It’s as long as book – the entire complaint filed against Nxivm leaders, Keith Raniere, Sara Bronfman, Clare Bronfman, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, Allison Mack.
The plaintiffs number 80 — all of them anonymous except lead plaintiffs Sarah Edmondson, Mark Vicente and Toni Natalie.
There are 60 women and 20 men. The complete complaint is here
Here is the summary of the case:
The case is filed in the US District Court in the Eastern District of NY, the same jurisdiction that tried Keith Alan Raniere and convicted him.
The lawsuit is against
ALLISON MACK; :
KAREN UNTERREINER; :
DR. BRANDON PORTER; :
DR. DANIELLE ROBERTS; :
DANIELLA PADILLA BERGERON;:
ROSA LAURA JUNCO;
LORETA J. GARZA DAVILA;
NICKI CLYNE; :
NXIVM CORPORATION; :
EXECUTIVE SUCCESS PROGRAMS, INC.; :
ETHICAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION; and :
FIRST PRINCIPLES, :
Plaintiffs file this complaint pseudonymously against the Defendants for conspiring to operate, and for operating, a criminal Enterprise under the “NXIVM” umbrella (the “Enterprise”). Defendants also conspired to participate and participated in a “Venture” to commit sex trafficking, peonage, forced labor and human trafficking offenses in violation of Chapter 77 of Title 18.
The central purpose of the conspiracy, Enterprise, and Venture was to entice Plaintiffs to join NXIVM, which functioned as both a Ponzi scheme and a coercive community.
Defendants exerted power over the Plaintiffs; took their money; made it financially, physically and psychologically difficult, and in some cases impossible, to leave the coercive community; and systematically abused Plaintiffs physically and emotionally. In doing so, the Defendants achieved a number of personal benefits including but not limited to enriching themselves; wielding power over others; advancing in the perverse social order they created; and enhancing their own feelings of self-esteem.
Many of the Defendants also benefited financially through the receipt of profits and substantial access to free labor, including personal assistants, housekeepers, drivers, personal shoppers and others.
In pursuit of both the Enterprise and the Venture, Defendants engaged in a variety of wrongdoing, some of it tortious and some of it criminal. Each Defendant played a critical role in the conspiracy, and neither the Enterprise nor the Venture could have functioned without them – particularly Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman who created NXIVM, as well as Clare and Sara Bronfman, who served in leadership positions and who invested their vast wealth – reportedly $150 million – to fund the operations and obstruct the ability of others to uncover the misconduct. It was foreseeable that each of the Plaintiffs would be harmed by this conduct, and all conspirators are liable for the entire amount of the physical, emotional, psychological, and economic harm caused to the Plaintiffs.
SUMMARY OF THE ACTION
1. Plaintiffs’ claims arise out of their involvement with NXIVM Corporation (pronounced /NEX-ee-um/), an organization based in Albany, New York and founded by Defendants Keith Raniere (“Raniere”) and Nancy Salzman.
2. NXIVM’s principal business is the sale of personal improvement and professional development training programs through Defendant Executive Success Programs, Inc. (“ESP”) and other entities.
Footnote 1 However, as described herein, NXIVM’s insidious reach extended far beyond just ESP, and it was far more than simply a personal improvement program.
3. Drawing from methods used in pyramid schemes and multilevel marketing, NXIVM induced students to recruit and form their own downstream sales organizations within NXIVM, so that the students might work their way up in the hierarchy, known as the “Stripe
Path” (after the colored striped sashes members wore to indicate rank and recruitment achievements), to a level where they could earn commissions and build careers and income for themselves.
4. However, few students ever qualified for commissions, because the Defendants continually manipulated the program requirements, expanded the required curriculum, and graded most of the students as failures who needed to work harder and take more of NXIVM’s
expensive courses. Out of the more than sixteen thousand people who took NXIVM’s courses, fewer than one hundred ever earned any income from NXIVM’s businesses, and fewer than twenty-five received substantial earnings within NXIVM.
Most of the earnings were received by the small group collectively known within the organization as the “Inner Circle.”
5. Raniere claimed to be the conceptual creator of NXIVM’s programs, and the various related legal entities themselves. Defendants promoted NXIVM’s programs in part by representing that Raniere was the world’s smartest man, who allegedly had an IQ of 240 and was
a child prodigy, speaking in complete sentences at age one, mastering college level mathematics in two days at age eleven, winning championship judo and track tournaments, and graduating college with three degrees. None of this was true.
Footnote 1 Unless otherwise stated, “NXIVM” means NXIVM, ESP, First Principles and all other NXIVM-related entities identified as such herein. Members of NXIVM were sometimes referred to as “Nxians” (pronounced “Nexians”) and sometimes as “ESPians” (pronounced “Espians”).
6. Before forming ESP with Nancy Salzman, Raniere ran another pyramid scheme called Consumers Buyline Inc. (“CBI”) that was investigated by 25 state attorneys general and eventually shut down by New York’s Attorney General Robert Abrams on September 3, 1996. Pursuant to the consent decree entered in that case, Raniere was permanently prohibited from “promoting, offering or granting participation in a chain distributor scheme in the State of New York.” Two years later he was back at it with ESP.
7. NXIVM’s programs were based upon a system Raniere and Nancy Salzman labeled Rational Inquiry. Defendants claimed this was a patent-pending technology for changing behavior and thinking. They claimed that it was based in science and could thus be replicated,
producing empirically measurable results. Defendants also claimed that NXIVM’s system or “tech” could cure medical conditions, including Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. None of this was true.
8. Rational Inquiry had two primary components: (1) a self-esteem eroding curriculum designed to break down students’ resistance to Raniere’s and Nancy Salzman’s radical reframing of ethics, morality, and gender roles and relations, among other things, and (2) an inherently dangerous form of psychotherapy called “Exploration of Meaning” (“EM”), which was administered by so-called EM Practitioners (“EMPs”), all of whom were unqualified to practice psychoanalysis, psychology or mental health counseling. Nancy Salzman, the principal
therapist and head of this individual therapy branch of NXIVM, held a nursing license and claimed to have a background as a psychiatric nurse. In fact, she worked as a nurse for only one year in a general practice and did not have a license to practice psychotherapy.
9. Defendants intended, knew, or deliberately disregarded the fact that EM exposed its subjects to a high risk of injury, because over time it produced disturbing alterations in the subjects’ thinking, behavior, and emotional experience.
10. The longer someone was immersed in this system, the more likely it became that they would suffer moderate-to-severe psychological and emotional injuries, including post traumatic stress disorder and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of the Plaintiffs in
this action were injured in this way and still struggle with the effects of their time in NXIVM and exposure to Defendants’ programs.
Psychological Dependence and Coercion
11. Through the continual and systematic application of the Rational Inquiry methods, Defendants obtained the complete trust of their victims, rendering them psychologically and emotionally dependent upon the Defendants. On a near-daily basis, these victims were told that they were failing to advance on the Stripe Path and improve their careers, income and well-being, because they were not working hard enough on their “issues” and thus needed to take additional courses and receive additional EMs.
12. Once Defendants had stripped members of their psychological defenses, they exploited these highly vulnerable people for advantage and gain. This included coercing members into working for the Defendants on “exchanges” in which they would be severely undercompensated or even uncompensated for their labors, but for which they supposedly would earn credits toward the additional expensive courses and EMs that they were assured would improve their lives.
13. Quitting was failure and would result in immense shame and humiliation. Further, it could expose the victim to malicious litigation, a common tactic of the Defendants, and would leave the defector shunned, declared a “suppressive” or “psychopath”, and cut off from the community of friends that had, as a direct and intentional result of Defendants’ efforts, become his or her entire world. Being shunned also meant losing one’s livelihood, which for a community of people who were impoverished and in debt, having abandoned their former
careers to devote their lives to NXIVM, made it impossible in many cases to simply walk away.
Illegal Experimentation on Human Beings
14. The Enterprise and Defendants were also responsible for conducting experiments on NXIVM members that strayed far beyond the bounds of what is acceptable in the medical and psychotherapeutic professions. Indeed, these reckless experiments, sponsored, financed, and facilitated by Defendants Clare and Sara Bronfman, seriously damaged many people.
15. For instance, at least forty members of the NXIVM community, trusting in Raniere, Nancy Salzman and Defendant Dr. Brandon Porter, M.D. (“Porter”), were subjected to a “human fright experiment,” in which individuals were seated in front of a video display with electroencephalogram (“EEG”) electrodes placed on their skulls to measure brainwaves. These subjects believed they were going to watch a talk by Raniere, but instead were subjected to scenes of escalating violence including actual, extremely graphic footage of the brutal beheading and dismemberment of five women in Mexico.
16. There were other so-called medical studies as well, which purported to prove that use of Rational Inquiry could cure illnesses, including Tourette’s Syndrome and ObsessiveCompulsive Disorder.
17. Because of the involvement of Porter, these “studies” attracted the attention of the New York State Board for Professional Medical Conduct. Multiple hearings were held between June 2018 and April 2019, witnesses were heard, documents were reviewed.
18. Ultimately, an opinion was issued, vilifying Porter and terminating his license to practice medicine in New York. It laid out in excruciating detail the many reckless, unethical experiments on human beings that Porter performed at the behest and with the complicity of his co-conspirators at NXIVM.
DOS – The Subjugation and Exploitation of Women
19. Beginning in or about 2015, the Defendants formed an organization within NXIVM called “DOS” (or the “Vow”), secretly headed by Raniere. Defendants Allison Mack, Lauren Salzman, Rosa Laura Junco, Daniela Padilla Bergeron, Loreta J. Garza Davila, Monica
Duran, and Nicki Clyne held high positions in DOS as “First Line Masters.”
20. First Line Masters were tasked with selecting attractive, trustworthy women who could become sexual partners for Raniere. Recruits were told they were being invited to join a sisterhood, which would empower them to overcome the weaknesses that Raniere and the other Defendants taught held them back in life. Recruits were told that DOS offered a unique opportunity to enter a one-on-one mentorship with women who had been elevated in stature within the community, and who thus were looked up to as role models.
21. Recruits were also told that DOS was an all-female group in which no male had a role. These features made DOS appear unique and desirable for women who, through subjection to Defendants’ methods, had been primed to want precisely just such a once-in-a-lifetime
22. In order to find out more about this sisterhood, prospective DOS recruits were required to provide “collateral” to prove their trustworthiness. The collateral could consist of assets, compromising confessionals, letters falsely accusing close family members or friends of unethical, immoral or illegal conduct, nude photos, videos, or other materials that would, if released, subject the recruits or their loved ones to loss, humiliation or shame.
23. After supplying collateral, which had to be approved by the First Line Masters and Raniere, DOS was revealed to the recruits. But to their surprise and dismay, they were told that now, before they could learn about the structure and nature of this sisterhood, they had to
provide additional humiliating and damaging collateral. Thus, before knowing anything about the internal workings of DOS, they were trapped, fearful that if they did not do precisely as instructed, the collateral that they had already provided would be released.
24. Once that second collateral had been given and approved, the recruiter/master revealed a little more about DOS: that it was a pyramid of “master/slave” relationships, explained as no different from a guru and disciple or a mentor-mentee relationship, which would
strengthen women by testing and challenging their boundaries but would require absolute trust and obedience by “slaves” to their “masters.” Shortly after being admitted into the group, slaves were commanded to provide additional collateral every month.
25. Even after providing abundant collateral, however, the slaves were never told certain material facts: that Raniere created and ran DOS with the assistance of the First Line Masters (if asked, the First Line Masters denied Raniere’s involvement); that the gathering of
collateral was intended to coerce women into a lifetime of personal servitude; and that the ultimate objective of DOS was to recruit and groom women for sexual slavery under their “grandmaster” – Raniere.
26. In exchange for developing and operating this pipeline of attractive young women for Raniere, the First Line Masters of DOS acquired personal servants or “slaves,” garnered favor with Raniere and achieved elevated status, stature, and power within NXIVM.
27. DOS “slaves” were subjected to a severely abusive environment, which included caloric deprivation, sleep deprivation, arduous physical labor, performance of menial tasks, and a variety of punishments for any failure to fully comply with their masters’ commands. They had
to “check in” with their masters when they awoke and when they went to bed with text messages of “good morning M” and “goodnight M.”
28. Further, they had to be available to their masters twenty-four hours a day, because they were subjected to a stress-inducing sleep-deprivation technique referred to as “readiness drills,” in which they would receive a message on their phones with a “?”, to which they had a mere sixty seconds to respond “ready M.”
29. Failure to timely respond to their masters’ calls resulted in punishments called “penances” or “consequences,” which included long cold showers, extended periods during which they had to hold themselves in a physically demanding position known as a “plank,” ridicule, extreme diets, being forced to strip naked and be paddled on the buttocks, and, if a master so chose, imposition of these same punishments on other “slaves.”
30. “Slaves” were also required to clean their masters’ homes, shop for their groceries (at times with their own money), buy gifts for their masters, do their work for them and, for some “slaves,” be available for sex with Raniere on demand.
31. At all times, in addition to the continual threat of punishments within this highly regimented and abusive environment, “slaves” were acutely aware of the ultimate punishment hanging over their heads: the very real threat that their collateral would be released. Thus,
“slaves” were rendered fully compliant, striving to achieve extremely unhealthy weight loss goals, adhering to diets of as little as 500-800 calories per day, having to ask permission to eat, having to weigh their food and calculate calories precisely, even having to send photographs of everything they ate to their masters.
32. “Slaves” were thus in a constant state of near-starvation, sleep deprivation, forced to physically exert themselves and push themselves well beyond exhaustion, always anxious and fearful that anything they said or asked might be interpreted as rebellious and subject them to punishments, both mental and corporeal.
33. Not a single DOS member understood when she gave that first collateral that she was signing up for a life of servitude and sexual slavery under a cruel grandmaster and his circle of mistresses.
34. Some DOS “slaves” were branded. In a secret ceremony, they were forced to disrobe, read from a script stating they requested to be branded, lie down on a table, and submit to branding with a cauterizing iron in their pubic region. No anesthesia was administered during
this procedure, which was extremely painful. The ceremonies were recorded, thereby creating an additional piece of collateral. They were told that the brand was a symbol representing the elements of nature. Only later did they come to realize that they would be carrying Keith Raniere’s initials around with them for the rest of their lives.
Abuse of Foreign Nationals
35. Defendants also recruited people from foreign countries, offering false promises of educational or financial gain. Ultimately, they left these recruits in compromised circumstances, without an immigration status, leaving them working for little or nothing, accumulating debt and fearful that if they left the NXIVM community they would be arrested and deported.
Vexatious Litigation and Threats of Litigation
36. In order to silence critics and witnesses, Defendants engaged in withering campaigns of abusive, vexatious litigation and the initiation of bogus criminal investigations, by falsely accusing people who left the community, going so far as to inject themselves into these
victims’ NXIVM-caused bankruptcy proceedings. It has been reported that, with the involvement and backing of Defendant Clare Bronfman, NXIVM hired 50-60 lawyers from 30 or so law firms to pursue litigation or threats of litigation against actual or perceived potential NXIVM critics.
37. These highly publicized in terrorem legal wars were financed in large part by Defendants Clare and Sara Bronfman. Also, as part of a pattern of vexatious litigation, witness tampering, and retaliation, Defendants engaged in and directed unlawful activities including
perjury, making false statements to law enforcement agencies, destroying or altering evidence, spying on victims and their attorneys, computer hacking, intercepting communications, and even attempts to unlawfully obtain financial account records and other private information about federal judges and other “enemies.”
38. These activities intimidated victims and witnesses, who were so fearful of ending up on the receiving end of a destructive legal onslaught that they were, in fact, silenced, prevented from asserting claims for their injuries, prevented from making statements in support
of others who had been injured, and prevented from reporting to and/or cooperating as witnesses for law enforcement with respect to Defendants’ unlawful activities.
39. Numerous Plaintiffs suffered in silence for years, even avoiding cooperation with law enforcement authorities once it became known that the federal government was investigating Defendants. Only now, after the guilty pleas and convictions of a number of the Defendants, do Plaintiffs feel safe enough to come forward and assert their claims. So great was the fear generated by Defendants, that Plaintiffs believe there are still many victims and witnesses hiding in the shadows, frightened at the prospect of seeing their lives further destroyed if they come forward and assert their rightful claims in this or any other legal proceeding.
Investigation, Indictments, Guilty Pleas, and Guilty Verdict
40. The United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) investigated NXIVM.
41. On April 19, 2018, the first of several indictments was unsealed, charging Defendants Keith Raniere and Allison Mack with federal sex trafficking and conspiracy crimes based on with their operation of the Enterprise, Venture, and conspiracy.
42. On July 23, 2018, a second indictment was unsealed, adding new charges and four more Defendants, Clare Bronfman, Nancy Salzman, Lauren Salzman, and Kathy Russell.
43. On March 13, 2019, Nancy Salzman pled guilty to one count of Racketeering Conspiracy, admitting to predicate acts of identity theft and altering records for use in an official proceeding.
44. On March 25, 2019, Lauren Salzman pled guilty to counts of Racketeering Conspiracy and Racketeering, admitting to predicate acts of Trafficking and Document Servitude, State Law Extortion, and Forced Labor.
45. On April 8, 2019, Allison Mack pled guilty to counts of Racketeering and Racketeering Conspiracy, admitting to predicate acts of State Law Extortion and Forced Labor.
46. On April 19, 2019, Clare Bronfman pled guilty to counts of Conspiracy to Conceal and Harbor Aliens for Financial Gain, and Fraudulent Use of Identification.
47. On April 19, 2019, Kathy Russell pled guilty to Visa Fraud.
48. These five women will be sentenced in the next few months. Each is expected to be sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 18 months to five years or longer.
49. Defendant Keith Raniere, the commander-in-chief of the Enterprise, went to trial (the “Raniere Trial”), and on June 19, 2019, was convicted by a jury of Racketeering Conspiracy, Racketeering, Forced Labor Conspiracy, Sex Trafficking Conspiracy, Sex Trafficking, Attempted Sex Trafficking, and Wire Fraud Conspiracy, all involving NXIVM. He faces possible life imprisonment.
50. The Defendants benefited from participation in the forced labor and trafficking venture within the Enterprise in several ways. First, they received enhanced status, titles, and power to wield over the rank-and-file members, as well as enhanced feelings of self-esteem and
worth, because they were deemed “successes” within the Enterprise. Second, they benefited financially through the receipt of profits and substantial access to free labor, including personal assistants, housekeepers, drivers, personal shoppers and others. Third, the Defendants received the satisfaction of believing that they were at the forefront of a new era in the history of human civilization, and they were poised to benefit by gaining exceptional status within this remade society they were setting out to create.
Indeed, for Defendants Clare Bronfman and Sara Bronfman, the benefits they received, including perceived future benefits, warranted an
investment of a reported $150 million.
51. Each of the Plaintiffs in this action was a member of the NXIVM community. As set forth below, some Plaintiffs were recruited into DOS, others were subjected to one or more medical experiments, and others were manipulated and coerced into servitude. All Plaintiffs in
this action expended substantial sums of money for what they were led to believe were legitimate courses in self-development.
52. None of the Plaintiffs consented to be the subject of the unauthorized practice of psychoanalysis, psychology or mental health counseling, and indeed none recognized that they were psychotherapy subjects, because those elements were masked within the larger frame of Rational Inquiry. Many of the Plaintiffs suffered emotional and psychological injuries as a result of their subjection to the Rational Inquiry methods and the highly abusive environment of the NXIVM community.
53. Plaintiffs bring claims for compensatory and punitive damages, disgorgement and other equitable relief against Defendants for conspiring to and operating a criminal Enterprise and Venture, the objects of which were financial gain, self-aggrandizement, and psychological benefits through a continuing pattern of multiple acts of mail fraud; wire fraud; identity theft; unlawful interception of wire and electronic communications; unlawful accessing of electronic data storage devices; visa fraud; peonage; document servitude; forced labor and sex trafficking; negligence per se and negligence for engaging in, aiding and abetting, and acting in concert to engage in the unauthorized practice of psychoanalysis, psychology and/or mental health counseling; negligence per se for engaging in, aiding and abetting and acting in concert to engage in unauthorized and unlawful human medical experiments; malicious abuse of legal
process; and claims arising under 18 U.S.C. § 1595(a) for peonage, forced labor, sex trafficking, and conspiring and attempting to engage in peonage; forced labor and sex trafficking in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§1581, 1589, 1590, 1591, 1592; and 1593A, and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C §§ 1962(c) and (d).
Obviously the money defendants are Clare and Sara Bronfman, and Rosa Laura Junco. It is interesting that Emiliano Salinas and Alex Betancourt are not defendants.
Stay tuned for more.