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The former leader of the controversial group NXIVM is speaking out for the first time since his arrest and claiming his innocence just days before his sentencing.
Keith Raniere was convicted last year of sex-trafficking and racketeering while serving as the leader of NXIVM. The group had advertised itself as a self-help organization but within it evolved a clandestine, cult-like group involving master-slave relationships, sex, blackmail, and human branding. Raniere was the top of the organization’s secretive inner group, known as DOS, a pyramid scheme of "masters" and "slaves.” Its members made vows to obey their masters and were forced to turn over monthly collateral — often nude photos or other dirt on themselves or loved ones — to ensure loyalty. Women who became slaves were asked to recruit even more slaves to serve under them in a pyramid fashion. The illegal doings at the heart of the group became widely known in 2017 after several former members blew the whistle in an explosive New York Times article.
Raniere and his followers would also spend millions tying up NXIVM critics in court, including cult expert Rick Ross, who testified at Raniere’s trial.
In an interview that aired Friday on "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt," Raniere claimed he is the victim of unethical prosecution. The interview ran just days before Raniere's fate will be determined — he faces life behind bars when he is sentenced on Tuesday morning in a Brooklyn federal court.
"I am innocent," he told interviewer Frank Parlato, blogger and former NXIVM publicist, in the interview.
Parlato himself has been embroiled in several legal battles with the group and was accused of stealing $1 million from NXIVM members and Seagrams heirs Sara and Clare Bronfman, Buffalo News reported last year. Those charges were later dropped, and Parlato has since worked with former NXIVM members to shine a line on the group’s illegal activities. He has also pleaded not guilty to tax allegations related to the group.
“This is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt,” Raniere told him. “There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I’m the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined.”
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 federal prosecutors "scared away witnesses" who could have spoken favorably about him.
When contacted last week regarding Raniere’s bid for a new trial, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of New York, told Oxygen.com by email, "No comment."
Raniere did admit some responsibility in the interview.
“I apologize for my participation in all of this pain and suffering,” he said. “I’ve clearly participated. I’ve been the leader of the community.”
Still, his lawyers indicated last month that Raniere won’t be seeking forgiveness.
“He is not sorry for his conduct or his choices,” they wrote in a court filing at the time, according to the New York Times. They claimed that he “intends to fight this case with all of his might, confident that he will one day be vindicated.”
Now, former NXIVM members and their family members are awaiting the results of Tuesday's sentencing in hopes justice will be served.
Kim Snyder, the sister of former NXIVM member Kristin Synder who claimed NXIVM brainwashed her in an apparent suicide note before vanishing in 2003, told Oxygen.com that she hopes Raniere's sentence is a long one.
"This brings 17 years to a head. It would bring closure," she said.
While her family never filed a police report in her sister’s case, she told Oxygen.com that she suspects foul play.
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