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Frank Parlato: crusading investigative reporter or fraudster?

Frank Parlato: crusading investigative reporter or fraudster?

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NIAGARA PARLATO  LEWIS

Developer Frank Parlato, shown here at a 2010 court appearance, no longer faces charges that he stole $1 million from heirs to the Seagrams liquor fortune, though he still faces charges of wire fraud and that he cheated the IRS. (News file photo)

It would be easy for people to think there are two Frank Parlatos.

The first is the crusading investigative reporter, the man who helped uncover the truth about the so-called sex cult Nxivm and one of the subjects of a new network documentary Sunday night.

The second is the Niagara Falls businessman accused of fraud and cheating the IRS and set to stand trial in May.

Despite the seemingly contrasting profiles, the two Frank Parlatos are the same man.

"They credit me with being the whistleblower who took on the cult," Parlato said of the cable network that produced the documentary on Nxivm. "They recognize I was the individual who broke the major stories on this previously under-the-radar group."

To hear Parlato talk, it was the federal charges against him that first prompted him to investigate the Albany-based group. At the time, he was accused of stealing $1 million from Sara and Clare Bronfman, heirs to the Seagrams liquor fortune.

Those charges were dropped after Parlato, a weekly newspaper publisher, looked into the Bronfmans' ties to Nxivm founder Keith Raniere and the allegations that Raniere operated a secret society that forced women to have sex with him.

Earlier this year, a New York City jury found Raniere guilty of sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy to force labor.

For her role in the organization, Clare Bronfman pleaded guilty to two criminal charges, forfeited $6 million and will face up to two years in prison when she is sentenced next year. In the initial indictment against Parlato, the Bronfmans were portrayed as victims.

"I was falsely accused, and it was prompted by Clare Bronfman and Keith Raniere," Parlato said last week. "One is in jail and the other is headed there."

Like the old indictment, the new one still charges Parlato with wire fraud and alleges that he orchestrated a scheme that involved shell companies and bank accounts.

Prosecutors also say Parlato cheated the Internal Revenue Service and are demanding he forfeit $4 million.

The charges against Parlato are the result of a five-year FBI investigation into his business dealings in Niagara Falls and his ownership of One Niagara, the downtown office and retail center that many still remember as the Occidental Chemical building.

Parlato has denied the allegations that he committed fraud or cheated the IRS.

Scheduled to run at 9 p.m. Sunday, the documentary on Raniere and Nxivm is the work of Investigation Discovery, the true crimes network tied to the Discovery channel.

"What began as a purported self-help group spiraled into a dark, secretive world of illicit sex, money laundering and exploitation, all at the hands of founder Keith Raniere and his accomplices," the network says in a promotion for the documentary.

The promotion refers to Parlato as a former NXIVM publicist turned investigative journalist who will lead "viewers through a two-hour investigation that questions if there is more to this sadistic story."

There is no mention in the documentary of Parlato's criminal prosecution.

Investigation Discovery is not the first media outlet to credit Parlato for his role in exposing Nxivm. In covering the allegations, which include allegations that women were branded with a cauterizing device, the New York Times, New York Post and others have also credited Parlato.

"I went after my accusers because I knew they were lying," he said of the Bronfmans and Raniere last week. "The remaining charges are equally false."

He said Investigation Discovery wants him to do another documentary and he indicated his ongoing criminal case might make for good fodder.

Federal prosecutors in Buffalo declined to comment on the documentary or Parlato's allegations that he is falsely accused by the government.

The Buffalo News: Good Morning, Buffalo

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