"His crimes, and the crimes of his co-conspirators, ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives. The evidence proved that Raniere was truly a modern day Svengali."
WARNING: Graphic content could upset some readers.
Nxivm founder and leader Keith Raniere – who branded women with his initials, kept them on starvation diets, and treated them as his “sex slaves” – faces life imprisonment after being found guilty of all seven charges, including sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy.
Raniere, 58, who was convicted by a jury after a six-week trial in Brooklyn, New York, maintained that Nxivm (pronounced nexium) was a self-improvement organisation, but investigators said it was a sex-trafficking operation disguised as a mentoring group.
As the guilty verdicts were read, Raniere, who was called “Vanguard” by his brainwashed followers, appeared stoic, whispering to his lawyer while several Nxivm defectors cried and trembled, New York Daily News reported.
“This trial has revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con man and the crime boss of a cult-like organisation,” said Richard P. Donoghue, US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, after the verdict was made.
“His crimes, and the crimes of his co-conspirators, ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives.
“The evidence proved that Raniere was truly a modern-day Svengali.”
His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, told reporters outside the courthouse that the verdict will be appealed. He said he believed a fair sentence would be less than life, Reuters reported.
Nxivm, based near Albany, New York, was founded in 1998 by Keith Raniere and Nancy Salzman, claiming to be a personal development company offering “Executive Success Programs (ESP)” and a range of techniques aimed at self-improvement. Raniere claimed that the programs’ “main emphasis is to have people experience more joy in their lives”.
By 2003, 3,700 people had taken part in ESP classes, reportedly including businesswoman Sheila Johnson; former Surgeon General Antonia Novello; Enron executive Stephen Cooper; and Ana Cristina Fox, daughter of former Mexican president Vicente Fox. Other participants were later reported to include actresses Linda Evans, Grace Park and Nicki Clyne. In the early 2000s, Seagram heiresses Clare and Sara Bronfman, the daughters of Edgar Bronfman Sr., became involved in Nxivm and reportedly gave US$150 million to the organisation.
Keith Raniere was arrested by the FBI in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on March 26 last year after the New York Times published (Paywall) interviews with ex-members of Nxivm, with various women claiming they’d been branded, starved, held as “slaves” and blackmailed into providing naked pictures to prevent them from leaving or speaking out in October 2017.
Then on November 9, 2017, former NXIVM publicist Frank Parlato told The Sun that Emmy Award-winning Smallville actress Allison Mack may have recruited up to 25 women to serve as sex slaves for a secret sect named “DOS (Dominant Over Submissive” and on December 15, 2017, the ABC aired an exposé featuring interviews with many former Nxivm adherents, including Canadian actress Sarah Edmondson and Catherine Oxenberg, who alleged that her daughter, India Oxenberg, was in danger due to the group. Several former members reported financial and sexual predation carried out by Nxivm leaders.
NEW: NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's attorney says he was "surprised" the former sex cult leader was convicted on all counts: "Keith maintains his innocence, he does plan on appealing." https://t.co/QqsGiG8hk1 pic.twitter.com/g2dhHH2565
— ABC News (@ABC) 19 June 2019
Prosecutors said Raniere started DOS, a secret sub-group of Nxivm, to provide him with an endless supply of sexual partners. He kept nine “first-line slaves,” women who brainwashed by Raniere and Nxivm, prosecutors said. Raniere made sure to collect nude photos and other embarrassing information from victims to use as blackmail in case they wanted to leave.
Emmy-winning actress Allison Mack was a slave of Keith Raniere and recruited women for his sexual pleasure. Photo: Wikipedia
He was accused that for 15 years he used “tactics that destroyed their victims’ sense of self,” including turning “victims into victimisers.” Nxvim deputies including Mack, a Raniere slave herself, and Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram’s alcohol fortune, were also charged and previously pleaded guilty.
Jurors heard evidence that Bronfman bankrolled Raniere’s businesses and care-free lifestyle while Mack recruited her own slaves and ordered them to have sex with Raniere.
He’s a “con man, predator and crime boss with no limits” who “tapped into a never-ending flow of women and money”, prosecutor Moira Penza told Brooklyn Federal Court.
Witnesses included Daniela, 33, a former Nxivm devotee who was confined to one room from 2010 to 2012. According to prosecutors, she became Raniere’s sex slave, forced to “sexually perform on the defendant’s demand,” and ultimately spy on his enemies, including her older sister, who was in Raniere’s harem. Her older sister was also in a relationship with Raniere.
At age 15 their younger sister was groomed to start sleeping with Raniere, and he was arrested with explicit photos he took at that time, when he also took her virginity. One woman who testified said she was tied to a table, blindfolded, and subjected to unwanted oral sex by another “slave,” as Raniere observed and videotaped.
In his defence, his lawyer Marc Agnifilo told the court that no women were ever forced to do anything against their will.
“You may find him repulsive, disgusting and offensive. We don’t convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive,” Agnifilo said, BBC News reported.
“Unpopular ideas aren’t criminal. Disgusting ideas aren’t criminal.”
Raniere will be sentenced on September 25.