NEW YORK (Reuters) – Jurors on Wednesday are expected to begin deliberating the fate of Keith Raniere, the New York man accused of running a cult-like group in which women were kept on starvation diets, branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him.
Raniere, 58, is on trial in Brooklyn federal court for crimes including racketeering, sex trafficking and possession of child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty, and faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.
Raniere is the founder of Nxivm, a purported self-improvement organization based in upstate New York. Prosecutors say that he created a secret sorority within Nxivm called DOS in which female “slaves” turned over compromising materials that were used to blackmail them.
DOS was sold to recruits as an all-female organization, when in fact it was controlled by Raniere, according to former members who testified at the trial.
Raniere was the “grandmaster” of an inner circle of slaves, who in turn recruited slaves of their own. Some of those recruits were coerced into having sex with Raniere, and some were branded with his initials, according to former members.
Prosecutors also said that, years before creating DOS, Raniere began a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl. The child pornography charges stem from explicit pictures he took of the girl, who went on to become one of his inner circle of DOS slaves.
Raniere’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, told jurors in his closing argument on Monday that no women were ever forced to do anything against their will.
Other members of Nxivm, which is pronounced “nexium,” were charged alongside Raniere, but they have all pleaded guilty. They include Nxivm president Nancy Salzman; her daughter, Lauren Salzman, who testified as the prosecution’s star witness; actress Allison Mack; and Seagram liquor heiress Claire Bronfman.
The group first became known for its “Executive Success Program” courses, which purported to give students the ability to achieve their goals in life by overcoming mental blocks. Witnesses testified that leaders of the organization psychologically manipulated and abused its members and demanded total obedience from them.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Bill Berkrot)