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A now-infamous cult brought one couple together but when they became aware of its inner secret society based on sexual slavery, their relationship was put to the test.
Mark Vicente and Bonnie Piesse were both members of NXIVM, a multi-level marketing company ostensibly offering self-help techniques, until Piesse realized there was a sinister inner sex cult at the heart of the group. The organization’s leader Keith Raniere, who was portrayed as a God-like genius, was coercing a subset of his followers into becoming sex slaves. Those indoctrinated into the group’s secret society were branded with Raniere's initials and forced to give up collateral – often in the form of lewd pictures or humiliating letters addressed to their families – to ensure their silence as they served their depraved master. Over the past few years, the group and its disturbing secrets have been thrust into the public spotlight in the form of a criminal trial, which ultimately saw Raniere convicted last year of racketeering, sex trafficking, and other charges.
As HBO’s new nine-part series “The Vow” reveals, there were several whistleblowers within the group who brought the dark details of its secret society into the light. Vicente and Piesse were a part of that whistleblower group.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Mark Vicente, a South African-born filmmaker, was approached by NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman after she noticed his work on the 2004 film “What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?" He was skeptical of the self-help aesthetic at first, but soon got sucked into the group's promises of self-fulfillment and success. Soon, he was paying for self-help courses and rising through the organization's ranks. Not only did he become a high-ranking member, but he filmed nearly everything. His footage is a big part of “The Vow.”
Vicente met Australian singer and “Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones” actress Bonnie Piesse around 2007. A few years later, he asked her out for tea and they began dating. When she told him in 2010 that she was giving up on her singing career, Vicente told her to hold off on quitting and introduced her to NXIVM. Piesse took a five-day course with the group and fell in love with its methodology. Vicente and Piesse soon moved to upstate New York, where they both became entwined with some of the group’s highest ranking members, including Allison Mack, an actress who starred in the CW series “Smallville.” Mack pleaded guilty earlier last year to racketeering charges and admitted she manipulated women into becoming sex slaves for Raniere. She still awaits sentencing and faces decades behind bars.
When the couple got married, Raniere actually wrote their vows, though as Vicente points out in the docuseries, he feels as though they lost some of their newlywed bliss by being a part of the group. The fractures in their marriage would only deepen. Soon after they were wed, Piesse’s intuition told her that something sinister was going on. She noticed that her peers seemed abnormally obsessed with their weight and she felt overworked. She also felt like many of the women around Raniere were beginning to look "zombie-like," according to the docuseries. When she told Raniere that she feared his organization was built on guilt and coercion he told her she was being weak. Even Vicente, who adored Raniere, told her she may be imagining things.
“The Vow” shows how the controversy put stress on their marriage. She left the organization in early 2017, and for a while, she and Vicente were living separate lives. However, Vicente soon realized his wife was onto something. While still apart of the group, he approached Raniere about his wife's concerns and her ostracization, as well as rumors he'd heard that there was a secret society within the group. He found Raniere evasive and his faith in the group and its leader was soon shattered. The couple, along with other former members, then blew the whistle on NXIVM's illegal activity with a 2017 New York Times exposé.
Where are they now?
Vicente testified against Raniere during the cult leaders's racketeering and sex trafficking trial last year, the Albany Times Union reported at the time.
“It's a fraud. It's a lie," Vicente testified in a Brooklyn court, as he choked back years. "It's this well-intended veneer that covers horrible, incredible evil."
He is continuing to make films, according to his website. His most recent project is entitled “Coercion: The Invisible Weapon.” He's also working on a memoir called “MENTOR: My journey with a Spiritual Psychopath.”
Vicente and Piesse are still married and together. They are currently in Portugal, according to their Instagram pages.
“The last few years have been a s--- show to say the least… betrayal, heartbreak, horror, upheaval of everything I’ve known… but tonight I found myself standing in the rain in Portugal, with so many beautiful new friends and souls in my life, knowing who I am more than ever before, and feeling like goodness really does prevail,” Vicente posted over the weekend, along with a photo of Piesse.
Piesse has started a company called Soul+Sky, which provides tarot services. She calls herself a second-generation tarot reader who's “had a number of openings and awakenings that have profoundly changed my life and deepened my intuitive connection.”
She released a folk EP, entitled “Found,” last year. She is still acting and had a role in a short film called "Remembering Love Eterne" last year. She made an appearance on the television series "The Grindhouse Radio" last year, according to her IMDB.
Vicente and Piesse haven't immediately responded to Oxygen.com's requests for an interview.
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