A jury is set to begin deliberating Wednesday on the fate of Keith Raniere, the founder of the NXIVM self-help group — an organization prosecutors say doubled as a sex cult.
Raniere, 58, has been accused of keeping multiple women as slaves and coercing them into having sex with him at his command, and even having his initials branded into their skin. Authorities arrested him in Mexico last year, and he is now facing a slew of charges that include racketeering, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, and various offenses related to sex-trafficking, CNN reports.
Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Wednesday in Brooklyn federal court, according to Fox News.
The racketeering charges refer to 11 separate acts, including the sexual exploitation of a child on two separate occasions and the possession of child pornography. A jury must only conclude that Raniere committed two of the listed acts in order to find him guilty of racketeering, the Times Union reports.
Over six weeks of testimony, the claims against Raniere, who was also known within the group as “Vanguard” and “Grand Master,” were laid out: women who sought Raniere’s aid at his self-help retreat based in Albany, New York report that the so-called empowerment classes, which cost thousands of dollars to enroll in, hid more sinister motives for Raniere, who they say used his influence to create a secret subset within that community called DOS, or “The Vow,” CNN reports. Members who were invited to be a part of the exclusive group first came to think of themselves as “slaves” and Raniere as “master,” but they would then recruit more women and become the “masters” themselves and the newly recruited women would, in turn, become their “slaves,” according to a criminal complaint obtained by the outlet.
Women also reported that Raniere had them brand their so-called slaves with his initials, and whip them with leather belts, according to court documents. His alleged victims also claim that they were ordered to hand over incriminating information — or create possible blackmail material if none existed — as collateral for Raniere to possibly use against them if they disobeyed him or tried to leave the group.
The alleged “Grand Master” was also accused of having a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl and taking explicit photos of her, the Times Union reports.
In addition to the many sexual claims against him, Raniere has also been accused of a number of financial crimes, including wire fraud, identity theft, and extortion. Prosecutors say that after one NXIVM member died, he charged hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of her credit cards and spent more than $300,000 of her money by writing checks tied to her bank account, according to The New York Times.
“The defendant tapped into a never-ending flow of women and money,” prosecutor Moira Penza said during closing arguments on Monday, before describing Raniere as “a crime boss with no limits and no checks on his power," according to CNN.
Raniere has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and has claimed that his interactions with the women of NXIVM were all consensual.
While prosecutors referred to Raniere as a “crime boss,” his attorney, Marc Agnifilo, said during closing arguments Monday that “being repulsive” is not a crime punishable by law.
“You may find him repulsive, disgusting and offensive. We don't convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive,” he said. “Unpopular ideas aren't criminal. Disgusting ideas aren't criminal.”
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