By Dick LaFontaine
In 2007, Frank Parlato took an assignment with the “self-help group” NXIVM to improve their public image. He was asked to help facilitate a $5 million loan for a real estate project.
He uncovered evidence that a managing partner potentially embezzled ten million dollars from the group’s backers, Seagram heiresses, Clare and Sara Bronfman.
Kristin Keeffe wrote of it: “Frank discovered an enormous financial fraud happening within a Los Angeles real estate development project Clare and Sara had invested $26 million in. He uncovered the fraud and deftly took over the company for them saving their investment and the company, whose value was $82 million. It was a huge effort, and Frank worked tirelessly around the clock. I had never worked with someone so competent and diligent. It was stunning. Despite his success, Clare and Sara ended their business relationship with Frank acrimoniously shortly thereafter. Much to my dismay.”
NXIVM founder Keith Raniere fired Parlato, and Parlato became one of the enemies on his list.
Four years passed.
In January 2012, Parlato learned Clare Bronfman filed a criminal complaint against him with the FBI.
Another four years.
The US Attorney for the Western District of New York indicted Parlato.
Clare and Sara Bronfman are named victims on all 19 counts.
One of Parlato’s former counsel Brian Feldman, at Harter Secrest, a former Assistant US Attorney, wrote of Parlato’s effort to tell the WDNY about NXIVM.
Feldman wrote, “The prosecution team had shared with Frank’s prior counsel the fact that Sara and Clare Bronfman had made complaints about Frank, through their own legal counsel, to federal law enforcement. Frank knew that the Bronfmans were part of a group in the Albany area called NXIVM, with whom Frank had worked several years earlier and fallen out of favor, and Frank had information that the group’s modus operandi was to press for the prosecution of those that, like him, had fallen out of the group’s favor. Frank wanted to proffer significant information about NXIVM to the prosecution team. But, as I recall, the prosecution team was wholly uninterested.”
When he could not get interest from law enforcement, Parlato’s strategy was to start a blog, FrankReport.com.
Parlato wrote thousands of articles on the Frank Report.
Two years into his campaign, Parlato broke the story that would change the lives of everyone involved in NXIVM:
Parlato revealed that a secret sorority, DOS (Dominus Obsequium Sororum), was embedded into NXIVM, branding female slaves on their groins during macabre rituals with the leader’s Keith Raniere’s initials.
In the report, Parlato revealed that DOS members – called slaves – surrendered “collateral,” usually personal pornographic material, and false confessions. “Collateral” was to be used as leverage against the women if they tried to leave behind their lifetime “vow.”
The DOS “slaves” were not the usual victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. There were middle-class, or affluent women, from the USA and Mexico.
Women with good reputations, with families who could be hurt by revelations or graphic photos published online or sent to select targets, such as employers or law enforcement.
From the very first story on DOS, the first of hundreds, Parlato caused the suspension of branding and an exodus from the ranks of NXIVM and DOS.
NBC’s Dateline showed Parlato “cratered the cult.”
Sarah Edmondson wrote in her book Scarred: The True Story of How I Escaped NXIVM, the Cult That Bound My Life:
“I told Frank about my branding experience so that he could expose DOS in time to stop the next session…. I told Frank everything. Releasing that secret was the biggest relief so far. We were successful. The word about Frank’s blog spread in the community, and because of this heat, the next branding ceremony was called off.”
The New York Times credited Parlato for making NXIVM members aware of the branding and collection of blackmail-worthy “collateral.”
The impact Parlato had on DOS was seen in Starz’s Seduced, where women describe Parlato’s reporting.
From the transcript:
Catherine Oxenberg: Once I had gotten no traction with Albany Law Enforcement and FBI agents, I started working with people who had defected from NXIVM and DOS. And we reached out to one of NXIVM’s archenemies, someone called Frank Parlato, of the Frank Report.
Rick Ross: Frank Parlato was originally Keith Raniere’s PR guy. But, ultimately, NXIVM turned on him. They claimed that he had taken money. And there were criminal charges. So, Frank Parlato decided that he would go against NXIVM.
Catherine Oxenberg: When we reached out to Frank, and we told him about the branding, he started posting on his website.
Kelly (a DOS female “slave” recruit): I got a call from someone who said, “Have you read the Frank Report?” And I said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” So she sent me a link, and she said, “Don’t let anyone know that I’m sending you this link.” And I started reading about collateral. And I thought, “Collateral? Oh my God, is this what they were asking me to come into?”
Naomi (a DOS female “slave” recruit): When I started reading the Frank Report and seeing things for what they truly were, it just made me feel ill.
India Oxenberg: Even within NXIVM, no members outside of DOS were supposed to know that it existed. As soon as the [Frank Report] posts started coming up, there were a ton of questions and a lot of chatter. My slaves left immediately after that. And none of them had to complete the seduction assignment or be branded. That was a huge relief.
Catherine Oxenberg: A lot of DOS slaves started to defect.
Another DOS “slave,” Nicole, testified under oath at Keith Raniere’s trial about the impact of the Frank Report.
Nicole: “There was this blog called The Frank Report that started blogging… about DOS and blogging about different people in the NXIVM community…. an article came up online that said that I was a, like, sex slave of Keith Raniere’s… It was, like — it was just that, like, a tiny bit of, like, courage or whatever I needed. It was like that flash of reality, and it was just, like, the last little thing, and I was like, okay, no. Just no. Like, no. What I — what I thought that I was getting into back then — was a women’s empowerment group, and now there is something saying that I am somehow a man’s sex slave? … Like, now is this little window when I can get out, and I’m taking it.”
The NY Times called Parlato’s stories, “a torrent” of posts.
The DOS leaders knew they could not release any collateral.
None was released.
When the New York Times wrote their story Inside a Secretive Group Where Women are Branded, using Parlato as a source, in October 2017, a prosecutor from the Eastern District of New York, Moira Kim Penza, recognized criminality and chose to do something. The FBI began investigating.
Raniere fled to Mexico. Parlato found out.
The FBI obtained a warrant for Raniere. But they did not know where he was.
Through sources, Parlato discovered Raniere’s whereabouts. He published the information.
What is not well known is how Parlato helped the EDNY’s investigation and prosecution of Raniere – indirectly because he was indicted in the WDNY.
Much of what we know comes from a sealed motion Raniere’s attorney Marc Agnifilo filed, which was recently unsealed,
“On December 7, 2018, the EDNY turned over a memorandum written by blogger Frank Parlato and actress Catherine Oxenberg that is titled “Criminal Activity involving KR 11-12.” (Ex. 7: Parlato and Oxenberg Memorandum.)
“According to Catherine Oxenberg’s recent book titled Captive, she states that she gave this memorandum to authorities in November of 2017.”
More info was revealed.
In March 2018, the FBI swore in an affidavit in support of a search warrant their reliance on the Frank Report:
This is from the FBI affidavit:
“On or about February 18, 2018, citing ‘numerous’ local sources, the blog reported that Raniere may have left Monterrey and may now be living in the coastal town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The blog has previously had accurate information regarding Raniere’s whereabouts.”
The FBI located Mr. Raniere in Puerto Vallarta that month, and Mexican Federales arrested and deported him to the USA where the FBI arrested him.
Clare Bronfman, who originally filed criminal charges against Parlato, was arrested a few months later.
But the issue was more. Raniere’s attorney, Agnifilo, wanted all the evidence found by the FBI search warrants of Raniere and Clare Bronfman’s emails suppressed.
Because of Parlato’s indictment.
Agnifilo wrote to the court that he wanted to suppress evidence because the FBI cited reliance on his reporting:
Agnifilo wrote, “the anti-NXIVM press is associated with a prolific blogger named Frank Parlato, who is currently under indictment in the Western District of New York in an 18-count fraud case that spans over ten years—from mid-2006 to 2017. 5 (See United States v. Frank Parlato, Jr.) …
“[Parlato] is not acting as a legitimate media outlet. Rather, as he has stated to many internet outlets who inconspicuously credit him, he is an active antagonist who has admitted publicly that he is obsessed with ruining Keith Raniere and others supportive of ESP/NXIVM….
“Parlato is charged with, among other things, using shell companies and IOLA (attorney accounts) to defraud the Internal Revenue Service out of millions of dollars of taxable income.”
On January 18, 2018, the FBI submitted another affidavit in support of an application for a search warrant of “firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Raniere’s defense attorney again used Parlato’s indictment to discredit the motives of the FBI as he sought to suppress the evidence.
Agnifilo wrote, “The January 2018 warrant affidavit… relies on a blog ‘that covers Nxivm.’”
This was three months before the arrest of Raniere.
Agnifilo referred to a specific article Parlato wrote that the FBI used in their search warrant application.
The article described a meeting where DOS women conspired to deny Raniere had anything to do with DOS.
Agnifilo wrote, “This is a striking addition to the [FBI] affidavit because… it also relies on a blog that is (1) written by a defendant indicted with 19 felonies in the Western District of New York…”
In his suppression motion, Aifilo repeatedly assailed Parlato’s work supporting the EDNY because he was indicted in the WDNY.
Marc Agnifilo leaves court during the Raniere trial.
Agnifilo wrote to discredit Parlato and kill the fruits of the search: “The [FBI] affidavit conveys to the Court that this blog is something on which the Court should rely in concluding that probable cause exists for a search. However, the affidavit fails to inform the Court of the essential nature of the blog and its author: that the blogger is under indictment, that the blogger had been indicted for stealing $1 million from Bronfman  and that the professed goal of the blogger was to bring disrepute to Raniere. These are clearly material factors of which the Court signing the warrant should have been clearly told. However, the Government concealed these facts from the Court.”
Agnifilo added a curious fact in his footnote. That Parlato was originally indicted thanks to the Bronfmans, but once his stories turned the tables on Raniere and Bronfman in the EDNY, the WDNY took out the Bronfman charges.
Agnifilo wrote in a footnote: “Following the indictment in this case, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York superseded the indictment against Parlato, removing the charges related to Bronfman but maintaining the eighteen other fraud charges against him. 15-cr-00149 (JJM) (WDNY) (Dkt. No. 118), Superseding Indictment filed 5/23/18.)”
Agnifilo. making a motion to suppress Bronfman’s and others’ email searches, tries to negate reliance on Parlato’s reporting because he was indicted, reveals Parlato repeatedly gave the prosecution valuable assistance.
Agnifilo wrote, “the affidavit in support of a warrant to search and seize [Clare] Bronfman, Marianna Fernandez and Pamela Cafritz’s email accounts signed two months later also includes this language relying on this blog. (Ex. 8: March Affidavit ¶ 28.) It touts the reliability of the blog…. the Government relies on a blog in its affidavit to show probable cause. As this Court is well aware now,… this blog’s creator and author is an indicted defendant in the Western District of New York. Although the Government … finds him credible enough to cite in an affidavit to search and seize Raniere’s account.”
US District Court Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis was not persuaded. He did not suppress the evidence.
Five NXIVM leaders, including Bronfman, pled guilty.
Raniere stood trial, where he was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 120 years in prison.
In an ironic twist, while Raniere was in prison, in part based on Parlato’s work, wanted Parlato to interview him, which Parlato did for NBC’s Nightly News with Lester Holt.
Parlato’s former counsel wrote, “a different U.S. Attorney’s Office… obtain[ed] an indictment in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn charging Clare Bronfman and other members of NXIVM with a series of federal crimes, and Clare Bronfman would ultimately plead guilty to federal charges. At that point, the prosecution team in Frank’s case would drop the Bronfman-related charges against him.
“But none of that would happen until Frank after took his evidence public, publishing exposés of NXIVM, and until after a different U.S. Attorney’s Office investigated the group. Frank’s earlier efforts to educate the prosecution team went nowhere. To Frank, it appeared as if the prosecution team were open to NXIVM’s theories against him (all later dropped) but closed as to his information against NXIVM (whose members, including Clare Bronfman, were later convicted). This, too, left him exasperated.”
Parlato’s work has been credited around the world. It is not often a blogger saves “slaves” from a cult.
He was featured in HBO’s The Vow. He appeared in a two-hour Dateline episode in February 2021. In January 2021, he was featured in an episode of CNBC’s American Greed. He acted as lead investigator and coordinating producer for the Investigation Discovery two-hour special The Lost Women of NXIVM. He appeared with Gretchen Carlson, on a Lifetime special. Vice News did an in-depth profile of him: “The Man Who Blew the Whistle On Alleged Sex Cult Inside NXIVM.
He appeared in TNT’s ‘The Heiress and the Sex Cult“ which premiered in May 2022 and provided consulting to other productions.
His work was cited in news articles worldwide, including The New York Times, the Daily Mail, VICE News, CNN, Fox News, the Albany Times Union, New York Post, Rolling Stone, People, The Sun, and CBS Inside Edition.
He was featured in books, such as Captive: A Mother’s Crusade to Save Her Daughter from a Terrifying Cult by Catherine Oxenberg; Scarred by Sarah Edmondson; and NXIVM: La secta que sedujo al poder en México by distinguished Mexican journalist Juan Alberto Vasquez, who dedicates a chapter to Parlato whom he calls “a hero to Mexican journalists.”
In Oxenberg’s book, Parlato emerges as a formidable and relentless adversary. Oxenberg credits him foremost among all journalists who tackled the subject.
Oxenberg wrote. “I boarded a flight to Buffalo. Only one man now could help me, and he wasn’t afraid. Frank Parlato…was like a fire-breathing dragon.”
Parlato should be given credit for his efforts to stop a menacing cult that had many victims and would have had many more, but for his efforts and despite his being indicted during the entire time he worked to expose the group.
The Buffalo News reported in their story “Seagrams Heir Goes From Accuser in Niagara Falls Case to Accused on NYC Case:
“A few months ago, Clare Bronfman was the accuser, the victim. Today, the Seagram’s liquor heir is in federal custody facing criminal charges.
“Bronfman, a key witness in the original prosecution of Niagara Falls developer Frank Parlato Jr., was arrested Tuesday and charged with taking part in a criminal conspiracy that involved sex trafficking, identity theft and money laundering.
“Parlato, who is also a weekly newspaper publisher, was among the first to write about Sara and Clare Bronfman, and their ties to Keith Raniere and NXIVM, an Albany-based self-help group that some critics consider a cult….
“The dropped charges against Parlato followed extensive news coverage of NXIVM and Raniere and the allegations that he operated a secret society that forced women to have sex with him.
“The allegations, which include claims that women were branded with a cauterizing device, have been aired by The New York Times, New York Post and others, and many have credited Parlato with first uncovering them.”
Dick LaFontaine chases gripping, thorny, and precarious stories around the world as a correspondent for the Frank Report.