Secret Agent Schmuck

The spooky truth behind the media's favorite 'spy'

In April 2005, according to the lawsuit, Ross returned for a second meeting. In a discussion about how such an intervention would work, Ross advised the people assembled that because NXIVM leaders had a habit of constantly interrupting the deprogramming with phone calls and e-mails, it was best to have it take place somewhere isolated. Someone at the meeting suggested a cruise ship in the Caribbean. Ross would later recall that the more the cruise-ship notion was floated, the more excited Aviv and Moody became. They even paid him a $2,500 retainer. But then Ross warned Moody that, as an ethical principle, he would never be alone in the room with the daughter; someone she trusted—her mother, or family friend Aviv—would always have to be present. Ross claims that Moody appeared crestfallen at the news. A few weeks later, an Interfor representative telephoned Ross and called the whole thing off.

Meanwhile, NXIVM's consultant, Joseph O'Hara, was growing more and more disturbed at what Aviv and Raniere were planning for Ross. O'Hara ultimately stopped working for NXIVM, and now the company is suing him as well. According to records found in this lawsuit, Interfor faxed O'Hara a "confidential document" on November 23, 2004. The report was, in fact, a dossier that Aviv and Interfor had prepared on Rick Ross, detailing every piece of dirt they could find on him. "Ross' past criminal record, psychiatric history, and financial bankruptcy leaves him extremely vulnerable if all the source information so far indicated checks out," the report read.

Interfor tallied every damaging item its investigators could find: Ross saw a shrink as a teenager and was once diagnosed as "hyperkinetic child"; he was arrested for vandalism when he was 10; after a deprogramming incident went bad, he was sued for kidnapping and declared bankruptcy. (Ross had tried to help a woman get her son out of a church that Ross considered a Bible-based cult, but the son, who was over 18, claimed that he'd been held against his will. Oddly, it was the Church of Scientology—which had no relation to the son's church—that encouraged him to file the suit against Ross and paid all of his legal costs. That famous case had bizarre repercussions: Eventually, the Church of Scientology won control of the Cult Awareness Network, its longtime enemy, through this case.) But the Ross dossier went much deeper than that. Interfor had also accessed Ross's personal checking account, recorded his financial assets, and even listed all the checks he had written in October 2004—right down to the check number and the amount. In addition, Interfor had obtained Ross's telephone records and listed phone calls that he had made from 2002 to 2004. "Some of the material in the report appeared to me to be illegally obtained," O'Hara said in a later interview. (Interfor representative Stephen Braswell refused to discuss this report or anything related to Rick Ross and NXIVM.)

Juval Aviv on Fox, Your Turn 12-4-06
photo: Staci Schwartz
Juval Aviv on Fox, Your Turn 12-4-06

The very next day, an alarmed O'Hara penned a note and hand-delivered it to Keith Raniere. "At least some of the information that is contained therein could not have been obtained legally," O'Hara wrote, according to court records. "I was not aware that this review would involve any illegal and potentially criminal activities. . . . It is imperative that you . . . immediately direct Interfor to cease and desist any such activities. . . . This specifically includes, but is not limited to, the 'Sting Operation' that Keith has proposed having Interfor undertake with respect to Mr. Ross." In January 2005, O'Hara quit his job with NXIVM and took boxes of documents with him. A few months later, he gave Interfor's report on Ross to Chet Hardin, a reporter for the Albany alternative newsweekly Metroland. Mere months after his bizarre encounter with Aviv, Ross got a phone call from Hardin, who told him that Interfor had compiled a secret profile of him, complete with his private financial information and phone records. "I thought Chet was nuts," Ross says. "Hardin said to me, 'Well, would you just go pull a statement? Just pull your statement. . . . I went through it with him, and [he] had all kinds of information that was detailed down to the penny—deposits, check numbers, everything.' "

When Ross later called O'Hara, he realized that Interfor had been working for NXIVM all along. Suddenly, it all started to make sense. There was never any Susan Zuckerman, never any daughter she wanted freed from NXIVM's clutches. Aviv, Ross would later claim in a $1 million lawsuit, was just setting him up for something. Those hour-long recorded conversations with Interfor's lawyer were just fishing expeditions to find out what Ross had on the company. The whole time that Aviv was pretending to be a kindly old man looking out for his friend's daughter, he was allegedly snooping through Ross's private life, looking for anything that could hurt him.

But what was that cruise all about? Why were they so excited to get him alone in the middle of the Caribbean? According to O'Hara, a young, female NXIVM leader named Kristin Keeffe was supposed to play the role of the daughter. When O'Hara asked what Keeffe planned to do with Ross out on that big boat, she allegedly replied, "We're going to convert him." In the end, no one will probably ever know how Raniere's alleged "sting operation" would end.

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