Keith Raniere, the founder of a sex cult that operated under the guise of the self-help group NXIVM, was sentenced to 120 years in prison.
Raniere, 60, was convicted last year of sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit forced labor. During the nearly six-week trial in a federal court in Brooklyn, several women testified they were coerced into joining a secret women’s group within NXIVM, where they entered “master” and “slave” relationships and were branded with Raniere’s initials near their pelvises using a cauterizing pen.
Fifteen of Raniere’s victims testified at his sentencing on Tuesday, describing the brutal sexual abuse he subjected them to, according to the New York Times.
One woman, who was identified as Camila, said she was 15 when Raniere began abusing her for 12 years. She said he forced her to weigh under 100 pounds, expected sex whenever he decided he wanted it, and made her get an abortion. As a result, she attempted suicide one time.
“I want to move on, but he has damaged me in so many ways,” Camila said.
Another victim, India Oxenberg, said Raniere made her walk around in the nude, isolated her from her mother, and made her lose so much weight she stopped menstruating.
“You are a sexual predator, and you raped me,” Oxenberg said. “When you touched me, I recoiled.”
Raniere’s sentencing brings to an end a yearslong case that started in 2017 with an explosive New York Times story on the secret women-only group. As members began leaving the group, Raniere fled to a villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, where he was arrested in 2018. Several high-profile women — including Allison Mack, the former Smallville actor who allegedly was Raniere’s second in command, and Seagram liquor heir Clare Bronfman — were also charged for their involvement in the case and pleaded guilty to federal charges before Raniere’s trial. The rise and fall of NXIVM was recently chronicled in HBO’s The Vow and on Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult on Starz.
Once hailed by his followers as “vanguard” and “the smartest man in the world,” prosecutors revealed Raniere to be a “con man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization.”
He founded NXIVM in 1989 in Albany, New York, as a self-help organization whose members — including Hollywood actors and top athletes — paid for self-empowerment courses to overcome their “limiting beliefs.” Many subgroups were created as a branch of NXIVM, including DOS, which operated as a secret sex cult.
Several former members of DOS testified last year that Raniere tried to control every aspect of their lives, including whom they dated, their weight, and what they ate — at times restricting them to just 500 calories a day.
To join the organization, the women had to provide “collateral” — personal, damaging information, including nude photographs, that could be used against them if they were to defy their “master” or speak publicly about the “secret sorority.”
Lauren Salzman, a former high-ranking member of DOS, testified that women were paddled, whipped, and forced into brutal drills, including being locked in a cage, as they were trained to become “sex slaves” to Raniere. Salzman, who testified that she herself recruited “slaves,” pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges last year.
In an interview with NBC News that aired last week, Raniere briefly apologized for some of his actions but maintained his innocence.
“I apologize for my participation in all of this pain and suffering,” he said. “I’ve clearly participated. I’ve been the leader of the community.”
He asserted that his trial was unjust.
“Yes, I am innocent,” he said. “And although it is, this is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt, I think the main thrust of this has been the oppression but really a different issue, which is hard for me to express. There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I’m the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined.”
Raniere did not express remorse for his actions, his lawyers said in a court filing requesting the judge sentence him to 15 years instead of the life sentence he was facing.
“He is not sorry for the way in which he lived his life,” the lawyers wrote.
“He is not sorry for his conduct or his choices. Rather, he maintains that he has lived mindfully and carefully and that he has made deliberate choices, often with the input of others, and that even on the day of judgment, he stands by the life he has chosen to live,” his lawyers wrote.
Raniere claimed to have had an “unfair trial” and that it was “a product of a media campaign involving witnesses who were motivated to testify falsely,” according to the filing.