The “self-help” guru of a group called Nxivm has been convicted of running a cult-like organisation of sex slaves on Tuesday.
Keith Raniere, 60, was convicted on multiple accounts such as racketeering, sex trafficking, and forced labor conspiracy. He has also been fined $1.75 million.
Followers signed up for $5,000, five-day self-help courses, but some were then financially and sexually exploited and forced to follow a restrictive diet, as Raniere, known as “Vanguard”, exerted control, his six-week trial heard.
He established a faction within the group called DOS, a pyramid structure in which the women were “slaves” and “Grand Master” Raniere sat at the top.
The “slaves” were made to have sex with Raniere, hand over personal information, and compromising photos, and some of the women were branded like cattle as other members held them down.
Raniere was convicted in June 2019 on all seven charges brought against him, including racketeering, sex trafficking, extortion, criminal conspiracy, and the sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old girl.
“It is our sincere hope that today’s sentence does deliver some measure of justice for those victims who suffered in immeasurable and numerous ways,” acting US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme said following the verdict.
“Certainly the judge’s sentence, which in effect incapacitates Keith Raniere for the rest of his life, should hopefully give them some sense of security and should stand as a warning to others who would participate in similar like conduct that when justice catches up with you – as it did today – it is severe. Keith Raniere will not be able to victimise people anymore after today’s sentence, and we’re very grateful for that.”
Lawyers for Raniere countered that he maintained his “complete innocence” and was the victim of an “unfair trial.” They requested a sentence of no more than 15 years in prison.
Jurors convicted Raniere in June 2019 of racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, possession of child pornography and other crimes, following extensive testimony from former NXIVM members.
Prosecutors said Raniere created a secret sorority within NXIVM called DOS, where female “slaves” turned over nude photos and other compromising materials that could be used for blackmail if they tried to leave.
More than 50 people wrote letters to Garaufis urging leniency for Raniere. Many said NXIVM classes, which could cost thousands of dollars, had greatly improved their lives.
The dramatic story has been the subject of two screen adaptions: HBO’s recently released “The Vow” docu-series and “Escaping the Nxivm Cult,” a 2019 Lisa Robinson film focused on the testimony of a mother working to save her daughter from the organization.
Addressing the court Tuesday, Raniere said he was “deeply sorry” for the “pain and anger” that his victims had expressed but maintained his innocence.
“I’m not remorseful over the charges. Those are not right,” he added.
Five other people were charged in the case, and all of them pleaded guilty.
German-born American actress Allison Mack, known for her role in “Smallville”, admitted to two counts of racketeering in April 2019.
The heiress of the Canadian drinks empire Seagram, Clare Bronfman, was sentenced last month after also pleading guilty.
The 41-year-old was accused of using more than $100 million of her $2.6 billion estimated net worth to fund the group and got more than six years in jail.
Following Raniere’s conviction, New York prosecutor Richard Donoghue said the proceedings “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 organization.”
Prosecutors had called for a life sentence, accusing Raniere of a “total denial of culpability.”
Citing post-conviction calls and emails, the prosecution said Raniere presented his organization as a “good” thing, wondering “who will carry forth this burning torch of light?”
Raniere’s defense team — who unsuccessfully asked the jury to focus on whether they saw his actions as legal, even if they found them immoral — had suggested a 15-year jail term would be appropriate