Quién is a Mexican magazine that some compare with People Magazine in the USA. Quien means “Who” in Spanish. This week they published an in-depth interview with one of the Nxivm-5, Eduardo Asunsolo, who is fighting a determined fight to rescue his friend, Keith Raniere, from a lifetime in prison. Asunsolo believes Raniere is innocent and has been unjustly convicted. He is seeking a new trial for Raniere based on allegations of prosecutorial misconduct.
We spoke with Eduardo Asúnsolo, the founder of Make Justice Blind, a startup that was born as a result of the case of Keith Raniere, leader of NXIVM, sentenced to life in prison. It’s objective? To show that the legal process in the guru’s trial was unjust.
By Mercedes Abascal Simón
It’s no secret that word of mouth sometimes has far greater power than a sophisticated advertising campaign, and that was the case with NXIVM, an organization founded by entrepreneur Keith Raniere in Albany, New York, dedicated to providing self-improvement, training and personal development courses.
From the name of the program, Executive Success Programs (ESP), you can already guess the objective: to attract powerful and influential people, businessmen, politicians, celebrities … And in no time, this man, who calls himself a scientist and philosopher, did so.
In less than five years, NXIVM had grown a lot in America, and people like Barack Obama or the British businessman, Richard Branson were already its clients and benefactors. [I never heard of Barack Obama being involved in Nxivm. Richard Branson hosted two Nxivm retreats on his private Necker Island twice, for which he was paid a reported $250,000 rental fee each time.]
But Raniere’s plans were far more ambitious than this: he wanted to grow internationally. He succeeded, in large part thanks to Emiliano Salinas Occelli (VP of Ethics at NXIVM and son of former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari), who decided to join the business and, together with his friend, Alejandro Betancourt Ledesma (VP of Commerce), brought ESP to Mexico. History repeated itself, the organization grew in CDMX, Monterrey, León and Guadalajara, thanks to the hundreds of students and benefactors who blindly believed in the NXIVM system. This happened in a total of 10 countries.
So far, so good, but in 2017, there was a first call that caught people’s attention: a group made up of individuals who held very high positions in the organization, along with some coaches and even the mother of a student, proclaimed irregularities and said that NXIVM had characteristics of a cult, and thus, the rumors grew.
The real bomb exploded in October of that same year, with an article in The New York Times that made a serious complaint: within NXIVM there was a secret group of women, at least 10 of them Mexican, all marked with a brand, whose function was to be Raniere’s sex slaves.
These women were members of a subgroup called DOS (Society of women dominated by a Master) and then the scandal broke out, since later it was said that the founder of NXIVM not only had intimate relationships with the members of this group, but, he had also had them with a minor.
The sordid details of the organization came to light: the women were forced to reveal their dirtiest secrets in order to ensure their submission; They were punished if they did not comply with everything that was asked of them or were not available all the time; some even lived on a diet of less than 500 calories per day.
There was increasing pressure from society that Raniere and NXIVM be put on hold, and eventually the Governor of New York [Gov. Cuomo did not call for the criminal investigation] asked that something be done about it and issued an arrest warrant against the businessman. [Cuomo did not issue an arrest warrant. That was done at the federal level.]
In July 2019, the magazine Quien, published a cover story that undoubtedly gave people a lot to talk about. In it appeared Emiliano Salinas with the following heading: “Emiliano Salinas Occelli and other members of the Mexican elite related to the NXIVM case and the DOS sexual cult.” The same day the magazine came out on sale, Keith Raniere (who was arrested in Puerto Vallarta) was found guilty of the following charges: conspiracy to commit organized crime, sexual exploitation of a minor, possession of child pornography, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking conspiracy, and identity theft conspiracy.
But as in any story (horror or not), there are always two sides to the coin, and today, a year and three months after that –[actually a year and five months] and after Raniere has been given a life sentence on October 27 – one of the most faithful followers and a close friend of the guru talks to Quien and gives his version of events.
Eduardo Asúnsolo, originally from Torreón, and who currently resides in New York, assures us that Keith does not deserve jail and that the trial was full of irregularities.
“In the United States they pride themselves on having fair trials, but in Keith Raniere’s case, prosecutors and the judge dispensed with ‘due process to make sure that the defense was not listened to”, he states. Furthermore, due to the above (and with the advice and guidance of Keith himself), the Mexican created a startup called Make Justice Blind, whose mission is to “bring public responsibility and technology to the court” to demonstrate that a process or trial was unjust and thus help victims who are wrongfully imprisoned.
Convinced that the evidence presented by the prosecution was sensational, emotional and flimsy and that Keith was convicted for his lifestyle rather than his actions, Eduardo is determined to prove that the guru does not deserve jail.
How did you get into NXIVM?
I think I enrolled myself, almost by accident. At that time, I had a very good life: I studied at Tec de Monterrey, I had a new car and apartment … All I needed was a deep relationship; I wanted to get married and have children. I had a friend who had a very cool relationship with his girlfriend and I learned that his life and relationships had changed after taking a five-day course. I thought: “Oh, No way! I have gone backpacking to Europe, studied Freud, done yoga and you don’t change like that in five days”. When I moved to Monterrey, I spoke to this friend’s brother, who was already in ESP and later he enrolled me.
What was it that caught your attention? Why did you convince yourself so quickly?
The Center was amazing; it was like an oasis. There were professionals, entrepreneurs, a lot of start-ups… People looked very happy, they were very humble and intelligent. Philosophically speaking, it was a unique place in Monterrey city. I was looking to grow professionally and personally. I had a good job in Santander bank, I was in executive banking, but I was missing something.
How much did the course cost you?
I paid like $ 2,000 for the five days.
And how was your experience?
It was great, it not only helped me in personal matters, my love for art and theater also awakened again. I quit the bank and started working in radio. There is a goals program in ESP and when I realized what I wanted to do, I had my own radio show, and I got to study at one of the best theater academies in New York.
IN THE US THEY LIKE TO PROCLAIM THAT MEXICAN JUSTICE IS CORRUPT, WHILE THEIRS IS ‘THE FAIREST’ IN THE WORLD. AFTER SEEING IT FIRSTHAND, I KNOW IT’S JUST AMERICAN HYPOCRISY” — Eduardo Asunsolo
Did Emiliano Salinas (VP of Ethics at NXIVM) and Alex Betancourt (VP of Commerce) recruit people?
Yes, they did enroll many people. They were the green level rank since long ago. I was about to be, even towards the end, when things started to get ugly.
It strikes me that Emiliano and Alex, being so close to Keith, did not speak for him, nor against him, but it is a fact that they dissociated themselves. Could you explain this? Do you think Keith sees it as a betrayal? Maybe they realized something that other people didn’t?
I think Alex and Emiliano definitely changed their minds about Keith, like many others. The negative campaign against them, especially against Emiliano, I would not wish on anyone. I think it’s one of the worst things that can happen to you. It makes you notorious and it becomes very difficult to navigate. The easiest thing is to say, “You know what? I can no longer handle this, I prefer to think that there was something wrong and now I am against it”. The media, your family and the people who really love you are telling you: “Stay away from that”, and it is easier to say: “Yes there was something wrong and my ethics tells me to retire”. You may even think Keith is good, but out of fear and comfort, it’s best to walk away.
Were you aware of DOS?
Mark Vicente, who at first was a loyal friend of Keith and was very involved in the whole organization, spoke to me and said that he had found intel of sex trafficking… It sounded very schizophrenic. That’s where the whole campaign against Keith began. What I did was investigate. I returned to Albany, instead of running away and cooperating with the blogs and false accusations. I spoke with everyone, with Allison Mack (actress of the series Smallville, who pleaded guilty to sex trafficking charges), [Mack did not plead guilty to sex trafficking charges; she pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.] Lauren Salzman (VP of Education at NXIVM, who pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy [and racketeering] and is the daughter of the organization’s co-founder, Nancy Salzman) and Keith. I realized there was a sorority of women, but that it was far from criminal. I had friends in American university fraternities where having a brand was a thing of pride, even many NFL football players have a brand and nobody questions them, on the contrary, they admire them. I did enough research to realize that the people who were against Keith were lying.
What did you investigate?
There were many strange things. Imagine being in a millionaire case against Clare Bronfman (heir to the Seagram Distillery fortune and sentenced to six years and nine months for her involvement in the case) … there are many interests. Mark was a friend of mine, Sarah [Edmondson] (another former NXIVM member who started the campaign against Keith along with Mark) was at my wedding. They said there was something wrong, but they never went to Albany to investigate, they thought it was justifiable to start a smear campaign against the organization with lies … and look what happened.
Thousands of people lost their jobs, millions of dollars were lost, the value of all 25 NXIVM companies. Most think that we are crazy, the reputation of many like mine was greatly affected and all by a defamation campaign. What happened was a tragedy. It has nothing to do with what reached the media. Nothing.
You talk about friends who have a brand as a sign of pride in belonging to a fraternity. Didn’t the fact that they couldn’t leave this kind of “fraternity” catch your attention because they had compromising information that could destroy their lives?
On the website, www.thedossierproject.com you can find videos and testimonials where women who were part of DOS explain everything. I don’t think it’s up to me to talk about why they did it. The fact that women made the decision to do something as radical as saying “I’m going to give you something so that when I want to back down, don’t let me” doesn’t mean they’re brainwashed or wrong. I don’t know if I would have done something like that, but that was the decision of each one of them and I believe it must be respected.
Now that Keith is in jail, don’t you think he did the same with those women by forcing them to be available all the time, reporting everything they did, and preventing them from leaving DOS? I see it as a deprivation of liberty, a type of jail.
I understand that it can be perceived like this, but since I was not involved, I cannot comment. I don’t know if it really constitutes taking someone’s freedom or if this is just the public’s perception. Now that they are open to talking about it, it would be important to listen to their views. It’s not that I don’t want to explain it, but it is not my story to share. They have been friends of mine for 10 years, and what I can tell you is that they are among the most intelligent and successful women I know, they are not a group of girls.
Tell me about Make Justice Blind…
It works like a start-up on a day-to-day basis, but it is a non-profit company. What it does is to bring public accountability and technology to the court. In that sense, it is like YELP or Uber. Everything we have today has public participation through technology, except in the justice system. And that is, surely, for some obscure reason. Although the perception is that the Mexican judicial system is inferior compared to the American one, that is not true. Corruption and injustice reign in the American justice system. What happened to Keith is not new, this has been going on for a long time, but it can be solved with public participation, if people are observing … He was sentenced based on prejudice and not on evidence. If you review the legal process and the tools that we are going to make public, you will realize that none of the charges were proven with evidence. There are a lot of very emotional testimonials about socially incorrect things, a lot of prejudice and hatred. Legal experts who have analyzed the trial say there is not enough evidence to have even brought this to court in the first place. For example, a sex trafficking charge was sustained in which there was no money exchanged and it was a single sexual encounter between adult women who consented, before, during and after the incident. In the public, the media makes it look like there was child abuse and horrible things, but if you analyze the case, as our start-up does, you can find very different universes between the legal evidence and the prejudice of the media. This is not to say that Keith is innocent and that what people said are lies. Due process has certain steps and none were fulfilled, but that does not reach the media. Why? For many reasons that we are trying to expose.
The fact that Daniela Garza, whom he had locked in a room for two years, and Lauren Salzman, one of his closest accomplices, testified is proof enough. In fact, in the trial, thanks to the testimonies, it was found that Keith had relationships with a minor who was nicknamed Cami the Virgin. You say that legally this is not enough?
Locking someone in a room wasn’t even a charge in the case. As for the relationship with Camila, at the beginning of the trial, it was said that it was not true and now it is said that it is. I don’t want to talk about her because I think she’s the one who gets harmed the most by discussing her publicly. At Keith’s trial, the proper legal steps were definitely not followed. In this case, for example, while it is a crime to have sex with a minor, that was not something he was even accused of. It was not part of the charges. He was charged with possession of child pornography for a photo that was later found to have been planted onto his camera. The important thing here is that people separate prejudice from evidence, even if you are defending the devil. Even in El Chapo’s trial, there were anomalies. Everyone deserves justice and a judicial system that works without corruption. You have to examine the system to know if due process is being followed or if someone is being condemned based on prejudice, because if so, we are all in danger.
Was Make Justice Blind born from what happened to Keith or before?
In the wake of what happened to Keith.
You think Keith doesn’t deserve jail?
Of course not. If you analyze the case, it shouldn’t have even gone to court. There are very ugly and very bad things that later were said in the media. If they are true, then they should formally accuse him of that, for the sake of the victims themselves. But it is not fair that all they have is a statement of ten minutes to the end. Thanks to the analysis that I have done with many experts during the past three years, this case should not have even reached the court.
You also have a group called The Forgotten Ones, whose goal is to say hello and dance outside the prison so Keith doesn’t feel alone.
I’ve been visiting Keith in prison since we were allowed to. I would go once a week, I would talk to him on the phone, we would email one another. When Covid began, they stopped allowing visits and the prisoners began to spend up to three weeks in their 4×3 cell, without even being able to go out into the corridor. People began to worry. We were not the only ones who went to the windows to greet the prisoners with the light of the cell phone. There were also the families of other people. This was a Covid phenomenon, not one of NXIVM. One day we were there trying to say hello Keith and someone did a moonwalk, the inmates started clapping and banging on the windows. We danced and the prisoners began to cheer up. They got up from their beds, their shadows were seen dancing. Families were crying and a magical connection was felt. It’s as if our communication went through the walls. We went daily. Families got together, they brought lights, there were people who did things with fire and professional dancers. It was a show. Prisoners began to report from within that morale was rising and violence was dropping. Personally, this inspired me a lot. It’s an artistic expression of Make Justice Blind. It is a way of telling the government “I am not afraid of you; I am going to expose the bad things you do.” Prison is the threat of the government towards the citizens, dancing with joy outside is a way of saying “goodness and good things prevail”.
How did you see him the last time you were with him? He was tranquil?
He was calm about who he is and his innocence. Also, I saw him, in a way, excited to be able to contribute. He is always talking about how to develop new social tools, how his case can help, regardless of what happens to him. He is excited about these new projects. He looks like he always does. As if I was seeing him at a volleyball game
But it is a fact that cults in the world exist and usually their main tool is manipulation. There is evidence of bad things that happened inside …
In the 10 years in which I held senior positions in many companies and was a business partner with Allison Mack and Keith Raniere, I have never found anything wrong. When everything negative began to be said, I was inside investigating. After Keith was arrested, I was with his lawyers, I went to the entire trial and I still can’t find evidence for the things that are said to have been done. Ironically, DOS was a non-NXIVM group, even though they had a lot of people in common. From what I understand, Keith’s participation in DOS was like his collaboration in many other groups, such as the peace movements in Mexico.
But he was the leader of DOS. It has been shown that they called him “Master.”
Yes, Keith’s involvement in DOS is a complex thing, I think visiting the website of the DOS women and interviewing them would give you a lot of clarity.
Doesn’t it strike you that he had a lot of followers, now there are very few people who support him?
I think that if you see what happened, what was done to the ESP community as a result of the charges and as a result of this fight with former members, you would understand. There were threats from the FBI, from people in the media, people knocking on their doors. The fact that the community said, “I don’t want anything to do with Keith anymore” was not necessarily related to what Keith did. There was a time where if you supported him you could end up involved in the criminal case. You would end up with reporters chasing you and writing false things about you. There were doctors who lost their licenses. There were people who lost their jobs, their networks. The fact that Keith does not have people who are supporting him has more to do with how difficult it became on a legal and media level and not with his perception of Keith per se.
He said he had the highest IQ in the world, that this is said in a Guinness World Record book, but there is no record of him taking an exam or test. Would it affect you to discover that this is a lie?
That is a very good question. I do not know if it would affect me to discover that it is a lie. Keith has been my friend and partner for a decade, and so I wouldn’t abandon him if I found out that this was not true. I have worked with him on business projects and I have played hundreds of volleyball games with him. I have seen his athletic abilities and with his help, I developed an expression education. I have a lot of information and hours and hours of knowing him, of trying to codify his curriculum, and of trying to develop his ideas. It would be very difficult for me to deny his intelligence and his athletic and mental abilities because I would have to contradict my own experience in order to deny it.
If they proved to you that everything they say about him is true, what would you do?
I do not support crimes of any kind. If I found out that there were any of those things going on in NXIVM, I would be the first to investigate them and to bring them to justice. I would use Make Justice Blind so that there was justice and so that the entire process of the law was applied for each of the victims. I’ve been looking for that all these years and I still haven’t found it. I don’t know if I would personally go against Keith, but I do know that if there was evidence of anything he’s accused of, I’d be the first to post it.
Now that he has been sentenced, do you think you can still achieve that justice you speak of?
Yes, it can still be done and we will keep trying. I hope that we will review this interview in a year and a half and agree. I think that soon everything will come to light and all this will change direction.
What do you think of people referring to you as brainwashed?
It’s incredible because even people who get to know me already have that prejudice. Many times when someone gets to know me they say to me: “Wow, you are so nice and very normal”, but there is damage there forever.
And have you ever wondered if you really aren’t? It doesn’t scare you?
The concept is difficult for me in general, the idea that you can be doing something that someone else wants you to do and you don’t want to seems incredible to me. I think that I am involved in all my decisions and in everything I decide to support.
Yes, it does cross my mind. If I realized that everything they say is true, I would declare that I made a mistake in believing him. The good thing is that if I change my mind, I have a clear conscience. I didn’t attack anyone through the media, I didn’t send the FBI to anyone, and I haven’t said a single negative word about my former teammates. If I were wrong to have believed Keith, it would be an innocent mistake, with a good intention and I did not harm anyone. On the contrary, if all the people who have affected us, who have written in blogs and newspapers about us and who have ruined our careers, medical licenses and companies, discovered that they were the ones who were wrong, then they would have much more to pay. It is much more difficult for them to change their mind than it is for me.
SPECIFIC POINTS OF THE CASE THAT MAKE JUSTICE BLIND DECLARES:
• The alleged child pornography images “found” in an electronic device were tampered with. The FBI admitted during the trial that someone accessed the device while it was in FBI custody, but they did not know who it was.
• While being questioned by Raniere’s lawyers, an essential witness, [Lauren Salzman] about to make statements that could have altered the course of the case, was excused by the judge from cross-examination by Raniere’s attorneys because she began to cry.
• The judge ruled that women testifying against Raniere should be identified only by their first name, while Raniere’s supporters were identified by their first and last names, creating a prejudiced impression for the jury that the women whose last names weren’t used were indeed victims.
• The defense’s argument that some victims were lying and that they all were adult women who consented to everything was dismissed by the judge.
• Raniere was captured by armed men in Mexico and transferred to the United States, thus avoiding extradition procedures. The United States should not be allowed to kidnap people in foreign countries without due process.
• Prosecutors alleged that Raniere fled to Mexico to hide from US authorities; he was denied bail and kept in prison, where he was frequently prevented from meeting with his lawyers to prepare for his trial.
• Raniere was in Mexico because his partner is Mexican and he wanted to be with her and his son. There is abundant evidence that not only was he was not fleeing, on the contrary, he alerted the government about his travel plans in case there was an investigation against him.