusted with anything else?”

    Oh, Toni, you are dumber than a box of rocks. Why would you set a standard like this when you’ve lied about so many provable things?

  • I wonder if Toni has any regrets about publishing a book that’s full of lies. Probably not. She doesn’t some like someone with any sort of conscience.

    • Nice Joan Crawford reference seeing how she also adopted children to abuse. Slight difference is Joan made her daughter Christina eat the bloody steak. Toni couldn’t even bless her boy with the simple pleasures of eating a cookie.

  • Question for Frank: Have you given Toni an opportunity to respond to this and if so, did she turn you down. That would be very telling and would convince that her book is full of lies.

    • Inquiring mind,

      Parlato always gives everyone an opportunity to respond.

      He actually is a journalist as well as a website editor.

  • FrankParlato & Mr. DeCook,

    Frank, thank you for giving everyone a fair voice on your platform the Frankreport.

    Mr. DeCook,
    Thank you for taking the time to share your side of the story.

    Being dragged back into the past sucks, and I am sure being a single dad was not always easy.

    You are good man and I am glad everything turned out well for you and your son. I wish you both well.

  • Rusty, thank you for your insight. I find it very peculiar she spoke of these things in regards to you. She was obviously throwing unnecessary shade to deflect her evilness. It’s unfair and ruthless. I find all the Nxivm characters hide behind lies. The storefront looks great. The words sound great, like ethical and humanitarian. All the while this criminally insane group – including Toni – has escaped well-earned prosecution. Toni gave Raniere power by supporting his child abuse towards your son. I can’t figure out yet if Toni taught Raniere or Raniere taught Toni how to be so cruel to children. Either way you look at it, it took a few good fearless journalists to create the Fall of NXIVM. Toni is nothing more than the scraps tossed aside by the child rapist Raniere.

  • Rusty seems like a decent guy. It’s sad he even had to respond to his exes claims. And again, what motivated her to do so? She seems like a snake.

  • What an amazing bond Rusty must have with his son. At age seven, he wasn’t to be manipulated into the games his “mother” and her lover boy were playing. Her shallow, cold and manipulative personality must have oozed out of her. There was no fooling that kid. Well done to Rusty for raising such a perceptive boy. The love of his dad has surely saved his life. Who knows what could have happened to him living in a cult like that from such a young age? Which makes it laughable that grown men and women are still deep into it! Of course, this is all just my humble opinion

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
Email: frankparlato@gmail.com