Scars of NXIVM could seal doctor's fate

Major stories of 2020: NXIVM leader Keith Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in prison but case of Danielle Roberts shines light on the dwindling number who remain loyal to leader

Albany Times-Union/December 24, 2020

By Robert Gavin

Albany — Keith Raniere received a sentence of 120 years in federal prison. The NXIVM leader's longtime financial backer, Clare Bronfman, was handed a prison term of nearly seven years.

And in the new year, four other members of the once-tight inner circle of the man known as "Vanguard" — including NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren, actress Allison Mack and bookkeeper Kathy Russell — will be sentenced in a Brooklyn federal courtroom for their own admitted crimes.

The story of the 60-year-old reputed cult leader and his fiercely loyal disciples is winding down. Despite delays brought by the pandemic, 2020 was the year in which many of the women victimized by NXIVM got the chance to see Raniere punished after facing him down in court. Some saw their stories turned into more than a dozen hours of documentary television.

At the same time, others have remained faithful. Among them is osteopath Danielle Roberts, a lesser-known player in NXIVM who was directly involved in one of Raniere's most notorious acts.

On March 5, the state Department of Health’s Board of Professional Medical Conduct brought disciplinary charges against Roberts, accusing the 39-year-old of practicing medicine with gross incompetence and gross negligence, morally unfit conduct, practicing fraudulently or beyond the scope, performing services not authorized by the patient, and failing to maintain records.

The board alleged that on March 9, 2017, Roberts betrayed her medical license when she used a cauterizing pen to brand 13 so-called "slaves" in Dominus Obsequious Sororium (DOS), an group within NXIVM conceived by Raniere. The branding left permanent scars on the women's pelvic areas, in the shape of a symbol that was later revealed to be Raniere's initials. The purported self-help guru arranged it so that women in DOS would be held down naked as they were branded; he directed that they ask to be branded — in order to make it appear they weren't coerced, Raniere told Allison Mack.

The disciplinary board said Roberts also failed to report a flu-like communicable disease outbreak that severely infected attendees at a 2016 event at the YMCA Silver Bay resort on Lake George. The conference, which drew 438 people including 76 children, was at the site where NXIVM for years held "V-Week," an annual week-long celebration of Raniere’s birthday.

Roberts' role in the brandings surfaced at Raniere's 2019 trial, where jurors found him guilty of all charges, including sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering charges that included underlying acts of extortion, identity theft and possession of child pornography. Her actions came up again on Oct. 27, when Raniere was sentenced.

"I was branded with a cauterizing pen. This extremely painful procedure lasted 30 minutes and took months to heal," one former member of DOS told Raniere at the sentencing, which Roberts attended. Raniere blindfolded the woman, an actress from California, tied her to a table and subjected her to sexual abuse by another DOS slave. Another woman used a cell phone to record the scene.

"I may have to live the rest of my life with Keith's initials seared into my flesh," the actress said, "and I'm not sure if I will ever be able to put that fully behind me."

DOS was also known as "The Vow," the name of an HBO documentary series about NXIVM that ran this year will have a second season in 2021. A four-part Starz series, "Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult," centered around the experience of India Oxenberg, a former DOS member who also ripped into Raniere at his sentencing.

Roberts faces the possibility of losing her medical license, or at least having it suspended, and receiving a fine. The medical license of Brandon Porter, another NXIVM member and Raniere loyalist, was revoked last year. Porter conducted human brain activity experiments and other unsanctioned research in Halfmoon on NXIVM-linked individuals.

Efforts to reach Roberts were unsuccessful.

Jill Montag, a spokeswoman for the state Health Department, said public health law prohibited the department from discussing or providing details of an investigation or prosecution, beyond what is published via its website.

The shadow of professional sanction might not the end of Roberts' legal jeopardy. She and Porter, along with Raniere and others, are defendants in a federal civil suit filed by dozens of NXIVM victims. Public records show Roberts lived in the Knox Woods townhouse development in Halfmoon along with nearly two dozen NXIVM acolytes.

Many of them have defected and renounced Raniere and his teachings, but Roberts has remained loyal.

Roberts danced with other supporters last summer outside the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn to show support to Raniere, who remains jailed there.

She even wrote a letter to Senior U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis on behalf of Bronfman, asking the judge to show leniency to "one of the noblest, most honest human beings that I know." It did not move the judge: Bronfman was sentenced to 81 months in prison on her guilty pleas to conspiracy to conceal and harbor illegal aliens for financial gain, and fraudulent use of identification.

Roberts is one of eight admitted DOS members who defended the group on a website called "The Dossier Project." They say the so-called sorority no longer exists. In her testimonial, Roberts said she had been on her own since 17 and put herself through medical school. She said she understands logic and science.

Roberts indicated that her family is not enthralled with her involvement in NXIVM.

"For me to have a conversation with family members and experience that, no matter what I say ... because that seed has been planted that we've been brainwashed, everything I've said has been invalidated," Roberts said in her video testimonial. " ... I think it really damages the way that women are viewed. I think it damages ownership in general for people. You know, I think it gives people an out, essentially, to not take responsibility for their choices and their decisions and it is ultimately extremely, extremely destructive and especially for the women's empowerment movement."

The website described Roberts as a "body enthusiast, athlete and health advocate her entire life. ... She has recently focused her efforts on exposing injustice and stands as an example for women to own their decisions so that they can be a more potent force in the world."

Raniere is appealing his conviction. Nancy Salzman, known as "Prefect," the public face of NXIVM at times outside of Raniere, pleaded guilty to conspiracy. Lauren Salzman, the star witness for prosecutors, pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. Mack, the former star of the television show "Smallville," pleaded guilty to both racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. Russell pleaded guilty to visa fraud.

All are still to be sentenced.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here