More people will be arrested in a federal investigation into NXIVM, which prosecutors describe a sadistic sex cult, which so far has snared two of the group’s alleged leaders, Keith Raniere and the actress Allison Mack.
“We anticipate there will be additional charges against additional defendants,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Kim Penza told Brooklyn federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis Friday, who has been assigned to oversee the case.
The new charges, Penza said, would be contained in a superseding indictment, which, she said, would be filed “in the next month, month and a half.”
Judge Garaufis also set October 1 as the date for trial of the case to begin.
Meanwhile, outside of court, lawyers for Mack had no comment, but lawyers for Raniere said their client would be acquitted after a trial because the activities alleged to be wrongful were “100 percent” consensual.
“It’s still the United States of America, and adults can engage in sexual relationships if they consent to them,” said Paul DerOhannesian, one of Raniere’s lawyers.
“These were consenting adults who knew what they were doing, and approved of it,” he added.
Together, the two face a three-count federal 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 possible sentence of life.
Prosecutors say Raniere was known to his followers as “The Vanguard,” and led NXIVM, based around Albany, New York. According to the criminal complaint against him, Raniere created a secret society within NXIVM called DOS or “The Vow.”
DOS, prosecutors say, is “an organized criminal group,” structured like a pyramid, “with levels of ‘slaves’ headed by ‘masters.’ Slaves are expected to recruit slaves of their own … who in turn owe service not only to their own masters but also to masters above them in the DOS pyramid.”
Raniere, prosecutors say, is at the top of the pyramid, “as the highest master.”
Mack served as Raniere’s lieutenant, and pimp, who presented the cult “as a women’s empowerment group or sorority,” according to prosecutors.
It’s alleged that she starved, enslaved and branded women, while ensuring their silence with blackmail in the form of damaging information or criminal confessions the women were required to make as a condition of entry into the group.
“Under the guise of female empowerment, she starved women until they fit her co-defendant's sexual feminine ideal,” Penza said at Mack’s arraignment.
Friday was a reunion of sorts for the pair — the first time the two have been in court together at the same time. Though they sat at the same long conference table inside the courtroom, surrounded by their many lawyers, Mack refused to look at Raniere, and repeatedly averted her eyes whenever he gazed in her direction.
Before court began, she sat on a back bench in the spectators’ area of the courtroom, alternately crying and laughing with her lawyers.
Although federal prosecutors did not say on Friday who they were now contemplating bringing charges against, they did write in a letter opposing Raniere’s release on bail that he was “financially backed by Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune.”
“She has financed the defendant repeatedly over the years including providing him with millions of dollars and paying for private air travel costing up to approximately $65,000 a flight," the letter continues. "She has also paid for numerous lawyers to bring suits against Nxivm critics.”
The criminal complaint against Raniere also refers to “co-conspirator #2,” who is believed to be India Oxenberg, according to the Associated Press. As an alleged co-conspirator, she is also exposed to potential criminal liability in the case.
Oxenberg was last seen, after the arrests of Raniere and Mack, smiling with Mack’s wife, the actress Nicki Clyne, before getting into a car with her and driving away.
Another person under close scrutiny is Nancy Salzman, NXIVM’s president. Her house was searched by the FBI after Raniere’s arrest. That search yielded more than half-a-million in cash, according to the Albany Times Union, as well as computers, hard drives, cameras, mobile phones and BlackBerrys.
In court on Friday, prosecutors pointed to an “enormous amount of electronic devices seized from” Salzman’s house and another location searched by the FBI, a cache that included “years’ worth of hard drives” containing “a lot of victim material.”
Toni Natalie, who was Raniere’s live-in girlfriend for much of the 1990s, and who today views herself as an advocate for former members of the group, said she “was thrilled to hear" that there are superseding indictments coming.
“Nancy Salzman has to be arrested," Natalie said. "The Bronfman sisters have to be arrested. They’ve been supporting this criminal enterprise for too long. They knew this was wrong.”
[Photo: JB NICHOLAS]