NEW YORK CITY — Keith Raniere, the founder of the “Nxivm” self-help company that prosecutors said secretly housed a sex cult, was found guilty of racketeering, sex trafficking and other crimes on Wednesday, according to a public information officer for New York’s Eastern District, Tyler Daniels.
Raniere, 58, was found guilty on all seven counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and attempted sex trafficking. He was emotionless as the verdict was read and is due to be sentenced on Sept. 25.
During six weeks of testimony in Brooklyn federal court, group members told the 16-person jury that they were pressured to have sex with Raniere, and were ceremonially branded near their bikini lines — only to realize later that their skin had been marked with Raniere’s initials.
Raniere did not testify in the case, and his defense attorney did not call any witnesses, but his attorney has argued that his relationships with Nxivm followers were consensual.
Witnesses maintain they were blackmailed into silence after being asked to turn damaging personal information over to their “masters.”
“The defendant tapped into a never-ending flow of women and money,” prosecutor Moira Penza told jurors in closing arguments on Monday. “(He was) a crime boss with no limits and no checks on his power.”
Defense attorney Marc Agnifilo has argued that no crimes were committed.
“You may find him repulsive, disgusting and offensive. We don’t convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive,” Agnifilo said. “Unpopular ideas aren’t criminal. Disgusting ideas aren’t criminal.”
Raniere could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted. He has been in federal custody in Brooklyn since he was arrested in Mexico last year.
Jurors began deliberating at 9:25 a.m. on Wednesday and came to their verdict after about four hours of deliberation. As the first guilty count for racketeering was read, a few former Nxivm members in the gallery gasped.
Catherine Oxenberg, the mother of one woman in the group who has spoken publicly about how she fought to break her daughter out of it, buried her head in her hands and sobbed.
“It gives me so much faith,” she told CNN outside the courtroom. “Justice is served.”
Richard P. Donoghue, US attorney for the Eastern District, told CNN he was pleased with the verdict.
“This trial has revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact a massive manipulator, a con man, and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation,” he said.
Prosecutors: Women were lured into sex society
Most of the counts that Raniere faced stem from his involvement in a secret group within Nxivm known as “DOS” or “The Vow.”
For two decades, Raniere ran Nxivm from Albany, New York, and offered pricey “self-help” classes to thousands of people across the United States, Canada and Mexico. An actress who testified in court said he was revered by his students, and some saw him as one of the smartest men in the world.
Prosecutors said Raniere initially recruited eight women within Nxivm’s ranks to join the secret sex society. The women Raniere recruited for his “inner circle” saw him as their master, and they eventually came to view themselves as “masters” as they recruited more women to be their “slaves,” a criminal complaint said.
Multiple women testified they were misled about joining the group and were told it was a “women’s empowerment” group. They later found out they would become “slaves” who would be expected to have sex with Raniere, send him nude photos and allow themselves to be branded.
But defense attorney Agnifilo previously told CNN he felt that Raniere firmly believes his ideas are sound, humanitarian ideas.
“He thinks DOS is a good idea and is a pro-woman group. He created it to have women have their own society … where men would play no role,” Agnifilo said.
In his closing arguments, Agnifilo cautioned jurors to consider whether any actual crimes had been committed. He argued there was no sex trafficking in DOS because there was no commercial aspect to the sexual activities alleged by the victims.
Raniere faces a racketeering count, which itself has more than a dozen underlying acts as part of the charge, and jurors have to find two of them to be proven in order to return a guilty verdict for racketeering.