Deke Sharon confronted Nxivm over their motives in the a capella community. Nxivm responded by spying on him with private investigators.

How Nxivm Monitored Deke Sharon and Others of the A Cappella Community

By Leo Helmar 

In my December 9th story on how NXIVM attempted and failed to recruit and groom members of the a cappella community, an interesting comment thread between Deke Sharon and Frank Parato compelled me to dig deeper for a follow-up article.

Frank informed Deke that Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman, the Vanguard and his purse, had hired a private detective agency to spy on Deke.

Clare Bronfman with Keith Raniere. They worried about their enemies and often spied on them,

Deke Sharon is a prominent leader in the a cappella community who is known as “the father of contemporary a cappella” and Deke confronted the NXIVM cult in a message board thread which was detailed in the above-linked story.

The private investigator agency that was hired to spy on Deke was known as Canaprobe and has been covered in exquisite detail on this very website. Because NXIVM was run by failsons, dilettantes, and a certain scruffy ex-MLM hustler, their attempt to dig up dirt on Deke Sharon backfired miserably. 

The presence of Sharon, a director and composer of a cappella music, on the NXIVM enemies list belongs in the roll call of the strangest and most random NXIVM factoids. This piece will illustrate the efforts of NXIVM to surveil and harass Deke and other people in his community after the debacle of the A Cappella Innovations festival that my previous, above-linked article also covered.

Along with that update to the story, we will also briefly compare and contrast NXIVM’s espionage efforts and those of Scientology. Scientology is important to the story because NXIVM adapted many of the tactics that had been used by Scientology and its spy wing which was initially known as the Guardian’s Office and has now been rebranded as the Office for Special Affairs.

I asked Mr. Sharon what his reaction was to learning, from his exchange with Mr. Parlato in the comment section, that he was on NXIVM’s enemy list along with figures like the political operative Roger Stone and former governor of New York, Elliot Spitzer.

Deke was not surprised. “As I told everyone once the forum discussion [was] over, ‘if I disappear or turn up dead, you know why.’” he told me via email. 

The amount of time and resources that Keith Raniere and the NXIVM group spent in their quest to infiltrate the a cappella community gives an insight into their standard operating procedure.

After NXIVM hosted the 2008 edition of A Cappella Innovations, there is no record of NXIVM hosting or being involved with another event that included an a cappella focus. This is almost certainly based in part on the way Keith and his minions got taken to the wood chipper by Deke and other pillars of the singing community in the now-infamous a cappella message board thread (the message board was known as RARB/CASA, which are two of the main a cappella organizing bodies) that was detailed in my previous article.

It didn’t make much logical sense for NXIVM to continue spending time and money to win the a cappella folks over. But, as was discussed in detail at the sentencing hearing of Raniere, he is bad at letting people leave his orbit. It seemed just as incongruent to me as it did to Deke Sharon that NXIVM would sic private investigators on an a cappella enthusiast with no other ties to NXIVM.

Frankly, there’s probably no one who is less threatening than a professional a cappella musician.” Deke wrote to me. “What was I going to do: throw a pitch pipe at them?!?”

Clare Bronfman and Keith Raniere contracted a Canadian private detective agency, Canaprobe, to spy on Deke and other unfortunate members of the cult’s enemy list. Luckily for the victims of NXIVM’s stalking activities, NXIVM happened to hire some of the most incompetent investigators in North America. As reported in previous Frank Report stories, Bronfman’s tab for the services of Canaprobe between 2008 and 2011 was just under $900,000. This corresponds with the approximate time period when NXIVM was involved with A Cappella Innovations and was also actively spying on Deke Sharon.

Canaprobe made up a phony report to issue to Bronfman and included forged bank records that attributed imaginary offshore bank accounts to Mr. Sharon. NXIVM was trying to somehow work Deke into its grand conspiracy that Clare and Sara Bronfman’s father, Edgar Bronfman, was trying to destroy their cult.

Edgar was the billionaire owner of the Seagram’s liquor company and he had at one point been affiliated with NXIVM but had left and denounced the group as a cult. Deke, on the other hand, had barely any interaction with the group other than participating as a judge at the first, benign version of A Cappella Innovations in 2007 which NXIVM funded lavishly by paying for travel, accommodations and the venue for all participants in an attempt to establish a network in the community, presumably to recruit members like the college groups of a cappella singers.

The investigators who generated the phony reports on behalf of Canaprobe were Cullen Johnson and Elaine White who were subcontractors. Johnson and White were convicted and sent to Canadian federal prison in 2014 for falsifying bank records for other clients.

 

PI’s Elaine White and Cullen Johnson were convicted of creating phony financial documents for their clients. They were hired by Clare and Sara Bronfman to spy on federal judges and others. Johnson died in prison.

Canaprobe and its subcontractors and the Bronfman sisters were also involved in a lengthy civil lawsuit which was eventually dismissed where the Bronfmans attempted to claw back the money they paid Canaprobe for its fraudulent work. In an ironic aside, Raniere’s lawyers tried to argue in his case that Canaprobe hadn’t actually spied on people and so Raniere shouldn’t be held accountable for the attempted surveillance and harassment of his foes. 

Outside of the Canaprobe shenanigans, NXIVM members made other efforts to reach out to the a cappella circle. I corresponded with Amy Malkoff who is an a cappella performer and producer. Malkoff was a participant in the RARB/CASA a cappella message board thread mentioned before. She was not present at either version of A Cappella Innovations.

Amy Malkoff

Amy was the third person to write a post in the thread and was a voice who was consistently skeptical about NXIVM despite other posters sympathetic to NXIVM or otherwise affiliated with the group trying to derail her with red herrings and ad hominem attacks.

At one point, a pro-NXIVM poster said that Ms. Malkoff was “retarded” for being skeptical of some of NXIVM’s claims.

Ms. Malkoff responded in a level-headed tone which was a consistent feature of the leaders of the a cappella community’s responses to attacks from the NXIVM group. “[I] would appreciate not being called “retarded” when my concern here is the for the good of the community. [T]hat’s uncalled for.” 

When I asked Amy if she had gotten any further flack from NXIVM after her experience with the group on the message board, Amy expanded on an anecdote that she briefly referenced in the 2008 RARB/CASA thread.

Daniela Padilla, one of Keith Raniere’s first line masters.

“In April of 2008, I was contacted by Daniela Padilla, who said she ‘stumbled upon’ me and wanted to ask about logo design and branding. That she was an ‘image consultant’ and was interested in a logo and how much would that cost?” After Amy replied to Daniela, Amy noticed that instead of the email being routed to a yahoo email address that Daniela had sent her email from, Amy’s return email was instead redirected to a nxian.net email address.

In the original 2008 thread, Daniela responded to Amy’s mention of being contacted by a NXIVM member under what Amy thought were false pretenses, and Daniela gave a confusing and seemingly self-contradictory account of why she emailed Amy. “I thought I had contacted a designer, not an a cappella person” said Daniela on page 12 of the thread. Daniela also gave excuses for not following up when Amy replied to Daniela’s request for assistance with designing business cards.

Daniela dodged by saying that she was at a wedding in Mexico and that she forgot about sending the email. Daniela then contradicted her original story about why she contacted Amy, this time revealing that she knew Amy was an a cappella person before sending her an email soliciting a design from Amy despite previously stating that she did not know Amy was involved in a cappella: “Your name was on the forum. As I looked up your name I found a lot of things, but there two things in particular that I found interest in. Your link to your a cappella (I actually listened to one of your songs BTW) and a design page.”

Amy relayed yet another incident where a NXIVM-affiliated man named Eric contacted her via email in an attempt to convince her that NXIVM was an amazing and harmless organization. Eric was a member of Keith Raniere’s Trojan horse a cappella group called Simply Human.

Amy sketched this incident in more detail for me over email: “He claimed that his life was greatly improved in all ways by his involvement with the org. He told me how much he invested and how much he made before and after. He also recited a lot of the standard lines used to dismiss the skepticism of Keith et al, that they were misunderstood, words taken out of context, concepts too big to be taken in, etc.” In addition, Amy said she felt that Eric was trying to sell her on something during the period of time between April and July of 2008 when Eric was contacting her. “He seemed like a genial guy and I had several back and forths with him. I’m unclear what his end game was as I was clear I wouldn’t be a good candidate for an org like this. But he kept talking and selling…something.”

In one of the most vivid scenes described in Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me, Ron Miscavige reconstructs an episode that occurred to him in 2013 while he was being stalked by two private investigators who had been hired by his son, the leader of Scientology, David Miscavige.

It was only through an unlikely happenstance that a window briefly opened into the spy wing of Scientology. Private eye Dwayne Powell was arrested in the Milwaukee area with an arsenal of weapons that happened to include an illegal silencer. Powell sang like a bird and told police that he had been surveilling Ron Miscavige, who had recently defected from Scientology and was a dangerous critic, around the clock and had been handsomely compensated to the tune of $10,000 per week for the last 18 months.

Powell told law enforcement a story about how he and his son, who was part of his investigator business, had been tailing Ron Miscavige at a mall and saw Miscavige grab his chest and lurch forward. Powell thought that Miscavige might be having a heart attack and, in what must have been a pang of conscience, Powell called his contact at Scientology. A moment later, a man who identified himself as David Miscavige called Powell and told him, in essence, to let his father die and to not intervene

The use of private investigators, among many other machinations, to intimidate and harass “suppressives” or heretics is a tactic that is shared by many high control groups like Scientology and NXIVM. NXIVM owes many debts to Scientology and the NXIVM group certainly must have understood the power of using covert operatives and spy tactics from watching Scientology use these tools to infiltrate the United States government and entangle their harshest critics.

Operation Snow White involved thousands of Scientology agents infiltrating the IRS, the DEA and other government bureaus to purge negative information about the group and to steal documents. Operation Freakout was a labyrinthine conspiracy assembled by Scientology to frame Paulette Cooper, an early critic of Scientology, and the operation was so successful that Cooper was indicted on a trumped-up charge of making bomb threats and only narrowly avoided being convicted and sent to prison.

NXIVM paid millions of dollars to private investigators to spy on its “enemies list” while Scientology had an in-house armada of spies and spent hundreds of millions on its complex of vexatious lawsuits and investigators. NXIVM was objectively much more incompetent and clumsy as an organization and the results were only a pale shadow compared to an organization like Scientology. Scientology is so dastardly that even the IRS ran away like a man on fire during Scientology’s battle for tax-exempt status. 

In contrast to the Machiavellian successes of Scientology’s spy operation, NXIVM’s leadership was laughably incompetent when it came to spycraft. I am thankful for that because if they were just a little less crazy and a little more subtle it is easy to envision many more people getting roped into Keith Raniere’s vile pyramid scheme.

L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology

In attempting to replicate the evil genius of L. Ron Hubbard and his flock, Keith Raniere and Clare Bronfman proved that they’re not even particularly good at being bad. Keith has always struck me as a giant, pulsating question mark.

I see footage of Allison Mack meeting Keith for the first time and it does not compute. That little furball has a harem of attractive d-list actresses following him and tripping all over themselves to empty their pocketbooks into Keith’s bank account?

Mark Twain said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.”


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  • You have to wonder why they targeted this a cappella community in such full force — via the online forum and false pretext emails — and to be accepted by the singing community. I imagine it being Allison Mack doing her best Veruca Salt imitation: “Mummy! Daddy! I want an a cappella group! I want you to get me an a cappella group! I want an a cappella group right away! I want to take it home with me! Go on, Daddy! Get… me… an… a cappella group!

    • If I recall, Raniere had some interest in a capella – somehow it either tied into his time at RPI, or at least was connected to RPI.

  • Thanks for that. The clip from the conference is fascinating. The link to the Mack meets KR is interesting as he immediately asks her if art is important and then right away is taking away from her the one thing that is probably so important to her, to make her feel small and bad and have to be healed by him.

    The singer though is wise. Some people just have no interest in these kinds of cults. I don’t think I could have been into one. Maybe having hobbies like singing in choirs like this that makes us happy means we have less need of a cult.

    I cannot see why such a supposedly clever man would bother wasting so much time on people who leave and tracking people. Just let it go. There is nothing gained from constant litigation and not giving in. The world is full of suckers for MLM – just move on to the next one.

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Sharon and other members of the Acapella Community didn’t appear on other hit lists of NXIVM PI contractors since Canaprobe.

    Once they’re on you, neither they nor the piggies stuffing their snouts with Bronfman pie, let go so easy.

    Canaprobe only probed finances. Or faked them, as the case may be. Goon groups like “Interfor,” run by self-proclaimed Israeli spy, Juval Aviv, performed other dark ops like manufacturing evidence of criminal acts, collecting blackmail material, stalking a woman whose partner disappeared from a NXIVM course, etc.

    These contractors were replaced or more, supplemented, by slightly more competent ones selected by bigger, more respectable law firms.

    Take “Frontier,” that great agency full of ex-Secret Service agents, er, heads, run by disgraced State AG’s, that Clare hired. Big improvement on the clumsy Canaprobe or Juval Aviv.

  • Knowing they went after anyone that criticized them like this makes me glad Clare got the time that she did. How many lives were ruined living in fear because they spoke out against obvious EVIL? To use your money in such a way is disgusting. She and her sister deserve the karma they’re getting and then some. How could you not know this was wrong? Clare could have done anything in her life with all that money and she used precious life energy to take down a capella singers who called them out. You can’t make this shit up.

  • The better ones don’t usually work with an outside company (private investigators), but make up civilian observers out of their own people. The event remains safer, more economical and “in-house.

    • I suspected a link to Scientology resources re: the NX stalking, harassment and, turns out, there is a plausible one. Jeffrey Peterson or one of his pals, explained it in a couple of posts.

  • Thanks for the link to the A Cappella board. Here’s a gem from that board by mwhitehouse » Wed Apr 09, 2008 3:49 pm:

    For starters, Keith’s credentials that Clare listed (most of which are posted also at http://www.keithraniere.com) just aren’t, well, credentials. Most of them can’t even hope to be described as “facts”; they fail even the most basic tests of “rational inquiry”.

    Clare wrote:
    Here are some facts about Keith Raniere:
    This is the preface to Keith Raniere’s book from a prominent academic. Keith’s articles have been featured in each edition of Luis Todd’s journal for the past several years and there was a complete edition devoted to Keith. …

    I just googled “luis todd journal”; nada. I might rationally conclude that Luis Todd is not a prominent academic.

    Clare wrote:
    He is noted as one of the 3 top problem solvers in the world …

    By whom is he so “noted”? What could that possibly mean, to be one of the world’s top three problem solvers–what sort of problems, what sort of solutions? If this isn’t patently ridiculous to you, after taking classes devoted to “critical thinking” … I honestly don’t know what to say. What sort of “down to earth”, supremely “ethical” figure allows this sort of nonsense to be spouted about him by his followers, let alone friends?

    Clare wrote:
    Nancy Salzman served in Keith’s stead to head the international conference on bioethics for Mexico. (Remember, Nancy is Allegedly the “cult” head right under Keith.)

    Then surely Nancy Salzman has published something substantive on bioethics? Or Mr. Raniere, for that matter–maybe in Luis Todd’s journal? (If so, that might be better “link” material on his website than a broken patent application on the prestigious and authoritative “FreshPatents.com”). It must have been some conference–I wonder why an actual bioethicist, or anyone involved with medical research in Mexico, or anyone with an advanced degree in science, or anyone with experience in ethics regulation (etc.) wasn’t chosen to serve as chair?

    Clare wrote:
    Some people who have taken Nxivm programs: …
    Do you really think such business people and royalty would be involved if Nxivm was a cult?

    Of course! Wealthy eccentric people (especially those born into wealth) are precisely the sort of people most susceptible to and most pursued by cult-leader types—for obvious reasons, right?!

    Clare wrote:
    Do you think Keith needs to recruit college students?

    Sure, why not. And you’re two arguments are incompatible: you started out by arguing that he is “neither money driven nor power driven” … but now you’re arguing “why would he bother recruiting college students if he has so many rich and powerful clients”? And there are plenty of good reasons for cults to recruit college students:
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/student … 77,00.html

    Clare wrote:
    Nxivm is an ethics and critical thinking education program of international distinction and repute. It is not a “cult” by any definition.

    Well, no, it seems to fit a “cult” profile quite handily:

    1. It’s secret “technology” is exclusive to those who’ve taken it’s Executive Success classes
    2. This trademarked “rational inquiry” process represents a set of moral/religious beliefs
    3. At the center of those beliefs is the notion that only those in-the-know will be able to bring about the program’s eventual goals of world peace and harmony (from it’s website: “NXIVM represents the change humanity needs in order to alter the course of history”); thus only by proselytizing new recruits can the organization realize its goals (I don’t know exactly how the Dalai Lama fits into this—maybe his Buddhist technology is good enough for him to do his part?)
    4. It’s adherents place utterly unreasonable (see my points above) stock in their leader, who seems likely to be eccentric to the extreme of having a sort of personality disorder typical of cult leaders; for Christ’s sake [sorry], he believes he invented the one and only “psychodynamic” technology that can reverse the “primitive” rise and fall of human civilizations

    So at least it resembles a cult with respect to its exclusivity, depth of conviction, proselytizing mission, and devotion to a bizarre Messianic personality.

    And hey, I wonder why, if Mr. Raniere isn’t interested in money, this “Rational Inquiry” thing is exclusive and trademarked. Doesn’t that drastically limit humanity’s ability to “rise to its noble possibility” (from the NXIVM website)? How else will we prevent the inevitable cataclysm of our civilization?! That strikes me as absolutely unethical.

    As I mentioned earlier in the thread, I’m entirely willing to believe that this is all entirely genuine, good, community-building, etc. But I’m absolutely bewildered by the silliness of Keith Raniere’s [self-]importance and the understatements being made about NXIVM’s mission–at least, what I understand of it from http://www.nxivm.com .

  • This is a great little series, and just the kind of human interest story that is a relief from the Nexium-5 fare. More of this. I like your style.

    I’m so happy for these people, and to finally see more input from those that saw him and the group for what it was. We’ve had so many stories about the people that fell prey to Keith, but the converse is just as interesting. This fills in the rest of the story about who joins and who doesn’t, and why.

    I’m not clicking on another Eduardo story, fuck that guy.

    • Thank you much for the positive comment. I’m working on some more stories in this vein for the Frank Report so stay tuned. I am also really interested in isolating the factors that kept people from being seduced by Nxivm in addition to focusing on people who did get sucked into Keith’s orbit. The contrast is enlightening I think.

  • A good read. I don’t understand what the Bronfmans were going to do with any information unearthed by their spying. Blackmail? Or was it just confirmation that these critics were somehow working with Edgar? But did they need confirmation because Keith said it was so – which meant it must be true? It would be interesting to know what they did with the phony information from Canaprobe before it was known to be false.

Frank Parlato Investigates

Frank Parlato Investigates

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 featured prominently on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and acted as lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” 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 has 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, which was ironic since many credit Parlato as being one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

IMDb — Frank Parlato

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