The story of alleged cult NXIVM has all the makings of a binge-worthy docuseries. A secretive leader who allegedly had women branded with his initials, wealthy heiresses who helped finance the organization, and a Hollywood actress accused of luring fresh recruits.
But before all that was public, back in 2007, NXIVM, correctly predicting in advance the firestorm of press that lay ahead, hired Frank Parlato to help with its public relations.
They hoped he might go after detractors of the group accusing it of being a cult. He ended up exposing the story that made the alleged cult famous: that it had a secret sorority that was branding female "slaves" with leader Keith Raniere's initials.
"I turned in an instant and said this is more than a cult. This is a deadly cult. This is more than a kooky group. This is a crazy group, a criminally insane group, and it's not just Raniere," Parlato said.
Raniere and actress Allison Mack have since been arrested and face sex trafficking and forced labor charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.
NXIVM denies it's a cult and says it's working with the authorities to demonstrate Raniere's innocence. Their lawyers wouldn't comment for this piece.
This segment originally aired May 16, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.