Jun 12, 2019

Cult expert testifies about his dealings with NXIVM

Rick Ross became target of NXIVM's "litigation machine" in 2006

Robert Gavin
Albany Times Union
June 12, 2019

NEW YORK — Longtime cult expert and NXIVM foe Rick Ross told jurors Wednesday he quickly identified the secretive self-help organization as a "destructive program" trying to create clones of spiritual leader Keith Raniere.

The 58-year-old Raniere bristled in his maroon sweater as Ross took the stand in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, where the man known as "Vanguard" faces charges of racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor and conspiracy.

Ross, 66, who heads the Cult Education Institute and who was subjected to a 14-year legal battle with NXIVM that ended in 2017, said he first encountered NXIVM in 2002. A couple, Morris and Rochelle Sutton of New Jersey, hired him to extract their adult children from the group using an intervention.

"It became clear to me that this was a personality-driven group defined by its leader — eerily reminiscent to Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard," Ross testified, citing the controversial church closely associated with actor Tom Cruise.

Ross said he met with the couple and their son, Michael, in Boca Raton, Fla., and tried to impress upon Michael Sutton that NXIVM, also known as Executive Success Programs, was engaged in large group awareness or LGAT similar to another self-help organization, Landmark, that had sued him.

"My feeling was Executive Success Programs was a destructive program and it was hurting people and it had the potential to hurt more people," Ross testified. "It became obvious to me how much power the group had over him."

Ross said he told Michael Sutton NXIVM's guidelines were less about a self-help group and more about a "cult of personality" — Raniere.

"I said, 'Is that really what you want in your life?'" Ross recalled telling the man. "I said, 'It sounds like what they're selling is you have to think like, act like and be like Keith Raniere.'"

As he tried to convince the man to withdraw from NXIVM, Ross testified, Michael Sutton was on the phone with NXIVM President Nancy Salzman, who wanted other experts to offer opinions and had for years fought efforts to cast their organization as cult-like.

Ross said two experts — psychologists John Hochman and Paul Martin — later wrote reports highly critical of NXIVM. Michael Sutton did not want to read the reports, Ross said.

The reports later became part of the lawsuit NXIVM foled against Ross, who had published the findings on his website. He also published information from Sutton's sister, Stephanie Franco, who left NXIVM.

In 2015, the Times Union reported that Kristin Keeffe, a former legal liaison for NXIVM, had alleged the corporation conducted secret financial research on federal judges involved in the group's legal battles. The targets included U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh and U.S. Magistrate Mark Falk, both of whom presided over a lawsuit NXIVM filed against Ross in 2006.

Ross prevailed in the years-long litigation, in which NXIVM had accused him of publishing — without authorization — protected materials from its training programs. Ross accused the corporation of hiring a New York investigative and security firm, Interfor, to conduct background checks on Ross, including obtaining details of his banking records and personal relationships.

A nine-page report attributed to Interfor, whose president, Juval Aviv, is a former Israeli intelligence officer, was filed in the case and included Ross's Social Security number, date of birth, medical and psychological history and details from his personal checking account and telephone records.

Salzman, one of Raniere's five co-defendants who all have pleaded guilty in the case, admitted conspiring to alter a videotape of NXIVM instructional sessions that had been ordered turned over as evidence in their lawsuit with Ross.


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