After being brutalized by kidnappers during a harrowing months-long orderal, a Mexican man turned to self-help groups to deal with the traumatic aftermath but ended up in an alleged cult instead.
Toni Zarattini, whose full name is Antonio Zarattini Aceves, ended up in NXIVM — a self-help group which has been described as a cult — just two years after he was kidnapped in 2001 for 105 days.
Zarattini said he “was kidnapped, transported in a trunk for hours, brutally mutilated (two ears and one finger) all three parts of me sent to my family, beaten, terrorized and finally released after 105 days,” he wrote on his Facebook page. As noted in "The Vow," an HBO docuseries about NXIVM, the kidnappers cut off his body parts in an attempt to get ransom money from his family.
"They took a part of me," he said in a clip from a movie made by former NXIVM member and filmmaker Marc Vicente, included in "The Vow."
Vicente explained in "The Vow" that Zarattini ran away from his kidnappers twice — and the second time he successfully escaped. Zarattini said he then worked with the Mexican police to help put all his kidnappers in prison.
One of his kidnappers, Abel Díaz Lucas, was arrested in 2007, according to a 2007 story from the Mexican outlet Sun. Lucas was allegedly the leader of the kidnapping gang called "la Marrana," according to an article from Mexican outlet Mural from the same year. Several alleged members of the group were arrested prior to Lucas' 2007 arrest. The group was known for disfiguring their victims to apply pressure on their family to fork over ransom money.
“I was able to face most of them as well as the mastermind gang ‘boss’ and corroborate he was the one,” Zarattini wrote on Facebook. “Once face to face I punched him in the face to find he was only a normal person as he fell to the floor, now beaten by me, I was surprised and devastated to feel worse than before, I felt so bad. I was not proud. I was still angry. I was ashamed of my reaction.”
But before even meeting his attackers, he did all he could to deal with his anger over the ordeal. Zarattini talked to priests and a psychiatrist, took medication, read self-help books, and went to motivational seminars.
This path led to him joining NXIVM, an organization which claimed to be a self-help group in 2003. NXIVM was thrust into the mainstream spotlight in 2017 after several former members blew the whistle on an inner sex trafficking ring within the group in a shocking New York Times expose. Its leader, Keith Raniere, along with many other high-ranking members, have since been convicted for fraudulent business dealings and on sex trafficking charges.
But Zarattini didn't know that at the time and became a coach in the group. Soon enough, he realized that it was not all he had hoped it would be.
“Fourteen years later I find out there were horrible things going on like secret groups, the leader having sexual relationships with his female students in his inner circle, there were women being branded with his initials on their pubic region,” Zarattini posted on Facebook last year. “I could not disagree more with this abuse.”
The secret society within NXIVM was a group called DOS (an acronym for a Latin phrase which means “Master Over Slave Women") where women were branded after being forced to fork over collateral in order to serve Raniere and other high-ranking "slaves-turned-masters."
Vicente said in "The Vow" that Zarattini became distraught after learning that one of his "dear friends" was involved in DOS. Zarattini claimed on his Facebook as a result of discovering the creepy secrets at the heart of NXIVM, he became the “mexican [sic] whistleblower for these things.”
He quit in 2017 when he learned about DOS, the New York Times reported that same year, and "The Vow" shows him working with other former members at that time to help bring Ranire to justice.
Zarattini told the New York Times that when he asked other members in Mexico about DOS practices he was told to stop.
“There is no problem here, all is good, don’t ask more questions and don’t say a word to anyone else,” he claimed he was told.
He was sued by the group after he left. They claimed he tried to extort him by asking for money in exchange for not spilling NXIVM secrets, according to the New York Times. It was a claim that Zarattini denied.
“As expected from any modern cult organization (Modus Operandi) they came after me with a false criminal charge in Mexico which I was forced to defend and obviously won,” he posted.
A Mexican judge dismissed the lawsuit that same year, in 2017, citing inadequate evidence, according to the New York Times.
Zarattini now appears to be working as a “life mentor” and personal coach, according to his Facebook page.
“I help high profile entrepreneurs and professionals in business overcome and resolve ANGER/GRUDGES over hardship past events so they can get over the negative emotions for good even if they have tried others [sic] things in the past and have not been able to,” he states on that page.
He’s also a singer. He performed in California just last year. His family owns a ranch near Silao, Mexico. As of 2016, Zarattini was president of the Berry Pavilion, Mexico's largest agricultural and horticultural trade show, Horti Daily reported in 2016.
Zarattini has not immediately responded to Oxygen.com’s request for an interview.
Get all your true crime news from Oxygen. Coverage of the latest true crime stories and famous cases explained, as well as the best TV shows, movies and podcasts in the genre. And don't miss our own podcast, Martinis & Murder!