Keith Raniere promised a path to happiness, appealing to prosperous and wealthy people who felt they had no higher purpose in life. His company, Nxivm, offered self-improvement workshops that have become popular in Hollywood and in the business community.
But beneath the surface, Mr Raniere was a puppeteer controlling a sectarian criminal enterprise, prosecutors revealed during his trial. Some women in Nxivm were forced to have sex with Mr. Raniere and were even branded with his initials in a secret ceremony.
On Tuesday, Mr. Raniere, 60, will be sentenced in federal court in Brooklyn for his involvement in sex trafficking and other crimes. The hearing begins at 11 a.m.
Mr Raniere’s conviction last year capped a staggering fall for a man who was once idolized by his supporters, but who has since been exposed as a fraudster who exploited Nxivm membership for money, sex and power.
Former Nxivm members said Mr Raniere and his entourage preyed on insecure people who hoped that immersing themselves in expensive self-help classes would pave the way for fulfillment. Even highly educated people found themselves trapped in Mr. Raniere’s system, which he sold as the only way to overcome their fears, shaming anyone who tried to stop.
During Mr Raniere’s trial, prosecutors lifted the veil of a sordid side on Nxivm (pronounced NEX-ee-um). A primary focus was a secretive women-only group within the organization. During a videotaped initiation ceremony, the women lay naked on a table, saying, “Master, please mark me,” as a cauterizing pen burned their skin. without anesthesia.
Some of these women said they were thinking of joining a women’s empowerment group, only to find out that they had been ordered to have sex with Mr. Raniere.
The women, known as “slaves”, needed permission to eat and were regularly required to hand over guarantees such as sexually explicit videos, which they constantly feared would be broadcast. Prosecutors called it extortion.
A jury convicted Mr Raniere last summer after a six-week trial. Prosecutors charged him with racketeering, enforcing a statute that had been used to dismantle Mafia families in New York. In addition to sex trafficking, the jury found him guilty of crimes including child pornography, forced labor, identity theft and obstruction of justice.
Prosecutors have said in court documents that Mr Raniere deserves a life sentence, a sentence that is generally reserved for cases involving death or murder.
Lawyers for Mr. Raniere argued that no one had been “shot, stabbed, punched, punched, slapped or even shouted at”. This was not the typical case of organized crime, and Mr Raniere should not be sentenced to more than 15 years in prison, they argued.
“No one ever testified that he or she joined a drug gang, the Genoese family or a cartel because they believed that by doing so they could make the world a better place or bring a higher level of ‘humanity to themselves and to others,’ his lawyers wrote.
Prosecutors said Mr. Raniere’s refusal to accept responsibility and his contempt for his victims demonstrated that a life sentence was the only way to prevent him from harming more people.
To this day, Mr Raniere has many supporters who believe he was wrongly convicted and insist that all activity at Nxivm was among consenting adults. Dozens wrote letters to the court asking for clemency.
Mr. Raniere himself expressed no regret, accusing the federal judge, Nicholas G. Garaufis, of corruption and demanding a new trial.
“He is not sorry for his conduct or his choices,” his lawyers wrote in a court file last month, adding that he “intended to fight this case with all his might, confident that he will a justified day. “
In recent months, Mr. Raniere has led a campaign to overturn his conviction. He asked his supporters to create a podcast on his case and organize a contest to find errors in his lawsuits in exchange for a cash prize of $ 25,000, according to court documents.
The company was largely funded by an heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune, Clare Bronfman, who spent more than $ 100 million of her inheritance to pursue Mr Raniere’s enemies and support the organization. She even bought an island in Fiji that Nxivm leaders used as a retreat.
One of Nxivm’s top recruiters was Allison Mack, the former TV actress best known for her role on “Smallville,” whose rave reviews helped bring Hollywood celebrities into the organization. The Dalai Lama spoke at an Nxivm event.
Mr Raniere was charged along with five women in his circle, including Ms Bronfman and Ms Mack. Each of them pleaded guilty before his trial.
Ms Bronfman was sentenced last month to more than six years in prison for her role in Nxivm. The others do not yet have sentencing dates.
The group’s sales pitch claimed Mr. Raniere was a genius with one of the highest IQ scores in the world.
In fact, prosecutors said, he earned a GPA of 2.26 from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, after failing some of the math and science courses he took. ‘later boasted to follow.
Many Nxivm members have never had sex with Mr. Raniere, but they have faced pressure to pay more and more classes, sometimes taking on debt to do so. A couple estimated they spent $ 300,000 on Nxivm courses and were forced to file for bankruptcy, prosecutors said.
Since Mr. Raniere co-founded Nxivm in 1998, approximately 18,000 people have attended his courses in the United States, Mexico and Canada.