A federal judge denied bail for alleged sex cult leader Keith Raniere on Tuesday, ridiculing his lawyers' proposal to move him to a “private jail,” instead of the federal detention facility he's in now.
“The private jail concept has problems,” Judge Nicholas G. Garufis said after the roughly hour-long hearing in Brooklyn federal court.
“It makes a mockery of the criminal justice system, where people can’t get $100 together to get off Rikers Island,” he added, referring to New York City’s notorious island jail.
Raniere, co-founder of Albany-based NXIVM, and actress Allison Mack, a member of the group, face a felony indictment charging them with sex trafficking, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and forced labor — charges that carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years in prison and a potential life sentence.
According to federal prosecutors, Mack and Raniere used “fraud, force and coercion” to lead a secret group within NXIVM called “DOS” — short for Dominus Obsequious Sororium, Latin for “lord over the obedient female companions.”
Within DOS, there were “masters” and “slaves” — and slaves were required “to perform "acts of care" for their masters and to pay "tribute" to their masters, according to the criminal complaint against Raniere. Raniere was top master in the group, Mack second-in-command, the indictment against them alleges.
Lawyers for Raniere pushed back against the charges, and in June filed a legal motion asking Judge Garaufis to release their client on bail. By condemning the group as a criminal sex trafficking enterprise, “the Department of Justice has made itself the morality police,” the motion said.
Women in the group, the motion explained, were not slaves, but “independent, smart, curious adults” searching “for happiness, fulfillment and meaning."
To allay fears that Raniere might flee, his lawyers proposed that he be released with a GPS monitoring device and held in an apartment guarded by armed former law enforcement officers working for a private security company.
But federal prosecutors objected to the arrangement, calling it iniquitous because it allows rich defendants to buy their way out of pre-trial detention, while poor defendants are condemned to languish in actual jail while awaiting trial.
Much of Tuesday’s court hearing was taken up by a discussion about the equity of the proposal as well as the actual mechanics involved and the social implications of what Judge Garaufis said would amount to a “private jail.”
In the end, Judge Garaufis concluded that since Raniere was facing life imprisonment, he has “a strong motive to flee.” In addition, Judge Garaufis said, Raniere has “close personal ties to Mexico and “a number of adherents who could facilitate the defendant’s escape.”
“The court finds that the government has shown that the defendant is a flight risk,” Judge Garaufis concluded.
Raniere is due back in court on July 25.