Oct 18, 2015

Records: NXIVM hacked billionaire's emails with Hillary Clinton, world leaders

Albany Times Union
Brendan J. Lyons
October 18, 2015


Albany

Clare W. Bronfman, an heiress of the Seagram Company business empire, allegedly implanted a "key logger" virus on the computer of her late father, Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., so officials with the NXIVM corporation could secretly monitor his emails, including his exchanges with world leaders and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, according to court records.

The extraordinary allegations are attributed to Kristen M. Keeffe, who was part of the inner circle that ran NXIVM, a "human development" organization that has been described by one expert as an "extreme cult." The accusations by Keeffe are contained in a transcript of a telephone conversation that took place last March between Keeffe and Barbara J. Bouchey, a former NXIVM executive board member who is facing computer trespassing charges in Albany that accuse her and three others of improperly accessing the corporation's website.

Bouchey's attorneys filed a copy of the transcript in Albany County Court recently to buttress their argument that top NXIVM officials have used litigation, as well as the criminal case, to attack her and other perceived adversaries. Bouchey, a financial planner, claims NXIVM officials have dragged her into 13 lawsuits and filed the criminal complaint against her as retribution for defecting from the organization in 2009. She's denied hacking into the corporation's social website.

Clare Bronfman, 36, who owns a horse farm on West Wind Road in Knox and has described herself as NXIVM's operations director, did not respond to requests for comment.

The whereabouts of Keeffe, who left NXIVM last year, are unknown. She was part of NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's inner circle and has contacted Bouchey by telephone, and through encrypted emails, and offered to help her defend herself in the criminal case, according to court records. Keeffe said that she gathered information about NXIVM for several years before she left and tried to "deprogram" Nancy L. Salzman, who is NXIVM's president. Salzman did not respond to a request for comment.

"In the three and a half years leading up to where I left, I was a spy," Keeffe said during the conversation. "And I went to great lengths to make them think I was going along with things with the exception of trying to deprogram Nancy and a couple of other people that l was close to that were not close to Keith."
Raniere did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

Keeffe's allegations about the hacking of Edgar Bronfman's computer are among a series of troubling accusations she has leveled against NXIVM officials since she abruptly left the organization in February 2014. Keeffe, 45, was involved with Raniere for more than 20 years and was part of the litigation team that worked under Clare Bronfman, according to court records. Keeffe said she fled NXIVM last year with the help of a State Police investigator who brought her to a domestic violence shelter, according to court records.

Last month, the Times Union reported that Keeffe, in emails attributed to her, claimed top officials in NXIVM paid a Canadian investigative firm to sift the financial records of six federal judges and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. According to Keeffe, NXIVM officials also used the Canadian firm to obtain financial information on Edgar Bronfman and other officials with the Jewish World Congress, which Bronfman headed from 1981 to 2007.

It's unclear why, as Keeffe claims, NXIVM officials would have sought the financial records of judges and others, including employees of the Times Union, which published a 2012 series, Secrets of NXIVM. The federal judges identified by Keeffe have all presided over cases involving NXIVM.

In March 2009, the Canadian investigative firm, Canaprobe Group, sent an invoice to Clare Bronfman for $10,000 for "banking sweep services" of Rick A. Ross, a self-described anti-cult expert in New Jersey who is being sued by NXIVM in U.S. District Court, according to federal court records. Keeffe said she processed the Canaprobe invoices and that the company was paid "well over a million dollars."

In the transcript of Keeffe's conversation, she said "what the process was — was Keith would decide what was ordered. I would call Canaprobe and tell them what they wanted ... and what they would do is fax the results, they would fax the financial information."

Keeffe, in the telephone conversation attributed to her, claimed that Clare Bronfman and Pamela A. Nichols, who is a shareholder with the Albany law firm O'Connell & Aronowitz and one of NXIVM's attorneys, were involved with the Canaprobe transactions.

"Pam Nichols and Clare flew to Canada on more than one occasion to try to, you know, vet the information, to get some of the money back, it was never done through an attorney, so they have, you know, again you have a closed circle of financiers," Keeffe told Bouchey, according to the transcript.

Stephen R. Coffey, who is Nichols' law firm colleague and also an attorney for NXIVM, scoffed at the allegations leveled by Keeffe in the emails and 48-page transcript.
"As to the allegations contained in the self-serving submissions of an indicted defendant, we do not intend to comment on something that purports to be an uncertified transcript of a staged conversation," Coffey said.

In the telephone conversation last March, Keeffe claimed Clare Bronfman's initial attempt to hack into her father's email account failed after she sent him an email that had a digital photo of a bear attached and which contained a computer-hacking virus. The photo was meaningful because Clare Bronfman's father called her "Clare-bear" as a nickname, Keeffe said. The digital photo of the bear held a key-logger virus that would have infiltrated Edgar Bronfman's computer if he opened it, Keeffe added. Key-loggers are used to monitor the keystrokes of a computer, enabling someone other than the computer user to access personal account information, including passwords.
"But he never opened the picture," Keeffe said in the telephone call with Bouchey. "So she went down to his office and met with him, and specifically said, 'I want to show you this picture' and went on his email with him and downloaded the virus onto his computer herself."

Keeffe claimed that Raniere was involved in the plan and taught a young woman who was a Mexican immigrant and NXIVM member "to be a hacker."

The young woman "then spent like a year reading all of Edgar Bronfman's emails, including emails with Hillary Clinton and involving world leaders with the World Jewish Congress, then reporting on the contents to Keith and to Clare," Keeffe said. She did not provide any details in the telephone call about what sort of information was allegedly gleaned from Edgar Bronfman's emails.

A spokesman for the World Jewish Congress on Thursday said their organization could not comment because they were not familiar with the allegations. The Times Union could not independently verify the computer-hacking allegations.

Stephen E. Herbits, 73, who was a longtime confidant of Edgar Bronfman and formerly secretary general of the World Jewish Congress, declined to comment. Herbits is one of at least three people who were associated with Edgar Bronfman and whose financial records were sifted by NXIVM officials, according to an email attributed to Keeffe in court records.

A person who was close to Edgar Bronfman, but did not want to be identified for this story, said it's very likely that Clinton and Edgar Bronfman communicated through email. They became friends after meeting in the late 1990s when Bill Clinton was president, the person said, and Hillary Clinton supported Bronfman's successful efforts with the World Jewish Congress to get Swiss banks to pay billions of dollars in restitution to relatives of Holocaust victims.

Bronfman, who was 84 when he died, was a financial supporter of Hillary Clinton's candidacies, including her unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign. Clinton sat next to Bronfman at his 75th birthday celebration at Seagram Company headquarters in New York City in 2004. In 1999, President Bill Clinton awarded Bronfman a U.S. Medal of Freedom.

Keeffe claimed in her telephone call to Bouchey that the alleged hacking of Edgar Bronfman's computer was eventually discovered, although it's unclear when she believes that took place.

"Clare told me that Edgar found out, and they blamed Elan Steinberg, who had been the former executive director of the World Jewish Congress, for doing it," Keeffe said. "Elan Steinberg died in 2012, but people at the World Jewish Congress will attest that this computer was hacked."

The spokesman for the World Jewish Congress said he was not familiar with the allegations and that Bronfman did not have an office there after 2007.

In 2011, Clare Bronfman testified in a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles that Raniere had discussed with his broker whether her father had manipulated the commodities market to undermine trades that Raniere directed when he lost $65 million of Clare and Sara Bronfman's money.

"Actually he told me that (his broker) had suggested to him that there was somebody trading against us who was extremely wealthy in the Jewish community and alluded to the fact that it might be my father," Bronfman testified.

In the emails and telephone conversation attributed to Keeffe, she also accused NXIVM officials of plotting to lure four women, who were former girlfriends or female associates of Raniere's, to Mexico in order to have them arrested on false charges and thrown in prison. The women allegedly targeted included Bouchey, who was Raniere's former girlfriend and a NXIVM board member for nine years; Toni F. Foley, another former girlfriend of Raniere's and a co-defendant of Bouchey's in the computer trespassing case; and Susan Dones, a former NXIVM trainer from Washington who was sued by NXIVM and accused of violating a confidentiality agreement.
Dones, who successfully defended herself against NXIVM's lawsuit, said Keeffe called her several times two months ago and outlined the same allegations that she told to Bouchey regarding the dealings of NXIVM's officials.

"When she contacts me it's always from a private number," Dones said, adding she does not know where Keeffe is living.

According to Keeffe, the alleged plan to lure the women to Mexico in 2012 was discussed by Raniere and Emiliano Salinas, a NXIVM leader and venture capitalist who is the son of a former Mexican president, Carlos Salinas. Emiliano Salinas did not respond to a request for comment made through his company.

NXIVM has a strong presence in Central America, and Clare Bronfman has testified that about one-third of the corporation is in Mexico.

In 2012, the Times Union was provided copies of emails attributed to a Mexican journalist who sent a series of emails to Foley trying to convince her to come to Mexico for an interview regarding a story on NXIVM. The journalist did not respond to a request for comment.

In an email attributed to Keeffe that was sent in February to various NXIVM officials and two of its attorneys — Coffey and Nichols — Keeffe discussed the alleged plot to lure the women — all adversaries of NXIVM — to Mexico.

In the email, which is filed in Albany County Court, Keeffe wrote: "Emiliano went so far as to have a Mexican journalist contact (Foley) et. all. (sic) to invite them to the so called 'anti-cult conference'. Keith intended these women serious, serious, emotional and physical harm. There is no way all these things will stay secret."

Raniere founded NXIVM in 1998, shortly after Consumers' Buyline, his multimillion-dollar discount buying club in Halfmoon, collapsed under allegations it was a pyramid scheme. Raniere admitted no wrongdoing but paid the state about $40,000 in settlement fees after an investigation by the state attorney general's office.
Numerous people who worked for Raniere at Consumers' Buyline went on to work for NXIVM, including Keeffe and Foley.

blyons@timesunion.com  518-454-5547  @brendan_lyonstu

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