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NXIVM Cult Leader Keith Raniere's Appeal Is Denied By Federal Court

NXIVM leader Keith Raniere was convicted in federal court in 2019 on multiple charges, including sex trafficking and racketeering and was sentenced to 120 years in prison.

By Jill Sederstrom
Keith Raniere, Founder of NXIVM, Found Guilty of All Charges

A federal appeals court upheld the conviction and 120-year sentence of NXIVM leader Keith Raniere on Friday, keeping the self-help guru securely behind bars.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Raniere’s 2019 conviction for sex trafficking in a decision released Friday, opting to reject a more narrow definition of “commercial sex act” offered by Raniere’s attorneys.

"Raniere has failed to persuade us that there is insufficient evidence to sustain his convictions," Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in the decision. "Any rational trier of fact could have found coercion beyond a reasonable doubt.”

They also affirmed the conviction and sentence of Clare Bronfman, who once served as NXIVM’s operations director and is now serving time for identity fraud and conspiring to conceal and harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain as part of the sensational case.

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Raniere was convicted in 2019 of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, attempted sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy after prosecutors argued he used his self-help group NXIVM and a secret society within the group known as “DOS,” or “Dominus Obsequious Sororium,”—which was loosely meant to mean “Lord/Master of the Obedient Female Companions”—to exploit and abuse its members.

Keith Raniere Ap

While touting DOS as a “women’s-only secret society,” authorities said Raniere was secretly the group’s top leader encouraging women known as “masters” to recruit “slaves” beneath them to perform work and hand over damaging collateral, including naked photos of themselves, financial assets and damaging false accusations against family members, to keep them in line.

“In some cases, ‘masters’ assigned their ‘slaves’ to engage in sexual conduct with Raniere and implied that collateral might be released if the slaves refused,” Cabranes wrote.

The DOS “slaves” were also required to get a branding near their genitals during an initiation ceremony that unbeknownst to them included Raniere’s initials.

Raniere’s appeal centered primarily around his sex trafficking convictions.

Under United State statutes, a “commercial sex act” is defined as “any sex act, on account of which anything of value is given to or received by any person,” according to the appellate court’s decision.

Raniere had argued that to qualify as a “commercial sex act” there must be a monetary or financial component to count as a “anything of value” and that the relevant sexual exploitation must be for profit.

However, the three judges on the panel disagreed, writing that the phrase “anything of value” did not need to have a monetary component and could also include intangible benefits.

For instance, they argued that Alison Mack, a “master” in the group who was also later convicted, gained “things of value,” like strengthening her position within the organization, from assigning slaves to perform sex acts with Raniere.

The judges concluded that other intangibles could include sexual intercourse, amusement or work many of the slaves were required to do each week for their “masters.”

“The evidence regarding the giving or receiving of ‘anything of value’ submitted at trial was neither nonexistent nor meager,” Cabranes wrote. “We conclude that the evidence was strong enough to reach a jury and that Raniere was afforded at least ‘the minimum that due process requires.”

Raniere had also argued that there was no evidence the sexual acts had been “coerced.” The panel concluded, however, that witnesses had testified at trial that they had been forced into the acts.

One woman, known simply as Nicole, told the jurors that she felt she had “no choice” but to do whatever Raniere asked her to because she believed that her collateral would be released if she refused.

“Nicole testified that she understood that breaking her ‘commitment’ to DOS and her ‘master’ would mean that her ‘collateral’ would be released,” Cabranes wrote in the decision.

After the decision was handed down last week, Raniere’s attorney Joseph Tully told the Times-Union that “with the ruling ruling today, almost any sex act between two consenting adults can be treated as sex trafficking.”

“It is a terrible precedent for American liberty,” he said.