Keith Raniere, the former leader of self-help group NXIVM, was sentenced to 120 years in prison in a federal case that accused him of turning some female members into his “sex slaves” branded with his initials.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis called Raniere “ruthless and unyielding” in crimes that were “particularly egregious” because he targeted girls and young women. He handed down the unusually high sentence in federal court in Brooklyn after hearing anguished statements by victims of a sex-trafficking conspiracy that resulted in Raniere’s conviction last year, along with unrepentant remarks from the defendant himself.
“I do believe I am innocent of the charges. … It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all,” Raniere said.
Raniere, a self-improvement guru whose organization attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, was previously convicted on seven counts that included racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking.
NXIVM and Raniere have been the subject of two TV documentary series this year, HBO’s “The Vow,” and the Starz series “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult.”
Raniere’s sentencing comes weeks after Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman, 41, was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison for her role in the federal conspiracy case. Prosecutors had only sought five years.
Ex-followers of the organization, which many have deemed a “cult,” told the judge that for years Bronfman had used her wealth to try to silence NXIVM defectors.
Along with Bronfman, Raniere’s teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actors including Allison Mack of “Smallville.” Mack also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors said Raniere, 60, led what amounted to a criminal enterprise, inducing shame and guilt to influence and control co-conspirators who helped recruit and groom sexual partners for Raniere.
They said that, among other crimes, Raniere began a sexual relationship in 2005 with a 15-year-old girl and confined another teenager to a room for nearly two years.
Prosecutors sought life in prison while defense lawyers had said he should face 15 years behind bars.
The sentencing in Brooklyn is the culmination of several years of revelations about NXIVM, which charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self-improvement courses at its headquarters near Albany, N.Y., and had branches in Mexico and Canada.
Guests included Hollywood actors and other affluent or prominent individuals, some of whom were willing to endure humiliation and pledge obedience for Raniere’s vision of how to pursue perfection.
Raniere’s followers called him “Vanguard.” To honor him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, the prosecutors said. Women were also pressured into giving up embarrassing information about themselves that could be used against them if they left the group.
In a submission before the sentencing, lawyers for Raniere said he “continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges.”
They wrote that his jury conviction at an unfair trial resulted from a media campaign involving witnesses who were motivated to testify falsely as part of a “heavy-handed prosecution that threatened potential defense witnesses.”
And they noted that prosecutors have criticized him for not showing remorse as he tried to create a podcast to amplify his claims of innocence.
“He has acted precisely how an innocent man would act, shouting from every rooftop every waking hour that the system has wrongfully convicted him,” the lawyers wrote.
His lawyers said the life prison term prosecutors sought seemed out of line with a case involving no guns, knives or force.
“No one was shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, slapped or even yelled at,” the attorneys said. “Despite the sex offenses, there is no evidence that any woman ever told Keith Raniere that she did not want to kiss him, touch him, hold his hand or have sex with him.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report