The US Dept. of Justice for the Eastern District of New York saw fit to praise Lauren Salzman in their sentencing memorandum in the following language:
As set forth above, Lauren Salzman provided extraordinary assistance to the government’s investigation and prosecution of this case. She met with the government on dozens of occasions, both in proffers and in preparation for trial testimony, and answered all the government’s questions, including questions about crimes she committed, as well as criminal activity engaged in by her close friends and family members, including her mother.
Here is Paul Serran’s take on this praise for Lauren.
By Paul Serran
It was widely expected that the prosecutors’ letter to Judge Garaufis regarding Lauren Salzman’s sentencing would call for the downward departure from the steep sentencing guidelines, and highlight Salzman’s most consequential collaboration with the investigation and prosecution of Keith Raniere and the other NXIVM co-defendants.
However, a detail that prosecutors chose to include in the letter is disturbing to the core, as they remind the court that Lauren gave the state evidence against her own mother, Nancy Salzman.
While this situation is far from unheard of, the DOJ’s tactic is reminiscent of totalitarian states, and deeply shocking in the sense that the “denunciation of family members has often earned special opprobrium”, as it implies “an unnatural repudiation of family loyalty”, in the words of Professor Sheila Fitzpatrick.
The most famous case of family denunciation in history, that of young Pavlik Morozov, comes from the old Soviet Union – but even then, this case has sparked conflicting reactions.
Pavlik denounced his father, Trofim Morozov, for selling identity documents to kulak deportees who had been settled in his neighborhood. Trofim was sentenced to ten years in a labor camp, but his sentence was later changed to death. Pavlik ended up being murdered by members of his own family, the Morozov clan.
Author Maxim Gorky, for one, spoke of “the heroic deed of Pioneer Pavlik Morozov, the boy who understood that a person who is a relative by blood may well be an enemy of the spirit, and that such a person is not to be spared“. Gorky was a favorite of Stalin, but the chairman’s reaction was said to have been much different: “What a little swine, denouncing his own father,” is the remark attributed to the leader, who was himself responsible for millions of deaths.
Australian author Sheila Fitzpatrick, in her study called “A Little Swine“, examines this situation. “Denunciation”, she writes, is the “act by which one citizen tells the authorities about wrongdoing on the part of another citizen, implicitly or explicitly calling for his punishment.”
This practice has always been controversial. “The rhetoric of civic virtue with which governments […] surround denunciation coexists with a subaltern counter-discourse in which denunciation is an act of betrayal.”
“When we think of denunciation in a totalitarian context”, Fitzpatrick writes, “we think of secret police, of ideologies exalting loyalty to the state or party, of zero tolerance of dissent, and the possibility of appalling outcomes – death or concentration camp – for those denounced.”
Even behind the Iron Curtain, however, there was a clear preference for ‘private over national loyalty’. “In the real-life Soviet Union of the 1930s […], ‘family’ denunciations, though not unknown, seem to have been comparatively rare.”
There is a basic, unmistakable difference between the likely consequences of denunciation in America and in the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany: “While someone in the United States can easily report a neighbor they do not like as a crack dealer or child molester, that neighbor still has protections under the American judicial system: the right to a lawyer, due process, the right to a trial.”
That is true, but the present state of affairs in the US judicial system, where there is a disproportionate number of plea deals forced by prosecutorial overcharging of individuals, puts a dent in this clear-cut distinction.
The Chinese ‘cultural revolution’ of the 1960’s produced many other examples of family denunciation, like the horrific tale of Zhang Hongbing’s family.
“They beat [Zhang’s mother], bound her and led her from home. She knelt before the crowds as they denounced her. Then they loaded her onto a truck, drove her to the outskirts of town, and shot her.”
“Fang Zhongmou’s execution for political crimes during the Cultural Revolution was commonplace in its brutality”, the Guardian article states, “but more shocking to outsiders in one regard: her accusers were her husband and their 16-year-old child.”
Zhang, in 2013, confronting his guilt over sending his own mother to death, “said he was a son ‘who could not even be compared to animals'”.
Fang Zhongmou’s ‘crime’ was calling for the return of purged leaders and attacking Mao Zedong for his personality cult. Her zealous son Zhang warned her: “‘If you go against our dear Chairman Mao I will smash your dog head'”.
“‘I felt this wasn’t my mother. This wasn’t a person. She suddenly became a monster… She had become a class enemy and opened her bloody mouth,'” says Zhang, who called her to be shot as a counter-revolutionary.
“Lauren Salzman provided the government with detailed information regarding the criminal activities of her co-defendant Keith Raniere and his co-conspirators”, the prosecutors’ letter to Judge Nicholas Garaufis reads, adding that “[t]he extent and the significance of her cooperation were extraordinary.”
The prosecution requested that the Court depart downward from the applicable Guidelines range that would put her sentence between 87 to 108 months.
“She provided credible, detailed testimony at Raniere’s trial before this Court in May and June 2019,” says the letter. This included a very tough cross-examination by Marc Agnifilo. So hard was the cross that judge Garaufis felt compelled to stop it, in a move that is bound to be a feature of Keith Raniere’s appeal.
Lauren Salzman admitted her involvement in the crimes she was charged with, and “provided detailed information about crimes committed by Raniere and other members of the racketeering enterprise.”
Also to be taken into consideration, according to the letter, is the fact that “her public guilty plea was a factor in other defendants’ decisions to plead guilty.”
“She met with the government on dozens of occasions, both in proffers and in preparation for trial testimony, and answered all the government’s questions,” the prosecutors wrote, “including questions about crimes she committed, as well as criminal activity engaged in by her close friends and family members, including her mother.
There is no doubt that collaboration with the prosecution is something to be rewarded come sentencing time – that is the whole reason why defendants collaborate.
However, this family denunciation is something that is abhorrent to common sense. We have seen how Judge Garaufis took it hard that Clare Bronfman hacked her father’s computer, and how he was pleased that Allison Mack had reconnected with her family. One is left wondering how the judicial stipulations can coexist with the more fundamental moral component of this familial ‘betrayal’.
There is no doubt in my mind that Nancy Salzman is guilty of the crimes she was charged with – and more. It is also quite possible that Lauren may have had her mother’s approval in her complete collaboration with the prosecution. However, it is disturbing to see the DOJ making recourse to tactics usually present in totalitarian regimes.