Nxivm sex cult leader found guilty
We're wrapping up our live coverage, but here's a breakdown of what happened in court today:
- The verdict: Raniere, 58, was found guilty on all seven counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking.
- About the cult: The guilty verdict represents a remarkable fall for Raniere, who created Nxivm in 2003. The self-help group provided classes to nearly 17,000 people, including prominent figures like "Smallville" actress Allison Mack and Seagram's liquor heiress Clare Bronfman. But within Nxivm, Raniere also ran a secret group known as "DOS" or "The Vow" that functioned like a cult with Raniere at its head. Mack and Bronfman, who were both part of the inner DOS group, pleaded guilty in April to various charges to avoid trial.
- The trial: During six weeks of testimony in Brooklyn federal court, group members told the 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.
- What prosecutors said: US attorney Richard Donoghue said the trial “revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact a massive manipulator, a con man, and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation."
- What Raniere's attorney said: His attorney Marc Agnifilo apologized to one of Raniere's alleged victims outside of court moments after the verdict. Agnifilo added: "What I do hope is I hope people find peace and solace in the verdict, I really do."
- What happens next: Raniere is due to be sentenced on Sept. 25. He could face life in prison.
Keith Raniere's attorney, Marc Agnifilo, apologized to one of Raniere's alleged victims outside of court moments after the verdict.
Barbara Bouchey left Nxivm in 2009 and is a former girlfriend of Raniere. She was not a member of DOS, a secret sex society, but prosecutors showed evidence that Raniere had explicit photos of Bouchey on his computer, and Bouchey told CNN she has been hit with numerous lawsuits from Nxivm since leaving.
"He said, 'I'm really sorry.' And then he said, 'I hope this is justice for you, and I know this has been really hard on you.'" Bouchey told CNN. "A part of me couldn't believe he was saying it."
Agnifilo confirmed the interaction to reporters outside of court.
"What I do hope is I hope people find peace and solace in the verdict, I really do," Agnifilo said. "When I say it’s an emotional trial I mean for everyone. For the lawyers for the prosecutors for the people who got through this as witnesses and victims I think it’s emotional for everybody."
Bouchey said she feels "enormous relief" at the verdict. Raniere faces life in prison, which Bouchey says is just punishment.
"This gives the judge the permission, really, to send him away for life," Bouchey said. "That's where he belongs. In jail for life. Because he's got crazy compartments in that mind. And he can't be rehabilitated in my opinion. That means if he gets out he's only going to reinvent himself and repackage it and go on thinking what he was doing was good."
"There's no words to express the enormous relief," Bouchey said through tears. "Just to be able to know that I can move on and not have to worry that he's coming for us."
Richard Donoghue, the US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, thanked the judge and jury for "carefully considering evidence" in the trial of Keith Raniere.
"Keith Raniere's crime spree has ended and his victims will finally see justice," he told reporters outside the courthouse after the verdict.
He also thanked the rest of the investigation and prosecution team as well as New York state police and the FBI.
"His crimes and the crimes of his co-conspirators, ruined marriages, careers, fortunes, and lives," Donoghue said.
He described Raniere as a massive manipulator and con man.
“This trial has revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact a massive manipulator, a con man, and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation," Donoghue said.
Keith Raniere's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 25.
Raniere, the founder of a group called Nxivm, was found guilty on all counts. As the first guilty count for racketeering was read, a few former Nxivm members in the gallery gasped.
Catherine Oxenberg, the mother of one DOS slave who has spoken publicly about how she fought to break her daughter out of the group, buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
Outside the courtroom, she told CNN, "It gives me so much faith," adding that she was grateful.
"Justice is served," Oxenberg said.
US Attorney Richard P. Donoghue, who was in court today, told CNN he was pleased with the verdict.
Raniere was emotionless as the verdict was read.
The 12-person jury found Keith Raniere, the founder of the "Nxivm" self-help company, guilty on all charges after deliberating for less than five hours today.
Here's a breakdown of the verdict:
- Racketeering: Guilty
- Racketeering Conspiracy: Guilty
- Wire Fraud conspiracy: Guilty
- Forced Labor conspiracy: Guilty
- Sex trafficking: Guilty
- Sex trafficking conspiracy: Guilty
- Attempted sex trafficking: 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.