Frank Report gets many questions from readers. We try to answer as many of them as possible. Here is one:
Q: Wasn’t Albany Times Union reporter James Odato fired because he was illegally entering into the NXIVM server?
James Odato is a legendary figure in the history of Nxivm. For years, as a senior investigative reporter for the Albany Times Union, he covered the Nxivm story (He even authored a story about Keith Raniere before he began working at the Times Union).
His work probably prevented thousands of people from joining Nxivm.
Over the years, starting around 2005 and ending in 2014, he wrote extensively about Keith Raniere and Nxivm.
He revealed that Raniere had blown through $65 million of Bronfman money in commodities trades, and his landmark 2012 four-part series, “Secrets of Nxivm”, revealed many startling aspects of the group.
Perhaps the most damning revelation in the “Secrets of Nxivm” series was that several adult women alleged they had sex with Raniere when they were under the age of consent, with one of them claiming she was only 12 when that first happened.
For the record, Odato was not fired. He took a leave of absence from the Times Union and went into teaching.
Odato’s leave of absence was related to the civil lawsuit that Nxivm filed against him and others.
According to Politico: “In October 2013, Odato was named in a lawsuit filed by NXIVM, along with blogger, John J. Tighe, and Vanity Fair contributing editor Suzanna Andrews, who in 2010 published a feature that detailed NXIVM’s involvement with sisters Sara and Clare Bronfman, daughters of the late billionaire philanthropist and Seagram scion Edgar M. Bronfman.
“NXIVM’s suit reportedly alleges that the three writers and two other individuals [Joe O’Hara and Toni Natalie] may have used a former NXIVM client’s login information to gain unauthorized access to the Albany-based company’s computer server.
“‘In Odato’s case,’ the Times Union reported on Nov. 6, ‘NXIVM’s lawsuit alleges that someone using a computer at the Times Union used the client’s password without authorization six days before Odato wrote a story in October 2007, identifying two clients of NXIVM, and citing access to a confidential client list.”
The civil case against him (and the others) was dismissed after it was discovered that Clare Bronfman had made contradictory statements about the date of discovery of the computer trespass in a criminal complaint she lodged for the same offense against Toni Natalie, Joe O’Hara, and John Tighe.
Bronfman gave a date for the discovery of the computer trespass in the civil case that was about a year later than the date she gave in the criminal complaint. It appears this was done in order to keep within the statute of limitations in the civil case.
The criminal case was also dismissed – but for another reason. Odato, however, was never charged criminally.
Four people were charged in the criminal case: In addition to Natalie, O’Hara, and Tighe, Barbara Bouchey was also charged criminally for separately accessing Nxivm servers via a different former student’s sign-in information.
The defendants offered evidence prior to trial that Nxivm had moved their computer servers from Saratoga County to Albany County.
The apparent reason for moving the servers was to get jurisdiction in Albany County.
At the time the alleged computer trespassing occurred, the servers in question were actually located in Saratoga County. The Saratoga DA, however, declined to criminally charge Natalie, O’Hara and Tighe. The Office of the New York State Attorney General also declined.
Looking for a prosecutor who would charge them, the Albany County DA seemed to be the only remaining option.
According to several sources, including one person who said he was there at the new location during the set-up, the servers were quietly moved by Nxivm members from Saratoga County to a place in Albany County.
Later, several Nxivm members swore that the servers had been in Albany County all along.
Nxivm attorneys worked with State Police to persuade the Albany County DA to prosecute Tighe, O’Hara, Natalie and Bouchey. Because of a previous issue that the Albany County DA had with a case involving the Bronfmans and O’Hara, he decided to appoint a special prosecutor rather than handle the case himself.
As it turned out, the special prosecutor was, in fact, a former co-worker and subordinate of one of the Nxivm attorneys who had also worked for the Albany County DA.
Natalie, O’Hara, Tighe and Bouchey were charged with felonies.
Near the eve of trial, the defendants alleged that Nxivm had moved their servers to Albany County after the alleged trespassing had occurred. The special prosecutor, embarrassed to find out that Albany County had no basis for jurisdiction in the matter, agreed to drop charges against Natalie, O’Hara, and Bouchey. Unfortunately for Tighe, he had already pleaded guilty in conjunction with a separate legal charge that he alone was facing.
This might have been considered a predicate act under the racketeering charges lodged in the federal prosecution of Raniere and at least some of his co-defendants.
However, it was not charged. It may be that it was difficult to prove, it was not necessary for the case, the prosecution did not know about it or did not feel it was worth the time to investigate, or because the incidents took place in the Northern District of NY and the EDNY did not have jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, Odato was not fired from his job at the Times Union. Nor was it ever proven he accessed the Nxivm servers. And had there not been what appears to be perjuries before the court by Clare Bronfman, it is altogether possible that Odato would have remained with the Times Union and would have broken a number of other, critically important stories.
Who knows, instead of me, Catherine Oxenberg might have called him and he might have broken the biggest Nxivm story of all – the branding story. He would have deserved it.
I recall hearing from several of his sources, that they all thought his award-winning “Secrets of Nxivm” stories would have destroyed Raniere and Nxivm.
Everyone was surprised when it didn’t. Somehow, Raniere convinced his followers that the stories were full of lies.
Yet, who knows how many others – who would have otherwise joined or come closer to Raniere – were deterred by this damnable tale.
One good thing that happened, according to Kristin Keeffe, was that the “Secrets of Nxivm” series, which came out in February 2012, led to Daniela leaving the room she had been in for almost two years and finally getting her freedom.
You never know what the impact of your work is; oftentimes, you don’t find out until much later or you never find out at all. Sometimes the lives you save may never even let you know.
For those who think they were benefitted by the exposure of Raniere either on this website or in the New York Times, kindly consider there was a pioneer, James Odato, whose work was so good that everyone who was to ever write about Nxivm afterward depended on and built upon his groundbreaking work.
I know I did.