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'I Felt Like I Was In Hell,' Actress Says As She Details Effort To Save Daughter From Alleged NXIVM Sex Cult
"I would receive death threats over the phone, emails -- and for a long time we were out on our own against this group,” Catherine Oxenberg says.
Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg says she was threatened with death and jail as she sought to rescue her daughter from a cult-like group that allegedly branded women and made them sex-slaves.
“I would receive death threats over the phone, emails -- and for a long time we were out on our own against this group,” Oxenberg told the Sun, a British tabloid. "I felt like I was in hell."
“I was warned not to go to Mexico because I would get killed,” she said, referencing the fact that the group, NXIVM, had a strong presence there. It's also where its leader, Keith Raniere, was captured in March.
Frank Parlato, NXIVM’s former publicist who teamed up with Oxenberg to expose the group and rescue her daughter, corroborated the threats Oxenberg received and said he was threatened with death too.
A source within the group, Parlato told Oxygen.com, “told me they were going to come from Canada across the border and arrange for an assassination. They were going to kill me and Catherine.”
The two were concerned by the threat, Parlato said, but nonetheless continued their work. “Catherine was fighting this mission to get her daughter out, and sometimes in those situations you forget about your personal safety for the cause you’re working on.”
NXIVM held itself out to the world as a self-help group and offered "Executive Success Programs," or ESP. But, according to federal prosecutors in New York, NXIVM was used to recruit sex-slaves for Raniere and his alleged lieutenant, actress Allison Mack.
Together, Raniere and Mack face a three-count federal indictment charging them with sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and forced labor, as previously reported by Oxygen.com. They face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a possible life sentence.
Raniere, known to his followers as “The Vanguard,” and Mack are alleged to have used “fraud, force and coercion” to lead a secret group within NXIVM called “DOS” — short for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, Latin for “lord over the obedient female companions.”
Within DOS, there were “masters” and “slaves” — and slaves were required to perform "acts of care" for their masters and to pay "tribute" to their masters, according to the criminal complaint against Raniere.
But Raniere’s lawyers say women in the group were not slaves. Instead, they said in court filings seeking Raniere’s release that the women were “independent, smart, curious adults” searching “for happiness, fulfillment and meaning." The Department of Justice, they argued, “has made itself the morality police.”
Catherine introduced her daughter, India, to the group in 2011 when they took ESP classes together in California, believing it was a business skills course, Oxenberg told the Sun.
Oxenberg ceased her involvement with NXIVM in 2013, she told NBC Dateline in August. But India, she said, moved to the group’s headquarters in a semi-rural suburb of Albany, New York. There, Oxenberg said, her daughter fell under Raniere’s spell, joined DOS and was branded.
India referred to the brand as "some Latin symbol," Oxenberg said, but in truth the brand may have been a conglomeration of Raniere and Mack's initials, prosecutors say.
At first, Oxenberg said, she didn’t know what was really going on, until a young woman who defected from the group reached out to her and said “You have to save her.” That’s when, she said, she found out about the branding, "and at that point I lost my mind.”
So she teamed up with Parlato to expose the group and recover her daughter. That effort led Parlato to reveal the group’s branding ritual on his website, as previously detailed by Oxygen.com, which eventually led to the indictment this spring against Raniere, Mack and other NXIVM members.
Parlato said he and Oxenberg composed a dossier detailing Raniere’s crimes at his home in Niagara Falls. Then she drove to Albany and handed it over to Eric Schneiderman, New York’s attorney general.
This was before the New York Times published an expose of the group, based on Parlato’s revelations.
Before that, he said, Parlato and Oxenberg felt isolated and alone. “It was four lonely months,” he said.
As NXIVM collapsed under the weight of the revelations and criminal charges against its leaders, Oxenberg’s daughter, India, left the group and returned to California to put the pieces of her life back together and to be near her mother, Oxenberg told the Sun.
“India is in a really good place,” she said. “She's moving forward with her life.”
[Photo: Catherine Oxenberg. Credit: Getty Images; India Oxenberg seen in New York City in the spring of 2018. Credit: JB Nicholas]