He’s charged with fraud, conspiracy, money laundering and obstructing the IRS. But that didn’t stop him from bringing justice to a man he says is the true danger to society: The alleged leader of a sadistic sex cult.
Frank F. Parlato, Jr., a newspaperman and blogger in upstate New York, spent years fighting to expose Keith Raniere, who is accused of branding and enslaving female followers of his organization, NXIVM.
Raniere once employed Parlato as the group’s publicist — giving him access he’d later use to help bring NXIVM down.
That’s only one of many strange twists in a tale that started more than a decade ago and has now led to Raniere, 57, facing federal sex trafficking charges. He will be arraigned in Brooklyn on Friday.
Parlato, meanwhile, was indicted in 2015 by federal prosecutors in Buffalo in a separate case.
He’s charged with defrauding the IRS and two of the alleged cult’s financial supporters, Clare and Sara Bronfman. The sisters, who are daughters of the late Seagram liquor magnate Edgar Bronfman, were among Rainiere’s followers and gave more than $100 million, prosecutors say.
Parlato says he told FBI agents about NXIVM’s crimes in 2015 — before he was indicted, and years before Raniere would be busted.
“The branding and the blackmail had just begun,” he says, referring to his 2015 tip. “None of the branding and blackmail would have happened if the government wasn’t so incompetent.”
Parlato — who owns the Niagara Falls Reporter and Buffalo’s alternative weekly, Artvoice — first revealed the group’s branding ritual in June 2017 on FrankReport.com, a blog dedicated to exposing Raniere and his alleged crimes.
“Before that,” Parlato says, “no one was paying attention. It was the branding that made people understand what was really going on.”
Using sources tied to the group, Parlato posted hundreds of stories exposing secrets about NXIVM's alleged ritual sex, abuse and financial fraud. Parlato continues to update the blog nearly every day, now posting stories about the case against Raniere — and even the case against himself.
Raniere’s former live-in girlfriend, Toni Natalie, praised Parlato for finally letting the world see behind the curtain of NXIVM.
“If it were not for that man we wouldn’t be having this conversation today,” she told Oxygen.
“Frank represents a voice” for her and other survivors, she added. “He speaks our truth.”
Parlato’s journey with the group began in 2007, when Raniere hired him to be NXIVM’s publicist, based on the recommendation of a friend. Raniere publicly portrayed NXIVM as an executive coaching program, and styled himself as its guru.
“I came on the scene and they told me he was a celibate monk,” Parlato recalled. “He would walk into meetings barefoot, in jeans and a t-shirt. He would spout on the meaning of life, and the women would swoon.”
“Everyone seemed chipper about their life,” he added.
He said Raniere befriended him and paid him $75,000 a month, an amount that could not be independently confirmed.
Besides the Bronfman sisters, NXIVM attracted another famous name — “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, who was recruited in 2010. On Thursday, the Albany Times Union confirmed that Mack is the person identified as Raniere’s “co-conspirator” in the criminal complaint against him.
The attorneys respectively representing Ranire, the Bronfman sisters and Mack did not return requests for comment from Oxygen. A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo also did not return messages.
While Mack may have assisted Raniere, Parlato says, Raniere “was everything in NXIVM. Everything had to be approved by Raniere. All of the women deferred to him.”
Parlato said he had a “slow awakening” to the truth about Raniere, eventually discovering that his charismatic boss “spent most of his days” having sex with his followers.
But he had a hard time accepting that Raniere could be up to anything sinister.
That changed in 2008, when Parlato learned that Raniere blew through more than $100 million of the Bronfman sisters’ money. After that, he says, the Bronfman sisters “came to me looking for $5 million. They wanted to know what happened to it.”
Parlato says he found about one-fourth of the missing cash in Los Angeles with a business partner of Raniere, who invested it in real estate holdings under his and Raniere’s name.
But soon afterward, in February 2008, Raniere fired Parlato, he says.
Though the sisters had agreed to pay him $1 million for his efforts on their behalf, Parlato says, “Raniere’s people asked for the money back.”
“I told them I earned it. I told them to sue me for a fair resolution,” he said.
While he was being sued in civil court by the Bronfman sisters. Parlato was holding the Bronfman sisters’ money in an escrow account in case they won. Because of that, he says, he didn’t pay taxes on it.
Federal prosecutors in Buffalo didn’t see it that way.
In November 2015, they dropped a 19-count indictment charging Parlato with defrauding both the Bronfman sisters and the IRS. “The scheme,” the office said, “involved more than 15 shell companies, 50 bank accounts, and multiple attorney trust accounts.”
Parlato insists he’s innocent and that Raniere and his followers “wanted to punish me.”
He says Raniere uses the Bronfman sisters to “go after all their enemies.”
Raniere’s ex-girlfriend Natalie, who was sued repeatedly by Raniere after she left him, also said the group uses “the legal system as a stalking device. They use the legal system to punish people. They litigate you into submission.”
What happened to Parlato, Natalie says, is “what happens with people who don’t follow Keith’s orders.”
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn seem to agree. In the criminal complaint against Raniere, they allege that Clare Bronfman repeatedly attempted to have criminal charges filed against a former “slave” who spoke out publicly against the group.
Parlato lives in Buffalo but is now spending in time in Florida, where he goes to escape Buffalo's brutal winters. He’s due back in court in Buffalo June 7.
In the meantime, he says, he’s going to enjoy watching TV coverage of Raniere’s Friday arraignment from a chair in sunny Florida, cool beverage in hand.
[PHOTO: Allison Mack, GETTY; Frank F. Parlato, Jr., Courtesy of Frank F. Parlato, Jr.]