ALBANY, N.Y. – NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, who surreptitiously led a secret master-slave group whose members were sexually exploited and branded with his initials on their pubic area, was convicted of seven felonies in a New York federal court Wednesday.
A federal jury returned its verdict after less than five hours of deliberation.
The verdict followed a wild six-week trial where jurors heard explicit testimony about Raniere’s graphic sexual exploits and how he manipulated the many followers of NXIVM, a purported self-help group.
For more than two decades, Raniere portrayed himself as an all-knowing guru who was once listed in Guinness World Records as one of the smartest men in the world.
But prosecutors said Raniere, 58, was a fraud. They painted him as a conniving, jealous con man who methodically groomed his followers for sex and was nearly kicked out of college after struggling to keep up his grades.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for New York’s Eastern District said Raniere was convicted of all charges, including forced labor conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, sex trafficking and racketeering charges, which included underlying acts of child pornography possession, identity theft and child sexual exploitation, among others.
There was a “strict but carefully constructed image the defendant’s inner circle made for him — humanitarian, leader, mentor, guru,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Kim Penza said in her closing argument Monday.
“You saw him for what he was — a conman, a predator, a crime boss.”
Critics long called NXIVM a cult
Raniere founded NXIVM in the late 1990s after shutting down his previous business, Consumers Buyline Inc., which had been investigated by several state attorneys general as a pyramid scheme.
NXIVM was billed as a self-help organization. People paid thousands of dollars to take classes based on Raniere’s curriculum, but the group quickly and repeatedly faced accusations that it was a cult whose members were manipulated into lionizing Raniere.
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The organization built up a series of influential followers, including Clare Bronfman, a wealthy heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune who bankrolled many of Raniere’s efforts and lawsuits against detractors.
More recently, Raniere secretly founded DOS, a women’s group whose members were known as “slaves” who had to follow orders from their “masters.” Most members didn’t know Raniere was the top “master.”
“Slaves” had to give up damaging collateral — naked photographs, false confessions — in order to join the group, which was billed by leaders, including actress Allison Mack, as an empowerment organization, but was used by Raniere to further his sexual interests.
Jurors heard explicit testimony
Throughout the lengthy trial, prosecutors detailed how Raniere possessed sexually explicit photographs of one his followers who was 15 years old at the time, and how he kept a woman imprisoned in her own home for nearly two years for showing interest in another man.
Jurors heard from a one-time “slave” who was forced to strip naked and wear a blindfold while another woman was told to perform a sex act on her as Raniere watched. The sex act was videotaped.
“Slaves” were told their collateral could be released if they didn’t perform the acts ordered by their “master.”
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Some of the “slaves” were also told to strip naked for an initiation ceremony, where they were branded on their pelvis with a hot cauterizing iron. The brand was a logo that contained the initials of Raniere and Mack, who was a top-level “master.”
Mack, 36, who was best known for her role as Chloe Sullivan on the CW’s Smallville, pleaded guilty in April to two racketeering felonies. She is due for sentencing in September.
Also pleading guilty for their roles in the criminal enterprise were Bronfman, NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren Salzman, who was a high-ranking NXIVM official.
Follow Jon Campbell on Twitter: @JonCampbellGAN.