Nxivm sex cult leader found guilty
Keith Raniere, 58, founder of the purported self-help company Nxivm, was found guilty of racketeering, sex trafficking and other crimes.
During six weeks of testimony, group members told the jury they were pressured to have sex with him, and were ceremonially branded near their bikini lines — only to realize later that their skin was marked with Raniere's initials. Witnesses maintain they were blackmailed into silence after being asked to turn damaging personal information over to their “masters.”
"The defendant tapped into a never-ending flow of women and money," prosecutor Moira Penza told jurors in closing arguments on Monday. "(He was) a crime boss with no limits and no checks on his power."
Raniere had pleaded not guilty to charges including racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking. He did not testify in the case and his defense attorney did not call any witnesses, but his attorney has argued that his relationships with Nxivm followers were consensual.
“You may find him repulsive, disgusting and offensive. We don’t convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive,” defense attorney Marc Agnifilo said. “Unpopular ideas aren’t criminal. Disgusting ideas aren’t criminal.”
After being accepted into a secret sex society called DOS, or "The Vow," members would be branded near their bikini line with leader Keith Raniere's initials, prosecutors and victims said.
During the trial, prosecutors presented a series of recordings of conversations between "Smallville" star Allison Mack and Raniere in which they discuss a ceremony for the branding. Mack, a co-defendant in the case, pleaded guilty to racketeering and racketeering charges before the start of the trial.
Another former member Lauren Salzman testified that at the time her slaves were branded, she thought that the women could have opted out of the ceremony. But today, she feels differently and doesn't believe it was right to brand Raniere's initials on women without them realizing it.
The first to be branded writhed in pain, she said.
"She was squealing and screaming, and it looked horrendous," Salzman said. "It scared the other girls."
Salzman, 42, pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy in March.
Jurors began deliberating this morning in the trial of Keith Raniere, the founder of the "Nxivm" self-help company that prosecutors say housed a secret sex cult made up of "slaves" and "masters."
Jury deliberations began at 9:25 a.m. ET. The jury reached a verdict at around 2 p.m. ET.
The trial lasted seven weeks in Brooklyn federal court. Raniere is facing multiple charges and could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.
Most of the counts that Keith Raniere is facing stem from his involvement in a secret group within Nxivm known as "DOS" or "The Vow."
For two decades, Raniere ran Nxivm from Albany, New York, and offered pricey "self-help" classes to thousands of people across the United States, Canada and Mexico. An actress who testified in court during his trial said he was revered by his students, and some saw him as one of the smartest men in the world.
What prosecutors said: They said Raniere initially recruited eight women within Nxivm's ranks to join the secret sex society. The women Raniere recruited for his "inner circle" saw him as their master, and they eventually came to view themselves as "masters" as they recruited more women to be their "slaves," a criminal complaint said.
Multiple women testified they were misled about joining the group and were told it was a "women's empowerment" group. They later found out they would become "slaves" who would be expected to have sex with Raniere, send him nude photos and allow themselves to be branded.
What the defense said: Defense attorney Marc Agnifilo has argued that no crimes were committed.
Agnifilo previously told CNN he felt that Raniere firmly believes his ideas are sound, humanitarian ideas.
"He thinks DOS is a good idea and is a pro-woman group. He created it to have women have their own society ... where men would play no role," Agnifilo said.
In his closing arguments, Agnifilo cautioned jurors to consider whether any actual crimes have been committed. He argued there was no sex trafficking in DOS because there was no commercial aspect to the sexual activities alleged by the victims.
Raniere faces a racketeering count, which itself has more than a dozen underlying acts as part of the charge, and jurors have to find two of them to be proven in order to return a guilty verdict for racketeering.
A verdict in the trial of Keith Raniere, the founder of the "Nxivm" self-help company that prosecutors say housed a secret sex cult made up of "slaves" and "masters," will be announced at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Raniere, 58, faces seven counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking. He has pleaded not guilty.
During six weeks of testimony in Brooklyn federal court, group members told the 16-person jury that they were pressured to have sex with Raniere, and were ceremonially branded near their bikini lines — only to realize later that their skin had been marked with Raniere's initials.
Raniere did not testify in the case, and his defense attorney did not call any witnesses, but his attorney has argued that his relationships with Nxivm followers were consensual.
He could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. He has been in federal custody in Brooklyn since he was arrested in Mexico last year.