NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere beaten in prison by fellow sex offender: lawyers

Keith Raniere is pictured in one of his NXIVM promotional videos. Keith Raniere/NXIVM

Convicted leader of the NXIVM cult, Keith Raniere, has filed a lawsuit with his lawyers claiming he was attacked by a fellow prisoner and sex offender before being wrongly punished for the incident.

According to the lawsuit, filed against the U.S. Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons and widely reported in the media, Raniere was having breakfast in the early morning hours of July 26 “when he was assaulted by inmate Maurice Withers with a closed fist on Mr. Raniere’s head and face,” at U.S. Penitentiary Tucson in Arizona.

An amended complaint filed this month says Raniere, 62, suffered nausea and dizziness for a week following the attack, which also left him with a black eye and swelling. His lawyers say his requests for ice packs to calm the swelling were denied.

FILE- In this April 13, 2018 courtroom sketch Keith Raniere, second from right, leader of the secretive group NXIVM, attends a hearing at court in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Elizabeth Williams via The Associated Press

The court papers do not specify what led to the alleged assault or whether the other inmate was aware of Raniere’s past crimes.

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His lawyers claim that Raniere “did not fight back” and that he has “limited knowledge of the assault,” but was still given a disciplinary ticket for fighting and placed in the prison’s Special Housing Unit. The disciplinary ticket was eventually dismissed, but his lawyers contend he remains in a segregation unit.

“Due to SHU placement, Plaintiff was denied contact legal visits with his attorneys and forced to either yell through plexiglass or be handcuffed and shackled to a belly chain to communicate with his attorneys,” Raniere’s legal team said.

Click to play video: 'Lawyers for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere speak about guilty verdict, say he’ll appeal'
Lawyers for NXIVM founder Keith Raniere speak about guilty verdict, say he’ll appeal

In a sworn affidavit, given Sept. 6, Raniere says he feels he’s being punished by prison staff in “retaliation for the recent publicity that my case has received as a result of my efforts to challenge my conviction.”

A bureau official told NBC News they will not be discussing the case or incident.

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“For safety and security reasons the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) does not provide information about conditions of confinement or internal security practices for any particular inmate,” spokesperson Donald Murphy said in a statement Thursday.

“The BOP is committed to ensuring the safety and security of all inmates in our population, our staff, and the public. Humane treatment of the men and women in our custody is a top priority.”

Withers, 33, is in prison for sex trafficking crimes in Madison, Wisc.

In this courtroom artist’s sketch, defendant Keith Raniere (middle) sits with lawyers Paul DerOhannesian (L), and Marc Agnifilo during closing arguments at Brooklyn federal court on June 18, 2019 in New York. Elizabeth Williams via AP

Raniere — known to members of the upstate New York cult as “Vanguard” and “the smartest man in the world” — was sentenced in 2020 to 120 years in prison for his crimes as leader of the organization, which prosecutors said brainwashed women, branded them like animals near their genitals and coerced them into sex.

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He was convicted on seven charges that included federal sex trafficking, racketeering and possession of child pornography.

In 2021, he was ordered to pay US$3.1 million in restitution to 21 victims of the NXIVM cult, a sum which included the cost of surgically removing scars from the organization’s branding rituals.

The brands depicting the initials of Keith Raniere were meant to symbolize the womens’ status as sex slaves for the self-proclaimed self-help guru and spiritual guru who once had an international following.

Click to play video: 'Prosecutor, supporters of Keith Raniere react after NXIVM leader sentenced to 120 years in prison'
Prosecutor, supporters of Keith Raniere react after NXIVM leader sentenced to 120 years in prison

Raniere oversaw the functioning of NXIVM, which operated under an abusive system: women were told the best way to advance was to become a “slave” watched over by “masters.”

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The women were expected to have sex with their “master” and do any and all menial chores they were ordered to do. They weren’t to tell anybody about the arrangement and risked public humiliation if they ever revealed details to any party.

Raniere was ordered last year to return “collateral” — nude photos and other potentially embarrassing material — that was used to extort and manipulate the victims.

The group attracted millionaires, including Seagram’s liquor heir Clare Bronfman, and Hollywood actors, including Allison Mack of TV’s Smallville.

Allison Mack(centre) shields her face as she arrives at Brooklyn Federal Court on June 30, 2021 in New York. TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Both Bronfman and Mack were sentenced to prison stays in 2020 for their roles atop the NXIVM pyramid.

NXIVM has been the subject of two TV documentary series, HBO’s The Vow and the Starz series Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult. The Vow is returning with a six-episode second season, which will examine Raniere’s trial and feature interviews with Raniere and NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman.

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With files from Global News’ Chris Jancelewicz and The Associated Press

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