By Brendan Pierson
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Keith Raniere, a 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, was found guilty of all charges against him by a New York jury on Wednesday.
Raniere, 58, was charged with racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, possession of child pornography and other crimes. He faces a possible sentence of life in prison.
The jury in federal court in Brooklyn reached its verdict after just four hours of deliberation, capping off a trial that lasted more than six weeks. Raniere’s sentencing is set for Sept. 25.
His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, told reporters outside the courthouse that the verdict will be appealed. He said he believed a fair sentence would be less than life.
Agnifilo also expressed sympathy for Raniere’s victims.
“I hope that people find peace and solace in the verdict,” he said. “That’s my genuine feeling from the heart, having nothing to do with being anyone’s lawyer.”
Raniere is the founder of Nxivm, a purported self-improvement organization based in upstate New York.
Prosecutors said that he created a secret sorority within Nxivm called DOS in which female “slaves” turned over compromising materials, such as nude photos, that could be used for blackmail. They were told that the material would be released if they disobeyed orders or tried to leave, according to a former member and other witnesses.
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.
Outside of the courthouse, after the verdict was read, a group of former Nxivm members gave the prosecution team a round of applause.
Catherine Oxenberg, an actress who wrote a book called “Captive” about her efforts to rescue her daughter from Nxivm, called her daughter to tell her the verdict.
“She’s in shock,” Oxenberg was heard saying of her daughter. “I’m in shock as well. It’s over. It’s done.”
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.
“The trial has 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 involving sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortion, branding, degradation and humiliation,” Richard Donoghue, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, told reporters outside of the courthouse.
“His crime, and the crimes of his coconspirators, ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives.”
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.
Agnifilo, had told jurors in his closing arguments 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, and 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 life goals by overcoming mental blocks. Witnesses testified that leaders of the organization psychologically manipulated and abused its members and demanded total obedience.
(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Bill Berkrot)