Keith Raniere, a self-improvement guru whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, faces sentencing Tuesday on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis will announce an almost-certain lengthy prison term Tuesday for Raniere after hearing victims speak.
The court proceeding in Brooklyn culminates several years of revelations about NXIVM, which charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self improvement courses at its headquarters near Albany, New York, and had branches in Mexico and Canada.
Guests included Hollywood actors and other affluent or prominent individuals, some of whom were willing to endure humiliation and pledge obedience for Raniere’s vision of how to pursue perfection.
Prosecutors seek life in prison while defence lawyers say he should face 15 years behind bars for his conviction on charges including racketeering, alien smuggling, sex trafficking, extortion and obstruction of justice.
NXIVM has been the subject of two TV documentary series this year, HBO’s “The Vow,” and the Starz series “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult.”
Prosecutors said Raniere, 60, led what amounted to a criminal enterprise, inducing shame and guilt to influence and control co-conspirators who helped recruit and groom sexual partners for Raniere.
They said that among other crimes, Raniere began a sexual relationship in 2005 with a 15-year-old girl and confined another teenager to a room for nearly two years.
The likelihood of leniency seemed to dissipate with the recent sentencing of Clare Bronfman, 41, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, for her role in what has been described by some ex-members as a cult. Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. Prosecutors had only sought five years.
Ex-followers told the judge that Bronfman for years had used her wealth to try to silence NXIVM defectors.
Reniere’s followers called him “Vanguard.” To honour him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, the prosecutors said. Women were also pressured into giving up embarrassing information about themselves that could be used against them if they left the group.
Along with Bronfman, Raniere’s teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actors including Allison Mack of TV’s “Smallville.” Mack also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
In a sentencing submission, lawyers for Reniere said he “continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges.”
They wrote that his jury conviction at an unfair trial resulted from a media campaign involving witnesses who were motivated to testify falsely as part of a “heavy-handed prosecution that threatened potential defence witnesses.”
And they noted that prosecutors have criticized him for not showing remorse as he tried to create a podcast to amplify his claims of innocence.
“He has acted precisely how an innocent man would act, shouting from every rooftop every waking hour that the system has wrongfully convicted him,” the lawyers wrote.
His lawyers said the life prison term prosecutors sought seemed out of line with a case involving no guns, knives or force.
“No one was shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, slapped or even yelled at,” they said. “Despite the sex offences, there is no evidence that any woman ever told Keith Raniere that she did not want to kiss him, touch him, hold his hand or have sex with him.”