Kathy Russell is due to be sentenced on October 6, at 11 A.M. She has filed her sentencing memorandum. Kathy was arrested by the FBI on July 24, 2018. On April 19, 2019, Kathy pled guilty to one count of visa fraud.
Kathy admitted to knowingly and intentionally presenting an employment letter to the United States Consulate in Mexico, in connection with a TN visa application for Loreta Garza Davila, that contained materially false statements regarding Garza Davila’s job description and salary.
The United States Sentencing Guidelines recommend a sentence of 6 to 12 months. Russell is asking the judge for probation.
Here is an abbreviated version of the Sentencing Memorandum that was filed by Russell’s attorney, Justine Harris.
Kathy Russell is before Your Honor because of serious mistakes that she made…
She falsified immigration documents to help an individual [Loreta Garza] come to the United States for the purpose of working for NXIVM….
Garza is not a “victim” of the offense; indeed, Kathy filed the paperwork at her request. …
She also engaged in other illegal conduct.
in 2004, she drove a non-citizen [19-year-old Mexican, Daniela, who had been in a sexual relationship with Raniere beginning in late 2003] using false documents across the US-Canadian border…. Kathy was not part of the planning. Ms. Keeffe, together with Nancy, Raniere, Lauren and others, discussed the scheme and arranged for the identification to be produced. Kathy came into the picture only because Ms. Keeffe asked her to drive, and, when they got to the border, directed Kathy, much to her surprise, to proceed on her own with the identification and retrieve [Daniela].
Both the government and the Probation Department suggest that after [Daniela] was back in the United States, Kathy later “reminded” [Daniela] of “her assistance in transporting her across the United States border when Russell asked Dani to engage in sexual activity with Raniere and Russell.”
But at trial, [Daniela] testified that “Keith” asked her to join him and Kathy in a sexual encounter, and that Kathy never made an “explicit connection” between the border crossing and a three-way sexual encounter…
In approximately 2005, [Kathy] played a role to help [Daniela] access [James Loperfido’s] computer… and [Daniela] install[ed] a keylogger device.
The extent of Kathy’s remorse for her participation in these crimes, and indeed her entire 17-year affiliation with Raniere and NXIVM, cannot be overstated. She is profoundly sorry. She hopes that she can make amends to her family – in particular, to her son who she abandoned at age 12 – and to the many people who were hurt by the organization that she helped support.
Russell Denounces Vanguard
While denouncing [Keith] Raniere and NXIVM without hesitation, Kathy blames no one else for her mistakes and takes full responsibility for her criminal conduct….
This Court should consider that, like so many who fell prey to Raniere’s influence, Kathy’s loyalty to NXIVM was secured and maintained through a systemic pattern of manipulation, coercion, and punishment. She was worked to the bone, barely paid living wages, starved and psychologically abused. Simply put, for most of her time with NXIVM, Kathy was at the receiving end of a brutal diminishment of her personhood and deliberately kept ignorant as to many of NXIVM’s darkest secrets, including, most significantly, DOS…
Kathy was unusually susceptible to his tactics. Also, unlike some of her co-defendants, she had neither money nor fame, and simply lacked the economic means to escape.
Kathy Has Changed
Probation is warranted because, since her arrest, Kathy has made a psychological transformation. She has come to understand that what kept her captive was a lie and now knows that the man she spent years blindly worshipping is, in fact, “likely a psychopath.”…
In the [three] years she has spent on pretrial release, Kathy has worked hard to escape NXIVM’s influence, to examine the psychological vulnerabilities that made her susceptible to Raniere’s coercive tactics, and to rebuild a healthy and sound future for herself and her son…
Kathy moved to Georgia, away from everything and everyone she had known in Albany. She replaced her NXIVM family with her actual family, rebuilding her relationship with her adult son, Silas, and her sister, Kelly.
Despite poor odds, she found a job and created a consulting company with her son so that they could support themselves financially with the hope of buying a house together in North Carolina where Silas can finish his education….
Given Kathy’s genuine progress and positive trajectory, any time in prison would be devastating. Not only would it cause lasting and irreversible psychological harm on a 62-year- old woman who has worked so hard to understand and overcome the root causes of her trauma and poor decision-making, but it would also disrupt the life of her son, whose future is now inextricably intertwined with hers. He says that the incarceration of his mother would be psychologically “devastating” and “would make it impossible for [him] to continue [his] education in the way that [he] hope[s].”…
…. Born on November 22, 1957, in Jacksonville Florida, Kathy Russell is the oldest daughter of Gerden Russell, Jr. and Joan Wise. …. Kathy and her two younger sisters, Kelly and Patricia, were raised in a modest middle-class household…..
Both parents suffered from psychological disorders, and they mistreated each other and their children….
After her parents divorced when she was 14, Kathy moved in with her father, who she considered the lesser of two evils at the time. But when she was 16, she and her father were in a near-deadly car accident… While Kathy suffered a minor head injury… the accident left her father unconscious for nearly two weeks. He had traumatic brain injury and had to re-learn how to speak and walk. Kathy was his nurse and caretaker….
After graduating from high school in 1975, Kathy moved out of her father’s house….The next year Kathy enrolled in Florida State College but left after just two semesters….
Kathy … landed a job at the front desk at an animal hospital. She soon discovered that the hospital’s accountant was stealing money. When she told her boss, he gave her the position. This was Kathy’s first experience managing a company’s books; she learned the basics of accounting on the job…..
Kathy’s Cycle of Abusive Relationships
In Florida, Kathy began her first significant relationship with … Robert O’Sullivan. (“Bob”) in 1980. Bob was an alcoholic and, over time, became physically and emotionally abusive towards Kathy. She wanted to leave him but feared being alone and unable to support herself.
And in 1981, Kathy moved to Anchorage, Alaska with Bob… On their cross-country drive to Anchorage, Bob threatened Kathy with a knife and knocked her to the ground during a violent outburst. The physical abuse and erratic outbursts continued after they arrived in Alaska, and within two years of moving, Kathy finally ended their relationship.
By the mid-1980s, Kathy started working as an accountant at M-W Drilling, Inc., where she met Randolph Bryant… When she became pregnant, they planned to marry… One week before the wedding, Randy … became physically abusive, knocking Kathy to the ground.
While Kathy briefly considered leaving Randy, she feared being alone and unable to support herself, and naively believed that the abuse had been an aberration…. Randy continued to emotionally, verbally, and physically abuse Kathy throughout their marriage…
In 1990, Kathy gave birth to their son, Silas. When Silas was four, Kathy finally sought a divorce from Randy… While the court gave Kathy and Randy joint custody, Silas primarily lived with Kathy until he was 12 years old.
Kathy’s Introduction to NXIVM
Kathy learned about NXIVM from her hairdresser. It was 2001, and at the time, Kathy was struggling both personally and professionally. She was working long hours at a job that she was on the brink of losing, while also juggling the demands of single parenting. She worried that
if she did not seek help soon, she would end up like her mother – depressed and alone.
Telling her that NXIVM could help her become happier and more fulfilled, Kathy’s hairdresser enrolled her in a 16-day “intensive” in Anchorage, Alaska. Kathy … believed that the course’s teachings empowered her to look at life through a different and more thoughtful lens… Kathy signed up for another intensive, and later that summer, in August 2001, flew to Albany for her second course.
There she met NXIVM’s founding members, including Raniere, Nancy Salzman, and Lauren Salzman. In December of that year, Kathy attended a multi-day course on rights and privileges taught by Rainere in Albany.
… Kathy was also decidedly fixated on Raniere, who she believed was brilliant and who paid her particular attention.
In early 2002, Kathy participated in additional trainings in Albany, many led by Nancy Salzman. During this time, Kathy also began developing an intimate relationship with Raniere.
At the time, she believed that he had the unique ability to put her emotions on an “overhead projector” and truly see everything inside of her…. By March 2002, Raniere had initiated a sexual relationship with Kathy.
A few months later, Nancy Salzman asked Kathy to move to Albany and work full time as a bookkeeper for NXIVM.
There were plenty of reasons to turn down the job. For one, Silas refused to move to Albany, opting to stay with his father in Alaska. Thus, moving to Albany would mean leaving her son in Randy’s custody. Not only that, but her compensation would fall off a cliff. At her job in Alaska, Kathy made $40/hour, earned a 401(k), and enjoyed other benefits including 6- weeks’ vacation. NXIVM offered her just $15/hour to be an independent contractor, with no benefits whatsoever.
Nevertheless, Kathy … was … focused on getting closer to Raniere and was desperate to belong to a community that she perceived to be welcoming and thoughtful and, on its face, was dedicated to self- improvement and improving the world. In July 2002, Kathy accepted the job.
Kathy Falls Under Raniere’s Spell
When Kathy first moved to Albany, she was completely enthralled with Raniere. At the start of their sexual relationship, Raniere asked Kathy for a five-year commitment “just to him.”…
Raniere explained the commitment in such a “clear, logical way” that Kathy ultimately agreed. Kathy believed that Raniere was uniquely able to fill the emotional void she felt inside and boosted her self-esteem… at the time the care and attention was intoxicating…
When Kathy moved to Albany, Raniere demanded from her damaging “collateral” to prove her commitment and severe weight loss…. Raniere taped Kathy making incriminating statements about an incident in Alaska – and held it over her head for years to come. As to her weight, Kathy weighed just a little over 100 pounds when she arrived in Albany.
Raniere told Kathy she should get down to her high school weight of 85 pounds. Kathy struggled to lose over 10 pounds to meet Raniere’s
Around 2004, about two years into their relationship, Raniere asked Kathy to make a lifelong commitment to him – a promise that she would never be with another intimate partner. Kathy agreed. But Raniere controlled every aspect of their relationship, and generally left Kathy wanting more. Raniere determined “when they saw each other, when they had sexual relations and how, and who was allowed to know or participate.” Nevertheless, Kathy cherished what she thought was Raniere’s ability to give her deeper and unique insights into herself….
In 2005, just a year after demanding a lifelong vow, Raniere began to phase out his sexual relationship with Kathy. He stopped it altogether in 2008, but still demanded that Kathy honor her commitment to him. As a result, Kathy found herself “begging  to speak” and “spend time” with Raniere, but he generally refused to engage with her directly.
For more than a decade, Raniere kept Kathy at arm’s length, and communicated with her only when he needed something, refusing to respond to her texts and emails.
By 2009, Kathy emailed Raniere in despair, explaining that their “moments of connecting” were “so infrequent” that they felt “almost non-existent.” …. He suggested that if she just worked harder, if she just did better, if she just “healed” her “ethical breaches,” maybe he would come back to her. … after 2008, he rarely interacted with her directly.
Kathy’s Work at NXIVM
… She was distraught by Raniere’s rejection. On top of that, her work was incredibly difficult. In her off- and on-again role as NXIVM’s bookkeeper, Kathy engaged in a variety of tasks almost always at the direction of others – Raniere, Clare Bronfman or Nancy Salzman…
Those outside the organization could see that Kathy lacked the resources and authority to get work done…. Indeed, any sort of order Kathy tried to impose in the accounting department was repeatedly rejected as not the “NXIVM” way….
Clare berated and demeaned Kathy regularly. On one occasion, Kathy asked Clare if she could work from home during an especially busy period in 2015, to which Clare responded: “You are asking me to make your life easier yet, you refuse to consider anyone else – I feel like doing this supports your suffering and entitlement.”…
Kathy’s financial situation was precarious. Not only did she lack the financial resources to leave NXIVM, but she could not make ends meet on a day-to-day basis. As reflected in emails Kathy sent to Nancy, Raniere, and Clare, she was often unable to make rent, pay for her car, pay her credit card, or even see a doctor.
In 2010, Kathy emailed Raniere, explaining that she was “out of money,” “living hand to mouth,” and that she “didn’t live this way before [she] came and [she didn’t] want this to continue.”
Five years later, nothing had changed. In 2015, Kathy wrote to Nancy Salzman in distress: I need to make a decent living, have health insurance, a decent car and to be able to put money away for when I get older. When I came here I had a fair amount of money… making $15/hr. coming from $39/hr was difficult…and eventually all the money was gone. I am flat broke, my car is about to die… and I really don’t have anything.
But the response from Raniere and Nancy was uniform: Kathy needed to get through her own “limitations” and account for her many “ethical breaches” before she could make a fair wage.
Not only was Kathy working incredibly long hours for subpar wages and zero benefits, but she often was not even paid the little she had been promised. Clare Bronfman routinely docked Kathy’s pay for hours that she had worked, for no discernable reason.
Clare to Kathy: “I am concerned your need for money right now is not helping you to look at this with the company’s best interest and what is integrist [sic]”;
Kathy to Raniere: “Clare wants to discount my billing by 15 hours. I find this unreasonable. This is not the first time she has deducted hours.”
Kathy is Subjected to NXIVM’s Cycle of Control and Punishment
In truth, once Raniere decided that he no longer desired Kathy sexually, she was always in the doghouse, whether in the context of her bookkeeping work or otherwise. She was told, for example, that she was too “fearful” or that she played the “victim,” and that these shortcomings were “ethical breaches” she needed to heal and be punished for.
Kathy was required to write “breach plans,” exploring the reasons for her behavior and creating a plan to address her supposed deficiencies, including by committing to certain “penances” or self-inflicted punishments.
Just one example of this occurred in 2016, when Kathy sent Nancy “a plan to address the destruction [she] created due to [her] inability to complete projects.”
Kathy’s plan included proposed penances if she failed to meet the project goals, including losing pay, running errands for her peers, planking daily, and reducing her calories by 200 each day for a week.
Nancy responded that Kathy didn’t “understand [her] issues”; she claimed that Kathy had caused irreparable damage, told her she needed to “feel the pain of what [she’d] done,” and directed that Kathy should be “happy to do whatever it takes.”
Kathy was required to spend hundreds of hours on punishments, including, for example, writing letters to multiple insiders of NXIVM explaining a purported business failure.
The punishment and controls extended to every aspect of Kathy’s life. NXIVM dictated how much she could weigh, what types of foods she could eat, who she could communicate with, and even how often she could dance.
At one point, Clare chastised Kathy for owning a cat, telling her that she did not make enough money to have a pet and that she would need Raniere’s permission to keep her beloved animal.
As her current therapist explains, Kathy endured these “frequent harsh punishments . . . in part due to her belief that these might make her a better person and because she thought at the time that they were deserved.” Kathy now understands that her feelings were merely a product of NXIVM’s intentional distortion of reality, which thrived on her “low sense of self-worth and vulnerability.”
The NXIVM leadership used Kathy’s supposed “limitations” not only to punish her psychologically, but also to strip her of her responsibilities. In fact, Kathy was fired or demoted on several occasions, including in 2006, 2014, and 2015.
In 2010, Lauren Salzman threatened: “If you don’t evolve certain limiting patterns, it will eventually result in you being replaced with someone more efficient who does not have obstruction issues.”
After Clare fired Kathy in 2015, she emailed Kathy: “My greatest hope is you can evolve some of the problems in working with others so you can create a viable cash flow for yourself . . .”
Kathy was made to believe that she had personal “issues” that needed to be resolved before she could continue working for NXIVM. Sadly, she internalized the denigration, and came to believe that she was inadequate and unworthy.
Kathy to Nancy: “I realize that you have been quite kind in helping me see that my inability to work with others and narcissistic tendencies are what removed me from my job.”);
Kathy to Raniere: “I realize I have caused this and created much of this problem by my need to control, blame, complain and my indulgence in fear”);
Kathy to Raniere: “[W]hile I’m working to evolve my anger and control… I seem to be unable to find what would be the thing to help me get
past this and evolve this.”
At its core, of course, these strategies were deliberately coercive, manipulating Kathy’s mindset to believing that the problems were entirely her fault.
Kathy to Nancy: “It seems I’m really out to lunch… and I’m the one who is wrong here. Everyone else sees this but me. I really want to go…”…
What little role Kathy had in NXIVM’s programming was also stripped away from her as punishment.
Around 2014, after several years of threats, Kathy’s status as a low-tier proctor in NXIVM’s programming was placed on “inactive” status, because of her “fear” issues.
Kathy to Raniere: “While I strive to correct my breach, my immature emotionality, my lack of communication, and correct my controlling behaviors…I’m not getting through it. I have a consequence of not getting through my issues and have been placed as inactive Proctor.”
After that, Kathy never again held the position of proctor or coach. Desperate for approval, Kathy worked endlessly to get into the good graces of NXIVM’s leadership. But Kathy’s hard work and acknowledgment of her purported issues were never enough.
Kathy to Nancy: “In some ways over the last year, I have worked harder than I have before to change things in myself. In reality it wasn’t enough to make the difference.”.
Kathy now realizes that her efforts never stood a chance – her supposed “breaches,” the punishments she endured, the rock bottom pay, the demotions, and the firings were all merely a means of controlling Kathy through calculated psychological manipulation.
Kathy’s Attempts to Leave NXIVM
While very much under the organization’s coercive yoke, in moments of lucidity, Kathy did try to leave NXIVM. Nearly every year, starting in 2009, Kathy expressed a desire to leave.
In 2009, Kathy wrote to Raniere: “Each month for the last five months, I’ve written and rewritten emails about wanting to leave.”
Over a year later, in 2010, Kathy wrote again to Raniere: “I really don’t want to work under these conditions, and my initial impulse is to
The next year, in 2011, Kathy told Raniere once again that she thought it was best to “resign” and this time she asked for his “help.”
Two years went by, and no help was provided.
In 2013, Kathy told Raniere that she was going to “look for another job” where she could “have insurance and make more money,” but admitted that she was “having difficulty finding a way out.”
A year went by, and nothing changed.
In 2014, Kathy reached out, this time, to Nancy Salzman and told her it was “time to ask Keith’s permission to . . . resign with the company,” explaining that her situation was “unfair” and that she was “not willing to do this anymore,”
Another year passed, and Kathy found herself no closer to getting out.
In 2015, Kathy emailed Nancy again: “I don’t want to go through another year of this.”
By 2016, Kathy was still expressing the same sentiment. She wrote to Nancy: “I really want to go.”
In short, Kathy wanted to leave, she just didn’t know how – psychologically or financially. Desperate and trapped, she even contemplated suicide….
But the notion that all of her actions had to benefit Raniere was so ingrained, that she did not act on those feelings because she could not think of a way to “kill herself that would not lead back to Keith Raniere.” In the end, at these darkest moments “even [Kathy’s] suicidal ideation and emotional distress was not more important than protecting Mr. Raniere.”
Unlike many others involved in this case, who had wealth and/or powerful family connections, Kathy’s family was at a loss of what to do. They were deeply worried and afraid for her….
Given these circumstances, that Kathy did not leave Raniere and NXIVM on her own is not surprising. She lacked the psychological or financial resources to craft a viable exit strategy; nor did she have sophisticated family members to intervene and assist her. While her arrest has brought unbelievable pain and anxiety, she is now profoundly grateful that it finally allowed her to break free of Raniere’s devastating grip on her life.
The criminal case was, perhaps, the only thing strong enough to save her.
Kathy’s Efforts to Rehabilitate and Start a New Life
In the months after her arrest, Kathy was shell-shocked…. Initially, she continued to believe in NXIVM, holding tight to its teachings and remaining loyal to Rainere…. With separation from the community, and free from the constant manipulation, control, and coercion that had been exerted on her for more than 15 years, Kathy began to see and understand the truth. Through her review of the discovery, and in conversations with those close to her, as well as with counsel, she “became aware of numerous deceptions she had experienced by Raniere and others working with him at NXIVM.”…
Kathy understood that everything she had worked towards, everything she had sacrificed, everything she believed in, was all part of an ugly and destructive lie…. In the months and years after her arrest, she embarked upon a path of deep introspection and self-discovery, in which she began grappling in earnest with the profound errors she had made, the consequences of her blind devotion to Raniere and NXIVM, and the fact that the organization had done irreparable damage to so many people.
Physical Separation from NXIVM
When Kathy came to understand the true, nefarious nature of NXIVM and its community, she knew she needed to get far, far away. While Kathy had few people outside of NXIVM to whom she could turn, her sister Kelly Russell did reach out. After 16 years of very little contact, Kathy and Kelly “started talking regularly on the phone, texting, and visiting.”
Understanding that Kathy had no money or means to support herself, Kelly offered Kathy her home in Georgia. Seizing on this much-needed ticket out of Albany, Kathy moved to Georgia in June 2019, and began to rebuild her life.
Therapy and Self-Reflection
In Georgia, Kathy…. has been working with a therapist to better understand the issues that led her to her current circumstances.
She has developed an understanding of how [Raniere’s] teachings were used to manipulate her and others, and how they have led to lasting devastating effects on some of the people involved. She developed an understanding that Mr. Raniere was after satisfying his own sexual desires and need for power and control and used her and others, including underage girls, to do so….
She often reflects on how she made rationalizations for Keith, believing the lie he wove into the program that his actions were the pinnacle of good or ethical. I see her say how stupid she was for not being able to question the negative aspects of
NXIVM. She wishes she had seen how nefarious Keith was and that she had
never allowed herself to be so easily controlled.
Reconnecting with Family
Kathy has not only worked on rebuilding her sense of self since her arrest, but she has also focused on rebuilding her relationship with Kelly and Silas. Reconnecting with her family has been the most meaningful and gratifying experience of Kathy’s life. While this prosecution
has been incredibly painful, she recognizes that it gave her her family (and her life) back. For this, Kathy is grateful.
Kathy left NXIVM without any money to her name. For months she struggled to get back on her feet, doing occasional consulting and bookkeeping work for friends just to get by. In July 2020, Kathy obtained freelance consulting work through a friend, and decided to continue this work under a company for herself and her son, Silas….
Through the company they created, Kathy and Silas perform consulting work, principally in the areas of accounting and IT. While at the present, the bulk of their work comes from one company, Silas works alongside Kathy conducting the quality control software testing and handling some of the administrative tasks involved in running a business, including paying the bills, and running payroll.
The Road Ahead
With the Court’s permission, Kathy and Silas hope to move to North Carolina and build on their new life together. Kathy is working hard to gather enough resources so that she and Silas can be independent and live in their own home in a new community….
Probation Is Sufficient
Kathy’s crimes were not insignificant. Lying on a visa application is serious, and her 17-year affiliation with NXIVM supported Raniere and tacitly implicated her in the crimes being committed by others. She is deeply ashamed of her own misconduct….
But given the mitigating facts about her personal history, her modest circumstances, and her lesser role within NXIVM, the sentence the Court imposes should take into account Kathy’s deep remorse and the enormous personal progress she has made since her arrest….
Her separation from NXIVM, her dedication to counseling and self-reflection, her recommitment to her family, and her efforts to become financially self-sufficient, all demonstrate that she is committed to rehabilitation. A sentence of probation would allow her to continue rebuilding a healthy and economically stable life.