NXIVM Co-Founder Nancy Salzman Sentenced to 3.5 Years in Prison

Salzman, who pleaded guilty to racketeering and once suggested children can consent to sex at age 12, has renounced ‘sex cult’ leader Keith Raniere.
NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman appears in court for sentencing Wednesday.
NXIVM co-founder Nancy Salzman, center, appears in court for sentencing Wednesday. Photo by Paul Frangipane/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A woman who helped “sex cult” leader Keith Raniere indoctrinate and control women for two decades was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on Wednesday.

Nancy Salzman, 67, began designing pseudoscientific life coaching exercises with Raniere in 1998. The company they founded together, called Executive Success Programs and later rebranded as NXIVM, claimed to help people break out of “limiting beliefs” and achieve their goals. 


NXIVM, pronounced Neks-ee-um, presented Raniere as a genius philosopher and inventor with a claimed IQ of 240. Its self-improvement programs encouraged increasing self-denial and submission to Raniere. People who left or criticized the group faced intimidation, lawsuits, and shunning.

Salzman served as NXIVM’s president and wore a special gold sash to signify her rank. In statements heard in court, former coaches called her a chief enabler and disciplinarian who covered up abuse.

“I am not sure you will ever understand how your lies and faulty teachings affected me and others,” Sarah Edmondson, a top NXIVM recruiter who became a whistleblower in 2017, said in a video statement. “I still have dreams about you where I’m being punished by you for something trivial and I can’t speak up for fear of public shaming.”

Raniere was sentenced to 120 years in federal prison for sex trafficking, wire fraud, sexual exploitation of a child, and a slew of racketeering offenses last year. Witnesses at his 2019 trial testified about a secret “badass bitch bootcamp” that blackmailed women into unwanted sexual contact, and a scheme to confine an undocumented woman to a bedroom for nearly two years


Witnesses said Salzman exercised an enormous amount of influence over the people that she coached. Followers moved across continents, severely restricted calories, abstained from romantic relationships, and took on unpaid labor (and mounting debt) under her direction. Many believed that her unlicensed therapies could cure medical disorders.

Salzman was the first member of NXIVM’s inner circle to plead guilty to racketeering charges in March 2019. She admitted to conspiring to spy on Raniere’s perceived enemies and altering video evidence submitted in court

Prosecutors requested a “substantial sentence of incarceration” for Salzman, in the “high end” of a 33- to 41-month calculation. They also asked the judge to consider her role in disseminating Raniere’s “poisonous” ideas about child sexual abuse and rape. 

In one video shown in court Salzman suggested children as young as 12 can consent to sex. Other NXIVM lessons suggested some women only climax when they’re raped. In a letter to the judge, one victim identified in court as Camila wrote that Salzman’s lectures played a part in her grooming and sexual abuse beginning at age 15. 


Salzman’s lawyers requested home confinement rather than prison time, arguing that she too was a victim who feared Raniere. 

“Raniere had many victims but one of his first victims was Nancy,” said one letter of support submitted by Salzman’s defence team. “He used her to promote himself and kept her working all the time to keep the company and community together.”

Salzman’s lawyers maintained her coaching did improve lives. “I can say without hesitation that the quality of my life is better than it ever would have been had I not met (Salzman),” said another supporter quoted in court documents. (All names and affiliations were redacted.)

Nancy’s daughter Lauren Salzman avoided prison time at her sentencing in July, despite facing a recommended sentence three times longer. Smallville actress Allison Mack, who faced up to 17 years for her role in the blackmail scheme known as DOS, received a three-year sentence from the same judge. Prosecutors asked for leniency in both cases because the women cooperated and were willing to testify.

Clare Bronfman, heir to the Seagram liquor fortune, is serving a six-plus-year sentence for identity theft and bogus immigration schemes.

Though most of NXIVM has disbanded in the wake of Raniere’s sentence, a handful of supporters remain and have called for his conviction to be overturned. Raniere has cycled through several lawyers as he prepares an appeal that’s expected to allege prosecutorial misconduct and evidence tampering. (Raniere’s trial lawyer Marc Agnifilo previously told the judge that he studied the tampering claims and did not think they were worthy of filing.)

Edmondson said Salzman, who she used to call her “bonus mother,” has a responsibility to reach out to Raniere’s loyalists and set the record straight.

“Everyone who remains loyal to Keith remains loyal because of the fact that they are in a closed loop system of logic that you taught,” she said. “I truly hope you can convey the truth to the remaining followers so that they too can wake up.”

Sarah Berman is the author of Don’t Call It a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM, which is available here. Follow her on Twitter.