NEW YORK — He was a con man who stole money and created a harem of sexual “slaves,” branded with his initials and kept in line with blackmail, prosecutors said. But he claimed he was only helping his followers reach personal fulfillment by breaking down emotional barriers.
On Wednesday, jurors in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn sided with prosecutors. They found Keith Raniere, the leader of the cultlike group near Albany known as Nxivm, guilty of racketeering and sex trafficking, ending a six-week trial that exposed the sordid inner workings of his organization.
Raniere attracted high-profile followers, among them “Smallville” actress Allison Mack and Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, who helped finance its activities.
The jury deliberated only five hours before finding Raniere, 58, guilty of all seven counts against him.
Much of the trial focused on a secret sorority within Nxivm called The Vow or DOS, in which women were branded, asked to adhere to starvation diets and assigned to have sex with Raniere.
As proof of their commitment to his teachings, the women handed over nude photographs and signed letters containing embarrassing secrets, which were then used to compel them to follow orders, prosecutors said.
“With his inner circle, he was the ruler in his universe,” a prosecutor, Moira Penza, told jurors during her closing statement. “A crime boss with no limits and no checks on his power.”
One of Raniere’s lawyers, Marc Agnifilo, countered by telling jurors although Raniere was involved in sexual activities that might seem “repulsive, disgusting and offensive,” that did not make him a criminal.
“You might find a lot of things about him distasteful,” Agnifilo said. “But most of them aren’t part of the charges.”
Raniere had been indicted on crimes including racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, forced labor, money laundering, wire fraud, identity theft and possession of child pornography. Five women with senior roles in the group, including Mack and Bronfman, pleaded guilty to various crimes before trial.
Beyond exploiting women for sex, prosecutors said Raniere enriched himself through fraud, the government said. For instance, the group charged more than $100,000 to the credit card of a senior Nxivm member after her death and wrote checks totaling more than $300,000 on her bank account, Penza said.