A self-proclaimed "self-help" expert has been convicted of running a secret society of "sex slaves." Prosecutors said that Keith Raniere brainwashed women, some of whom were branded with his initials.
Keith Raniere, a New York man accused of running a sex cult, was found guilty Wednesday by a US court in Brooklyn on charges including sex trafficking, child pornography and conspiracy.
Raniere's group, NXIVM, was presented as a self-improvement organization, but prosecutors said it operated like a cult after Raniere formed a secret NXIVM subgroup he sold to recruits as a "sorority" to empower women.
Once they were lured into the secret sorority, called DOS, the victims were put under Raniere's control and forced into having sex after being told that it would further their personal development, prosecutors said.
Assistant US Attorney Moira Penza shared graphic testimony showing how Raniere used a hierarchy of systematic blackmail and humiliation, in which women called "masters" would coerce "slaves" into joining DOS, and then demand nude photos and other "collateral" from them, which would be made public if they disobeyed or tried to leave.
Penza said Raniere created the group to satisfy his "desire for sex, power and control."
During the six-week trial, a former "inner circle" DOS member who defected, and three victims, shared lurid details of different women who had been kept on starvation diets, locked into a room for a year and forced to have sex with Raniere. Some women were branded with his initials.
Prosecutors also said Raniere had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl and kept nude photos of the teen as a "trophy" of "his sexual conquest."
Raniere's sentencing is set for September 25, and he faces life in prison. His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, said Raniere plans to appeal.
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According to Agnifilo, Raniere believed in "unconventional" means of self-improvement and said all of the sexual encounters were consensual.
His behavior could be seen as "repulsive and offensive, but we don't convict people in this country for being repulsive or offensive," Agnifilo said.
'A lying manipulator'
Richard Donoghue, US attorney for Brooklyn, told reporters outside the court that Raniere was a lying manipulator who "ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives."
"The trial has revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact a master manipulator, a con man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involving sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortion, branding, degradation and humiliation," Donoghue said.
Raniere founded NXIVM —pronounced Nexium — in 2003. The organization once had an international following and was popular in Hollywood. Raniere's co-defendants included TV actress Allison Mack, best known from the Smallville series, and Seagram's liquor heiress Clare Bronfman.
The women, who were described by prosecutors as part of Raniere's inner circle, did not testify at the trial as they have both pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
wmr/se (AP, Reuters)