Self-help guru convicted in lurid sex-trafficking case

NEW YORK (AP) — The former leader of a purported self-help group was convicted Wednesday of federal charges that centered on lurid details of what prosecutors called a secret society of "sex slaves" within a community of followers in upstate New York.

A jury in federal court in Brooklyn took less than five hours to find Keith Raniere guilty on all counts of sex-trafficking and other charges accusing him of coercing women into unwanted sex using systematic shame and humiliation.

5 PHOTOS
Defendants in NXIVM sex cult case
See Gallery
Defendants in NXIVM sex cult case
Television actress Allison Mack leaves federal court in New York, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. Court papers say a trust funded by Seagram’s liquor fortune heiress Clare Bronfman is bankrolling the defense for her co-defendants in the sex-trafficking prosecution. They include the leader of the secretive upstate New York group NXIVM, Keith Raniere, and Mack. All the defendants have pleaded not guilty to charges alleging that followers of the group were coerced into becoming sex slaves who were branded with Raniere's initials. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Keith Raniere was charged last week with exploiting a child and possessing child pornography, and had previously pleaded not guilty to charges accusing him of operating a secret society within his NXIVM group that forced women "slaves" to have unwanted sex with him and branded them with his initials.
Clare Bronfman leaves Brooklyn federal court in New York, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. Court papers say a trust largely funded by Seagram's liquor fortune heiress Bronfman is bankrolling the defense for her co-defendants in a sex-trafficking case. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Nancy Salzman arrives at Brooklyn federal court, Wednesday, March 13, 2019, in New York. Salzman, a co-founder of NXIVM, an embattled upstate New York self-help organization, is expected to plead guilty in a case featuring sensational claims that some followers became branded sex slaves. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Lauren Salzman leaves Brooklyn federal court in New York, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. Salzman is among defendants from the self-help group NXIVM, co-founded my her mother Nancy Salzman, charged with coercing women to be a part of a secret sub-group where they were expected to act as "slaves" and engage in sex acts. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Raniere listened attentively, but showed no visible reaction as he learned the verdict.

His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said Raniere plans to appeal.

"Keith maintains his innocence. It's a very sad day for him," Agnifilo said. "I think he's not surprised, but he maintains that he didn't mean to do anything wrong."

Raniere's sentencing is set for Sept. 25.

Raniere once had an international following with a foothold in Hollywood with his self-help group, called NXIVM, that was deemed a cult by critics. His adherents included TV actress Allison Mack, best known for her role as a friend of a young Superman in the series "Smallville," and Seagram's liquor fortune heiress, Clare Bronfman.

Prosecutors had told jurors that someone known as "Vanguard" and revered as "the smartest man in the world" among some followers was actually a creepy con man who barely got passing grades in college.

The sorority, sometimes called "The Vow," was created "to satisfy the defendant's desire for sex, power and control," Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza said in closing arguments .

Among the more damning allegations against Raniere were that he had some women branded with his initials and that he started having sex with one of his followers starting at age 15. Prosecutors said he took a series of nude photos of the teen that were shown at trial, one by one, to the eight women and four men who comprised the jury.

Raniere kept the child pornography stashed in his private study as "a trophy" of "his sexual conquest," Penza said.

The defense argued Raniere was a genuine believer in unconventional means for self-improvement and that all his sexual encounters with female followers of NXIVM were consensual. His behavior could be seen as "repulsive and offensive, but we don't convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive," Agnifilo said in his closings.

Raniere, 58, was arrested at a Mexican hideout in 2018 following an investigation his Albany-area group.

His organization began to crumble amid sensational reports about The Vow alleging its members were held down and branded in ceremonies at a "sorority house" for them that had a mock dungeon.

Mack and Bronfman, who were named as defendants with Raniere in a federal indictment, pleaded guilty before they could go to trial with him. They didn't testify, leaving a cooperating member of his inner circle and three victims from the secret sorority as the key witnesses.

The cooperator described how female "masters" forced "slaves" for Raniere to give up "collateral" — nude photos and other material that would ruin them if ever made public - to keep them in line.

7 PHOTOS
Photos: NXIVM sex slave cult and its demise
See Gallery
Photos: NXIVM sex slave cult and its demise
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The NXIVM Executive Success Programs sign outside of the office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The exterior of the NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
ALBANY, NY - APRIL 26: The Karner Woods office park's sign on April 26, 2018 in Albany, New York. The NXIVM Executive Success Programs office at 455 New Karner Road is part of the office park. Keith Raniere, founder of NXIVM, was arrested by the FBI in Mexico in March of 2018. (Photo by Amy Luke/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack (R) departs the United States Eastern District Court after a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to a upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
BROOKLYN, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to an upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Actress Allison Mack (C) arrives at the United States Eastern District Court for a bail hearing in relation to the sex trafficking charges filed against her on May 4, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The actress known for her role on 'Smallville' is charged with sex trafficking. Along with alleged cult leader Keith Raniere, prosecutors say Mack recruited women to a upstate New york mentorship group NXIVM that turned them into sex slaves. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 24: Actress Allison Mack leaves U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York after a bail hearing, April 24, 2018 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. Mack was charged last Friday with sex trafficking for her involvement with a self-help organization for women that forced members into sexual acts with their leader. The group, called Nxivm, was led by founder Keith Raniere, who was arrested in March on sex-trafficking charges. She was released on bail at $5 million. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

One of the victims, whose names were withheld to protect her privacy, described being confined to a bedroom for more than 700 days on orders from Raniere as punishment for showing interest in another man. Another explained how Raniere lured her to a home when she was blind-folded and bound to a table so that another woman could perform a sex act on her; and the third recounted making up an excuse to leave the community so she could avoid completing an assignment from her "master" — Allison Mack — to "seduce" Raniere.

Agnifilo, the defense attorney, sought to point jurors to evidence of text and other messages between Raniere and the woman he said showed they had caring relationships that ended with "no hard feelings." And since the group never released any of the slaves' collateral, "Where's the extortion?" he asked.

But with the victims' stories of abuse at the hands of Raniere, Penza said, "A light has been shown into the darkness and the defendant's crimes have been exposed."

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.