NXIVM “sex cult” leader Keith Raniere will spend the rest of his life in federal prison, a Brooklyn judge decided Tuesday.
Raniere was convicted of sex trafficking, racketeering, wire fraud conspiracy, and other crimes in June 2019. Judge Nicholas Garaufis called his crimes “cruel and perverse” and ruled that he serve a cumulative 120 years in prison.
Testimony at the six-week trial revealed Raniere maintained sexual relationships with three young sisters from Mexico, one of them only 15 years old, and exploited their undocumented status in the United States for his own benefit.
Four members of the family at the centre of those charges told the judge on Tuesday about the damage Raniere caused, including the sisters identified in court as Daniela and Camila.
Camila told the judge that Raniere took her virginity on September 18, 2005—when she was 15 and Raniere was 45—but that she was groomed with secret sexual questioning for two years before that. “It took me a long time to begin to process the trauma,” she said. “Even now I know I have a long road ahead of me.”
Camila said she was put on a weight-loss program to get down to 100 pounds or less, and soon developed an eating disorder. She said she struggled against the restrictions and with Raniere’s many “heartless” responses. When she made a suicide attempt, Camila recalled Raniere’s reply: “Do you know how bad that could be for me if you killed yourself?”
Her older sister Daniela was confined to a room for nearly two years under threat that she would be sent back to Mexico with no papers and no contact with her family. Raniere enacted this extreme punishment in response to her admitting romantic feelings for someone else.
Daniela said that while Raniere’s “viciousness” is remarkable, he is ultimately a common liar and predator who will be forgotten. “You took and broke every single piece of me,” she told Raniere in court. “I survived. But not because you were merciful.”
Known as “Vanguard” to his followers, Raniere exercised an unsettling amount of control over women within a small but devoted self-help community. His company NXIVM was founded in 1998, and over two decades grew into a sprawling multi-level marketing enterprise with members around the globe. Its expensive entry-level seminars were supposed to help people achieve their goals, but former members say they were caught up in an insular community that demanded increasing allegiance and did not tolerate criticism.
“You tried to replace my views with your views,” Camila said. “I was cut off from anyone who could ever help me.”
Among NXIVM’s many offshoots was a secret women’s society called DOS that claimed to help women face fears. Trusted mentors within the organization pitched a “badass bitch bootcamp” that required new pledges to hand over damaging information or naked photos to prove their commitment to secrecy. Prosecutors said this “collateral” was leveraged to extract more collateral and commitment, including a “lifetime vow of obedience” and assignments to seduce Raniere. Some of the women were branded with Raniere’s initials, and recordings played in court revealed he considered all of the women his slaves.
“You stole seven years of my life,” India Oxenberg, one of the DOS victims, told Raniere in court. Oxenberg said she spent $100,000 on the NXIVM curriculum, was pressured to sue her own mother, and participated in dozens of sexual encounters because of the blackmail Smallville actress Allison Mack collected. She said she went to bed with hunger pains while on the group’s restrictive diet, and still suffers medical consequences from the disordered eating.
“You played doctor and I was your human science experiment,” she said.
Oxenberg told the judge Raniere is a cruel racist who called one of his slaves the N-word, and urged Mack to do the same—which she did. The Black woman, whose full name was protected at trial, remains loyal to Raniere and attended the sentencing Tuesday morning.
Speakers at the sentencing described bolting upright in the middle of the night, gripped with fear that Raniere could harm them with blackmail, lawsuits, or even violence. Many of them called for Raniere to spend the rest of his life in prison, citing his denial and lack of remorse.
Raniere confirmed his lack of remorse, telling the judge some of the speakers are “really not factual” and “in some cases lying.” He said, “it’s true I’m not remorseful for crimes I did not commit.”
“You tried to blackmail me, you tried to enslave me, you tried to ruin my life and the lives of my friends,” former NXIVM recruiter Sarah Edmondson said in a video statement played in the courtroom. “If there’s any justice, the world will never see your face in public again.”
“He showed me no mercy, he showed my sister no mercy,” Daniela said. “He deserves no mercy.”
Follow Sarah Berman on Twitter. You can pre-order her book Don’t Call it a Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM here.