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The leader and co-founder of NXIVM, the controversial self-improvement organization that prosecutors say contained an inner sex cult, has been sentenced to 120 years behind bars for a host of criminal charges connected to his involvement in the group.
The US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York announced Keith Raniere's sentence on Tuesday afternoon. It came after hours of victim impact statements from survivors in a Brooklyn federal court.
“In every aspect of his conduct, Mr. Raniere has acted like the law does not apply to him,” Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufi said before sentencing Raniere. “Unfortunately for him, it does.”
Keith Raniere was convicted in federal court last year of sex-trafficking, racketeering, child pornography, forced labor, identity theft, and obstruction of justice following a six-week trial.
The group, which was founded in 1998, administered expensive workshops aimed at personal growth to a reported 16,000 followers. Devotees adored Raniere, who insisted on being called "Vanguard," and saw him as a philosophical guru.
But over the years, a smaller, clandestine group evolved among Raniere's most loyal devotees, known as DOS. As recently explored in HBO’s “The Vow” and Starz’ “Seduced,” the secret group, which has been described as a cult, was based on master-slave relationships, human branding, coercion, and sex.
Woman were recruited to serve as "slaves" of high-ranking group members. They were forced to turn over monthly collateral — often nude photos or other dirt on themselves or loved ones — to ensure loyalty. The slaves' daily lives were closely monitored. They had to ask their "master" for permission for everything they did, particularly eating. Former DOS slave India Oxenberg said she was on a strict 500-calorie daily diet. Some of the women were ordered to have sex with Raniere, who sat atop the hierarchy as the inner group's "grandmaster."
In one of the more disturbing revelations, the "slaves" were ritualistically branded with Raniere's initials around the pelvis, using a cauterizing pen and no anesthetic.
After a certain period, "slaves" were instructed by their "masters" to to recruit other women, who would in turn serve as their slaves.
One Raniere's so-called "slaves," identified only as Camila, testified in court Tuesday that she was just 15 when Raniere raped her.
"He screwed with my mind for so long,’’ she said, according to the New York Post, describing how she first met him at age 13. Over the next decade-plus, she said Raniere branded her, took naked pictures of her, and criticized her about staying skinny. The naked photos prompted the child pornography conviction.
“I can still hear his voice in my head — it continues to be a daily struggle," she testified, calling Raniere a "monster."
She and her two older sisters were allegedly lured from their home in Mexico to live at the NXIVM headquarters in upstate New York. During Raniere's 2019 trial, Camila's sister Daniela testified that she was kept captive by Raniere in a room for more than two years. The imprisonment was punishment for Daniela after she apparently fell in love with another man. Daniela testified that both she and two of her sisters were impregnated by Raniere, and all three were made to terminate those pregnancies, BuzzFeed News reported last year.
During Ranerie’s trial, prosecutors detailed how Raniere “used shame and humiliation as ways to break people down,” according to CNN. Since his conviction, however, they noted that he has “cast himself as a victim of persecution and harassment from the government and from unknown enemies.”
Raniere and his defense fought to get him a new trial, but his bid was denied on Friday for a second time, WLNY in New York reported. Raniere alleged in his NBC interview that federal prosecutors "scared away witnesses" who could have spoken favorably about him.
The judge dismissed those claims as “highly questionable," according to the New York Times.
In advance of Tuesday’s sentencing, supporters of the former NXIVM leader have sent in letters to the court offering their support. One supporter is the father of a girl Raniere was convicted of sexually exploiting, according to CNN. In his letter, he described Raniere as "honest” and "brilliant.”
But his critics have also spoken up.
Former member Susan Dones, who at one point was engaged in a lengthy legal battle with the group, tweeted: "I've been reading through some of #KeithRaniere letters of support for less sentence Wow let me tell ya, it's like a family who is blind to the fact that Raniere's both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde."
Dones recently testified during Clare Bronfman's September sentencing before the Seagram’s heiress and former NXIVM financier was sentenced to more than six years behind bars for racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit identity theft. Prosecutors stated that she spent millions to undercut anyone she felt betrayed the organization.
While many tried to blow the whistle on the group for over a decade, it took a 2017 New York Times expose launched by former top-tier members to result in arrests.
Former “Smallville” actor — and high-ranking “slave-master,” according to prosecutors — Allison Mack pleaded guilty last year to racketeering and racketeering conspiracy. Nancy Salzman, a co-founder of the group, pleaded guilty last year to a racketeering charge for stealing identities of the group's critics and hacking into their email accounts from 2003 to 2008. She also admitted to attempting to alter footage and records due to a lawsuit against the organization. Her daughter Lauren has also pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and has admitted to keeping a "slave" locked in a room for two years, whom she would threaten with deportation.
Sarah Edmondson, a former DOS member who became a whistleblower against the organization, was one of at least 15 former members to give testimony on Friday. She called Raniere a “liar, parasite, and a grifter.” She testified that she required plastic surgery to get her brand removed.
India Oxenberg, another former DOS member, also testified, calling Raniere a "sexual predator" who “stole seven years of her life."
She testified that he starved her to make her look like a 12-year-old, the New York Post reports. She claimed he would order her to have sex with him.
“Waiting naked like a piece of meat, a branded, brain-washed sex slave,’’ India testified.
“You raped me,’’ she added.
Former top tier NXIVM member Marc Vicente tweeted ahead of the sentencing on Tuesday that for the recent whistleblowers, this day has "been over three years in the making. For those who came before us, DECADES. We stand on the shoulders of many brave women who tried so hard to warn everyone.”
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