Wednesday 17 July 2019

Jury to begin considering fate of alleged sex cult leader

Former self-help guru Keith Raniere on trial on charges of running a secretive New York sex cult that recruited female
Former self-help guru Keith Raniere on trial on charges of running a secretive New York sex cult that recruited female "slaves" (Photo: You Tube)
Nxivm leader Keith Raniere, facing charges including racketeering, sex trafficing and child pornography, listens to his attorney's closing arguments in this courtroom sketch in U.S. Federal Court in Brooklyn, New York REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
Attorneys representing Nxivm leader Keith Raniere, Marc Agnifilo and Paul DerOhannesian, speak during a news conferrence following a hearing on charges of sex trafficking in relation to the Albany-based organization Nxivm REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko speaks in this courtroom sketch to rebut defence closing arguments in the trial of Nxivm leader Keith Raniere (R) REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg
Actress Allison Mack departs the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse after facing charges regarding sex trafficking and racketeering related to the Nxivm cult case in New York, U.S., April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Brendan Pierson

Jurors are today expected to begin deliberating the fate of Keith Raniere, the New Yorker accused of running a cult-like group in which women were kept on starvation diets, branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him.

Raniere, 58, is on trial in Brooklyn federal court for crimes including racketeering, sex trafficking and possession of child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty, and faces a possible sentence of life in prison if convicted.

Raniere is the founder of Nxivm, a purported self-improvement organisation based in upstate New York. Prosecutors say that he created a secret sorority within Nxivm called DOS in which female "slaves" turned over compromising materials that were used to blackmail them.

DOS was sold to recruits as an all-female organisation, when in fact it was controlled by Raniere, according to former members who testified at the trial.

Raniere was the "grandmaster" of an inner circle of slaves, who in turn recruited slaves of their own. Some of those recruits were coerced into having sex with Raniere, and some were branded with his initials, according to former members.

Prosecutors also said that, years before creating DOS, Raniere began a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl. The child pornography charges stem from explicit pictures he took of the girl, who went on to become one of his inner circle of DOS slaves.

READ MORE: New York sex cult trial: Leader's tactics echo those of other sects, experts say

Raniere's lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, told jurors in his closing argument on Monday that no women were ever forced to do anything against their will.

Other members of Nxivm, which is pronounced "nexium," were charged alongside Raniere, but they have all pleaded guilty. They include Nxivm president Nancy Salzman; her daughter, Lauren Salzman, who testified as the prosecution's star witness; actress Allison Mack, who starred in the 'Smallville' TV show; and Seagram liquor heiress Claire Bronfman.

The group first became known for its "Executive Success Program" courses, which purported to give students the ability to achieve their goals in life by overcoming mental blocks. Witnesses testified that leaders of the organization psychologically manipulated and abused its members and demanded total obedience from them.

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