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NXIVM trial witness: Keith Raniere operated like L. Ron Hubbard and other cult crackpots

[Rick Ross was targeted by Nxivm for more than a decade. We first wrote about him in 1995.]

Dianne Lipson continues to give us a front row view as the Nxivm trial winds down. Here’s her report on Wednesday’s entire day of testimony…

Wednesday morning saw the last bit of direct testimony from investigator Richard Guerci. He testified that the total charges to Pam Cafritz’s credit card were approximately $135,000.

In cross-examination, Keith Raniere’s attorney Marc Agnifilo displayed Pam’s will. The will showed that not only was Keith executor of the estate, he was also the sole beneficiary. In direct testimony, after a certain point, card records showed purchases of baby-related items. It was not said in court, but presumably these were for the baby Keith fathered with Mariana. Agnifilo showed charges to Pam’s card, before her death, to purchase plane tickets for Mariana. There were also plane tickets purchased for Keith, before Pam’s death. Keith, Mariana, and Pam lived in the same house. There were utility bill payments on the card both before and after Pam’s death.

Keith had signed checks from Pam’s bank account. Agnifilo asked if the bank had rejected any of these checks. The agent said, not to his knowledge. Did Keith ever sign Pam’s name on a check? Gureci: Not to my knowledge.

On re-direct, Lesko pointed out that an executor can incur expenses only in limited instances. Were chiropractor bills, or a cashmere sweater from a high end department store (purchases shown in statements for Pam’s card), expenses that an executor can incur? The answer from the witness was “Not to my knowledge.”


In re-cross, Agnifilo: Do you know if Mariana was buying things on the card? Gureci: No. Agnifilo: Do you have any reason to think Pam would object to these purchases? Objection! Sustained.

I thought Agnifilo did pretty well here.

Next witness was chiropractor Dr. Keith Donato. Dr. Donato treated many Nxivm members. Donato was told things in preparation for treating Keith. Donato was told that Keith was leader of an empowerment group, and lived a monk-like existence. Keith himself would not pay for treatments. The person who brought Keith to the appointment would pay for Keith.

Keith was always accompanied by someone else. Mostly Pam or Mariana. Pam always paid with a credit card. Some appointments were out of the office, at Nancy’s house, which made things easier for Pam as her health began to fail. Sometimes, as Pam got sicker, she would forget to bring her card. When that happened, Pam would key in her card number. After Pam passed, Mariana would pay for Keith. She did not bring a card, instead she would key in the card number. Dr. Donato thought it was Mariana’s card, but he now knows it was Pam’s card.

Donato noticed that many women patients from Nxivm were very skinny. He had a conversation with Loreta Garza because of her lack of muscle density. Donato thought there was not enough nutritional intake. Donato was asked if Keith had a body type of a person with lower calorie intake, and the answer was no. Women from Nxivm had to keep their phones near them. He was told this was part of their membership in a women’s empowerment group.

On cross, Agnifilo: Would you have processed any payment that you thought was wrongful? Donato: No.

The next witness was Rick Ross. Ross is 66 years old. He is the founder of The Cult Education Institute. His grandmother was in a nursing home that was infiltrated by a cult, and the elderly patients were targeted. This turned Ross into an activist. His website has articles, court documents, and research papers. His message boards have over 150,000 entries. He has articles on many groups. Typically, these groups have authoritarian leaders with no accountability. Ross has been sued five times. He was sued by Nxivm in 2002 over two articles he published, critical reports of Executive Success Programs. Nxivm claimed copyright infringement, defamation, and revealing trade secrets. There was a motion for summary judgement. The case never went to trial. The lawsuit went on for 14 years.

The reports that Nxivm sued about were created for the Sutton family. They had adult children who were in ESP, and retained Ross to do an intervention. Ross does not do an intervention until he looks at a group to see if it warrants an intervention. Ross did research, and concluded that ESP was an LGAT (Large Group Awareness Training) group. Ross had been sued by Landmark, and he felt that ESP was similar to Landmark. Ross agreed to do the intervention. The intervention with the son Michael failed. Ross spoke of concerns about coercive persuasion, thought reform, and Michael spoke of his experiences. That’s how Ross learned about Keith, or Vanguard. It became clear to Ross that this was a personality-driven group. It was eerily reminiscent of Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. Michael was reasonable in their discussion, but he kept talking on his cellphone to Nancy Salzman. Salzman would coach him. Ross saw how much power the group had over him. Eventually, Nancy had Michael leave the discussion.

Ross explained that an intervention was meant to stimulate critical thinking. To get the person to look at how the group may have undue influence, may be making extreme demands. People in the group are making decisions in a bubble.

Ross was once sued for an intervention. He was retained in 1990, and it was an intervention for a woman’s 18-year-old son. It was an involuntary intervention. The mother hired security to hold her son against his will. The intervention was not successful. After the young man was let go, he called the police. Rick and the security people were arrested. Scientology lawyer Kendrick Moxon offered to sue on behalf of the young man, Jason Scott. Ross went bankrupt as a result of the 2 million dollar judgement. The bankruptcy court said the judgement could not be discharged. Jason subsequently left the group. He settled for $5,000, and 200 hours of Ross’s services. Jason had had a family still in the cult, who he wanted to be free. Jason lost the family he had in the cult, but reconciled with his mother. Ross decided that, no matter how compelling it may be, he would never do an involuntary intervention on an adult again.

Back to the ESP case, Michael’s sister Stephanie Franco (who had by then rejected Nxivm) had a binder from a 16-day intensive she had taken, with her own handwritten notes. This was given to Ross. During Nancy’s coaching of Micheal over the phone in the failed intervention, Nancy expressed that it would be interesting to get expert opinions. The Sutton family paid for reports from two experts. Ross was subsequently threatened with legal action. But he also got calls from many people, thanking him for publishing the information. In court, we were shown some of the ESP materials in the binder that were referenced in the reports.

The basis of the lawsuits was quotes from this material. Here is a quote from the report written by Dr. John Hochman:

Paramilitary rituals and regalia: Paramilitary structure enhances the ability of leaders to control participants through a “chain of command.” [Keith Raniere] the leader’s title as “Vanguard” is a word with military origins, and participants are routinely expected to “thank” Vanguard at the end of each and every session. One’s rank in the group is constantly visible by scarf color and number of stripes on the scarf, and this is reinforced by a ritual two-handed handshake where the higher rank person’s hands go on top. Advancement includes ability to be a “coach,” which appears to be a monitor, (sometimes-daily monitor), for members lower in rank. Clearly a submissive relationship of sorts to one’s superior in rank is promoted.


Of further concern, the manual states in Italics, “We find our students don’t want to leave at the end of the day!” Since participants have been experiencing a day scheduled to start at 8 AM and end at 10 PM, under usual circumstances, most participants would be tired and eager to go to see friends and family, and get a night’s rest to prepare for another long day starting at 8 AM. This suggests to me that emotional appeals or other manipulation may occur to get everyone to stay around even longer.

From the report by Paul Martin, PhD:

Number five, maintains that “There are no ultimate victims.” What does this mean? How far do we take human responsibility? Is a raped woman somewhat responsible for her rape? Is a battered wife somewhat responsible for her battering? Is an employee subject to a mean, dishonest, boss somehow not a victim? Are slaves in some manner not victims? Are those hit and hopelessly crippled by a drunk driver not victims? Are those accidentally paralyzed by the slip of a surgeon’s knife not victims? What does Raniere have to say to this? The normal definition of victim, according to the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language, is “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime or accident. 2. A person who is tricked or duped.” Common observation teaches that there are victims. ESP appears to make victimhood seem as unnatural as sensing the brisk chill on one’s cheeks on the morning of the first autumn frost.

Fortunately, Ross was represented by a team of lawyers working pro-bono, including Peter Skolnik. Some of his lawyers were interested in the First Amendment issues of the case.

A man named Joseph O’Hara contacted Ross, and provided Ross with copies of his phone and bank records. This info was from PI’s hired by Nxivm from a company called Interfor. Ross filed a counter claim to Interfor. Ross had been contacted by Interfor, supposedly on behalf of a concerned mother who wanted in intervention for her child. Ross later learned it was all a set-up. The ‘mother’ was an actress, and Interfor was working for Nxivm.

In cross, Agnifilo brought up the issue of Michael’s daughter. Michael was from an Orthodox Sephardic family. He had had a daughter with a woman who was not from this community, and Michael’s parents did not accept the daughter. This seemed to put Michael’s parents in a bad light. Ross tried to make the best of this that he could, by saying that that was the vulnerability that Keith exploited.

Agnifilo asked about the intervention. Ross was able to say that sometimes Michael would go into a Nxivm style question-and-answer format of speaking. Ross would say, “Will you just talk to me?” Michael would then speak spontaneously and not robotically. Ross told Michael that it sounded like a cult of personality. But Nancy was “buzzing in his ear.”

Agnifilo asked if the issue of Michael’s daughter was spoken of, and yes, it was a spoken of in the intervention. Agnifilo asked if Michael’s parents had a relationship with Michael’s daughter. They did not. But Ross emphasized how much the family loved Michael.

At some point after the intervention, the Suttons did ask if Ross would consider taking the reports down. They thought this might have a positive effect on getting Michael out. Ross told the Suttons that keeping the articles available was important, so that other families would not be hurt. He also expressed that he didn’t think it would make a difference with Michael.

Ross can’t recall how much he was paid. It was in the thousands of dollars, but not the tens of thousands.

Agnifilo asked if Ross understood that Stephanie had signed a confidentiality agreement. No, Ross had only been told this after he was served. Stephanie said she had not signed a confidentiality agreement. The only language pertaining to confidentiality was in very small fine print on a Visa charge slip from Nxivm. Ross explained that the court ruled that public interest trumped the confidentiality agreement. It was a precedent-setting case. Also the case had a direct effect on the power of a confidentiality agreement to gag someone.

Agnifilo stressed in his questioning, that the reports were done just on the basis of the materials from Stephanie Franco, and her own notes. Did they interview anyone in Nxivm, take any Nxivm courses, speak to anyone who had done courses? Ross countered that the authors of the reports had extensive experience with LGAT’s, had detailed literature from ESP, and Stephanie’s notes. He said it was a wealth of material. Agnifilo asked if they were aware of, or had reviewed any of Nxivm’s 2000 modules. No, it was just the course materials provided by Stephanie. Agnifilo: Do you consider this report scientifically sound? Ross: It’s an expert report.

Ross didn’t know how much the authors were paid, since the Suttons paid for the report.

Agnifilo asked if Ross had met or spoken to Edgar Bronfman. Ross didn’t recall ever speaking with Bronfman. Agnifilo asked how much money Bronfman had given him. Ross said Bronfman gave him a $5,000 check for the legal defense fund for the Landmark case. Landmark sued Ross at the same time that the Nxivm case was ongoing. Agnifilo asked if that was the only check from Bronfman. Ross said that was the only check. But Agnifilo presented evidence showing photocopies of two more checks from Edgar Bronfman. Ross said he didn’t recall these checks. He said they might have been in response to general fundraising letters sent out about the Landmark case. Ross said these checks were signed over to the Lowenstein family. But Agnifilo showed that back of the checks, and that the checks had not been signed over to anyone. Ross said the checks were deposited to the Rick Ross Institute, and then the funds were sent to the Lowenstein family.

Agnifilo asked if Ross spoke to Mark Vicente. Vicente called Ross, and the topics discussed were Vicente’s recovery, and how he was doing.

On re-direct, Ross said he only recalled seeing one check from Edgar Bronfman. Did he know if Bronfman supported his cause? Ross replied that he only knew that Bronfman was concerned about his daughters.

The next witness was FBI agent Brian Booth. Booth is an information technology specialist, and a Senior Forensic Examiner. Regarding the hard drive and camera found in Keith’s library, we in the courtroom were treated to a crash course on how forensic data is recovered and stored. We also learned about metadata (data about data) regarding images, and what information the metadata can supply, and which metadata was the most accurate. The metadata showed what dates the pictures were taken on in 2005. The jury only, was given binders with pictures from Keith’s hard drive. I am assuming there will be discussion of a photo of Camila, but this has not occurred yet. Direct will continue tomorrow.

The judge said the plan is that the prosecution will rest its case on Thursday or Friday, and that closing arguments will take place on Monday. But he said this plan is subject to revision.

End of Day 22.


Posted by Tony Ortega on June 13, 2019 at 13:30

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Tony Ortega is a journalist who was formerly the editor of The Village Voice. He’s written about Scientology since 1995, and in May 2015 released a book about Scientology’s harassment of Paulette Cooper titled ‘The Unbreakable Miss Lovely,’ and more recently a compilation of his stories, ‘Battlefield Scientology.’ He continues to monitor breaking developments in the Scientology world, as well as other subjects at The Underground Bunker. You can reach him by sending him a message at tonyo94 AT (Drop him a line if you’d like to get an e-mail whenever a new story is posted.)


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