In 2015, Spanish-language pop icon Alejandro Sanz spoke to Mexican television stations and newspapers to promote his wife's new venture: a midtown Miami school called the Rainbow Cultural Garden that purported to train toddlers to speak as many as seven languages at once.
In response, sisters Loreta and Jimena Garza posted fawning praise of Sanz's interview on their Facebook pages. "Here we go RCG!!!!!!" Loreta Garza wrote July 7, 2015. "Thank You Keith Raniere for such an amazing opportunity."
Since then, Raniere has been outed as the leader of the alleged NXIVM sex cult, accused of using flaming-hot irons to brand women, and arrested by the FBI in Mexico on sex-trafficking charges. According to the Mexico City newspaper La Silla Rota, federal agents found Raniere hiding on a compound trying to live "off the grid" — alongside Loreta, Jimena, and another sister, Carola Garza.
The online comments by the sisters, who were close confidants of
Last week, the school's current owner, Patricia Pietra, claimed Miami's Rainbow Cultural Garden "has nothing to do with Keith Raniere" and "is a multicultural tutoring center that has nothing to do with any cult." But now — amid the growing evidence of links between the school and Raniere — Pietra acknowledges Raniere
"The original concept of multiple language immersion came from Keith Raniere," she says in a statement, which is included in full at the end of this story, "but the center is an independent company that in four years has developed its own educational methodology that helps promote different cultures and the arts. Mr. Raniere’s arrest has no connection or affects our Center whatsoever. Mr. Raniere has never been to the Miami center, is not connected with the center or any staff member, and has never had contact with the children who attend the center."
Spokespeople for Sanz did not respond to multiple messages from New Times last week.
The interviews in Mexico in 2015 show again the key role Sanz and his wife, Raquel Perera, played in bringing Raniere's school to South Florida. In an interview with journalist Adela Micha, Sanz heaped praise on the "Rainbow system" created by Raniere. Sanz credited the Rainbow system for teaching his son Dylan to speak five languages.
"How do they speak five languages?" Micha asked Sanz.
"It is a system they have here," Sanz responded. "Here and in Mexico. It is the Rainbow system."
Around the same time, Monterrey, Mexico's El Norte newspaper also profiled Sanz's connection with Rainbow, noting Perera had opened a branch of the Rainbow schools in Miami. (The school says Perera is no longer affiliated, although she still listed the Rainbow Cultural Garden in her social media bios until Friday; state records show she was listed as the school's owner in 2016, but Pietra is listed as managing partner on more recent documents.)
On Facebook, some of Raniere's closest associates fawned over Sanz's appearances to boost the school. Jimena Garza posted a screenshot of the article and thanked a long list of NXIVM members, including
The feds now say Raniere and his confidant, former Smallville star Allison Mack, were running a sex-trafficking cult.
According to their federal indictments, Raniere, who founded NXIVM in the late '90s as a run-of-the-mill self-help organization, is accused of turning the group into a cross between a cult and a pyramid scheme. The feds say Raniere, also known as "Vanguard," created an extra-secret, all-female group within NXIVM called "DOS," of which he was "master." Women pledged sexual and bodily slavery to him and had their own "slaves." Raniere is accused of preying on troubled women, forcing them to work, making them eat slimming diets to appear skinny, and branding his initials, "KR," on their bodies. The federal government also claims Mack worked to lure women into the cult on Raniere's behalf.
Federal prosecutors in New York also allege that Raniere has had sex with underage girls, including one child as young as 12 years old. The feds also allege that Raniere has complained that age-of-consent laws are too rigid. However, prosecutors have not alleged that there is any connection between Raniere's alleged crimes and the Rainbow school network.
Raniere has said in his online biographies that he founded the Rainbow Cultural Garden schools in 2006. And there are myriad other ties between NXIVM and the Rainbow school chain: NXIVM is reportedly financially backed by Sara and Clare Bronfman, the heiresses to the Seagram's liquor fortune. On her personal website, Sara Bronfman lists herself as working alongside Raniere and as "CEO of Rainbow Cultural Garden LTD." The London Cultural Garden webpage previously listed Bronfman as its CEO, but that page has since been deleted. It's unclear whether Bronfman ran the entire chain of schools or just the London outpost.
The Miami school, meanwhile, shared the same website and logo as other Raniere-linked Rainbow schools around the world.
Critics have said the system Raniere created isn't based on science. Some former NXIVM members told both New Times and the U.K.'s Sun that they worry the language-learning technique, in which various caretakers switch among seven languages rapidly, can actually confuse children and prevent them from learning a single language fluently.
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"It's a random idea that Raniere cooked up to keep the kids of his cult separated from their parents," Frank Parlato Jr., a former NXIVM spokesperson-turned-whistleblower, told New Times last week. He says that the schools charge up to $10,000 per month and that the cost is designed to "fleece" money from wealthy NXIVM members.
After the state closed Miami's branch of the Rainbow Cultural Garden last week, Perera scrubbed links to the school's website from her Twitter and Instagram bios.
Here is the full statement from Patricia Pietra:
Destino R, LLC d/b/a Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami is a multicultural center with a language program
that helps children learn up to 7 different languages and cultures. The children interact with native speakers through play, arts and crafts, and educational adventures. It is a very successful program, as the best time to learn multiple languages is at a very young age. In addition to the language program, Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami offers other activities such as yoga, mommy-and-me, and music learning for children.
Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami is 100 percent independent and has been since its creation. The center
is owned by Destino R, LLC and was initially created under the multiple language program concept from Rainbow Cultural Garden, and is based on other universally known neuroscientific concepts such as windows of opportunities, phonetic development, and phonetic learning. The Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami has a proven success rate with children learning multiple languages.
Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami has no connection to Keith Raniere or NXIVM in any way. The original
concept of multiple language immersion came from Keith Raniere, but the center is an independent company that in four years has developed its own educational methodology that helps promote different cultures and the arts. Mr. Raniere’s arrest has no connection or affects our Center whatsoever. Mr. Raniere has never been to the Miami center, is not connected with the center or any staff member, and has never had contact with the children who attend the center. The Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami tutorial center and has always complied with all local governmental permitting requirements and their respective inspections and reviews of our facility. The Florida Department of Children and Families is conducting a licensing audit, and we are working with them to ensure that all proper licenses are in order.