The leader of NXIVM, a group that espoused a philosophy of self-improvement but was accused of recruiting, grooming and even branding an inner circle of female sex slaves, was found guilty by a federal jury Wednesday.
Jurors in Brooklyn, N.Y., convicted 58-year-old Keith Raniere, who was known as “The Vanguard,” on all charges, which included sex trafficking, racketeering, forced labor conspiracy and human trafficking.
He faces up to life in prison on the racketeering charges alone.
Prosecutors said NXIVM was a criminal enterprise that operated largely in secrecy. The group was based in Albany, N.Y., and operated across the U.S. and in several other countries. Its devotees included an actress, an heiress and a 15-year-old girl; several high-ranking members have also been charged.
Throughout the six-week trial, several women offered disturbing details of their experience with Raniere in what they said they initially believed was a women’s empowerment group. They testified that he ultimately blackmailed dozens of women into joining a secret society of “slaves” and “masters” called “DOS” or the “Vow,” that operated as a sex cult under a pyramid-scheme system in which they turned over a trove of damning “collateral” and often were left financially indebted to him.
During closing arguments Monday, prosecutor Moira Penza told the 16 jurors that to the outside world, Raniere’s inner circle had tried to construct an image of him as a “humanitarian, leader, mentor, guru.”
“You saw him for what he was, a conman, a predator, a crime boss,” Penza said, adding that Raniere had “tapped into a never-ending flow of women and money” and calling him a “crime boss with no limits and no checks on his power.”
Newer members believed NXIVM to be a self-help business that offered pricey coaching and training workshops based on its philosophy of “a new ethical understanding” that enables “humanity to rise to its noble possibility,” as the group described on its now defunct website, according to court documents.
But Penza accused Raniere of building a personal fiefdom through abuse and control. He and the women in the organization’s top ranks used “tactics that destroyed his victim’s sense of self and ability to trust,” she said.
He also ordered female slaves to be branded. Several of the women who belonged to the inner circle of DOS had a NXIVM symbol seared into their flesh. The women later learned the symbol contained Raniere’s initials.
Raniere’s attorney, Marc Agnifilo, argued throughout the trial that his client had committed no crimes.
In closing arguments Tuesday, defense attorneys said Raniere had no criminal intent and that there was no sex trafficking by DOS because the sexual encounters were consensual and there was no commercial aspect to them.
Raniere did not testify in the case and his attorneys did not call any witnesses.