In 2015, Raquel Perera, wife of 17-time Latin Grammy winner Alejandro Sanz, debuted a school called the Rainbow Cultural Garden in posh midtown Miami. Speaking to Univision, Perera bragged that by immersing toddlers in as many as seven languages at once, the school would revolutionize teaching. Univision credited a New York guru named Keith Raniere with developing the unusual plan.
Fast-forward nearly three years, and Raniere has now been outed as the leader of an alleged sex cult called NXIVM, which is accused of blackmailing women and branding them with flaming-hot irons. Last month, Raniere was arrested by the FBI on sex-trafficking charges; an Albany home tied to the Rainbow Cultural Garden has been raided by the feds, while British authorities are investigating a Rainbow-affiliated school in London.
Now the State of Florida has ordered the midtown Miami school to shut down immediately after New Times brought the facility to the state’s attention. Florida officials say the school was not currently licensed to operate.
“[The Department of Children and Families] has no tolerance for any activities that put children at risk, including operating an unlicensed child-care facility,” David Frady, a spokesperson for the department, said Thursday. “DCF initiated a child protective investigation and ordered the facility to immediately cease operations this afternoon.”
Neither Perera nor Sanz responded to messages from New Times this week. But through a spokesperson, the school says that it is now owned by a woman named Patricia Pietra and that Perera is no longer affiliated with Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami.
“Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami is a multicultural tutoring center that has nothing to do with any cult,” Pietra said through a spokesperson. “For four years… Rainbow Cultural Garden Miami has run as a tutorial center and has always conformed with all investigative agencies and their respective review of our facility and practices. The Florida Department of Children and Families is conducting an audit, and we are working with them to ensure that all proper licenses are currently in order.”
According to Florida business records, Perera signed her name as the owner of the school’s parent company in a March 2016 LLC filing. Pietra first signed state documents as a managing member in January 2018.
However, as of press time, Perera’s Twitter and Instagram biographies still indicate she is involved with the school. Her Instagram bio contains a link to rainbowculturalgarden.com, one of the central websites for the international chain of schools, which lists the midtown location among its outlets. (Perera posted an Instagram Live story as recently as yesterday afternoon without changing her bio.) Additionally, the Miami chapter shares the same name and logo as all the other Raniere-linked schools around the world.
Perera also told the Spanish newspaper ABC in March 2017 that she “directs” the school. ABC also reported that Perera and Sanz’s young son, Dylan, had learned to speak Russian, Chinese, Arabic, English, and Spanish through the program. (A Rainbow spokesperson did not respond to follow-up questions about when Perera left the school.)
It’s not clear how closely the Rainbow schools are still linked with Raniere. The federal government has not alleged that the Rainbow schools, Perera, Sanz, or Pietra are in any way involved with Raniere’s alleged crimes as a cult leader. But Frank Parlato Jr., a former NXIVM spokesperson-turned-whistleblower credited with first raising concerns about NXIVM, says he believes the schools were a tool to help Raniere and NXIVM members “indoctrinate children” into the cult.
“It’s this huge experimental program that teaches children how to be sociopaths,” says Parlato, who says the schools charge up to $10,000 per month. “It’s a random idea that Raniere cooked up to keep the kids of his cult separated from their parents.”
Raniere, a former multilevel-marketing entrepreneur from Albany, founded NXIVM in the late 1990s as a self-help organization. NXIVM advertises courses to help people reach “self-fulfillment” and better achieve their goals. More than 16,000 people are estimated to have attended NXIVM classes, and Raniere had particular success in luring celebrity clients such as Richard Branson and former Dynasty star Linda Evans, according to the Albany Times Union.
Raniere founded the original Rainbow Cultural Garden in 2006, according to one of his online biographies. He called it “a revolutionary child development program promoting children’s cultural, linguistic, emotional, physical, and problem-solving potential.” Ariella Menashy, a woman who tried to open a Rainbow Garden branch in Vancouver, told the British newspaper the Sun last December that “Keith Raniere is very much involved” in the day-to-day operations of the Rainbow schools.
everyone involved in Rainbow Cultural Garden is involved with NXIVM,
and I think it is just a way for Keith to make more money off the same
people,” Menashy told the Sun.
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 alleged 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.
According to the central Rainbow Cultural Garden’s main U.K. website, the school chain has 11 current locations, in Albany, New York City, Los Angeles, London, Madrid, Guatemala City, Mexico City, three other Mexican cities, and Miami.