This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
Alleged sex cult leader Keith Raniere appeared in a Brooklyn federal court on Friday for the first time since his arrest in Mexico last month on sex trafficking and conspiracy to commit forced labor charges. The judge issued a permanent order of detention, which means he will not be released on bail.
Prosecutors argued Raniere should not be granted bail because his history of abusing women and girls poses a danger to the community. In a letter to the court, a US attorney described sexual encounters with underage girls first reported by the Albany Times Union in 2012.
Raniere is the leader of an international self-help empire called Nxivm and is accused of conspiring with Smallville actress Allison Mack to create a blackmail-based pyramid scheme that “enslaved” dozens of women. Court documents filed last month allege women who wanted to join a secret women-only group were coerced into giving nude photos and damaging personal information as a form of “collateral.” The women were told that if they left the group or spoke about it publicly, their collateral would be released.
Women who were recruited into the group were called “slaves” and were required to recruit more women to be their own “slaves.” All of them were stripped naked and branded with a cryptic-looking symbol near their crotch in an initiation ceremony that was filmed. Those allegations first came to light in a New York Times story last year.
Court docs filed by the US Justice Department describe serious sexual allegations against Raniere. One woman actress in her 30s referred to as “Jane Doe 1” was blindfolded, driven to an unknown location, and tied down to a table, according to the criminal complaint.
“Another person in the room, who Jane Doe 1 did not previously know was present, began performing oral sex on Jane Doe 1 as Raniere circled the table making comments,” reads part of the complaint. “Jane Doe 1 did not want to participate in this sexual activity, but believed it was part of her commitment (to the group).”
FBI investigators found women were regularly given assignments under threat, including having sex with Raniere or refraining from sex and masturbation. The women were kept on diets under 1,000 calories per day.
Last week, VICE reported on several Vancouver actresses who are linked to Raniere either as “slaves” or as former coaches in the self-help coursework he has been developing since the late 1990s. Former Nxivm insiders say actresses were used as a marketing tool to bring in more members.
An FBI investigation into Nxivm’s other business dealings is still ongoing. Raniere will appear in court again for a preliminary hearing on April 27.
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