NXIVM trial verdict: Keith Raniere, alleged sex cult leader, guilty in sex trafficking case

/ CBS/AP

CBSN

The former spiritual leader of a purported upstate New York self-improvement group that's been called a cult and a pyramid scheme has been found guiltyon seven counts including sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy charges, CBS New York reported. Jurors began deliberating the case against Keith Raniere Wednesday morning and announced they had reached a verdict about four hours later.

They were handed the case following a trial in Brooklyn federal court that has given a disturbing inside look inside the group, NXIVM.

Since early May, jurors have been hearing testimony from what prosecutors say are former "sex slaves" who spoke about the torment of being branded with Raniere's initials — their "supreme master," often referred to as "Vanguard." The women said they were duped into a joining a secretive NXIVM sub-sect known as DOS under the pretenses that it was a women's empowerment group. But, they said they were forced by other women who were their "masters" to turn over "collateral," including nude photographs, and groomed for sex with Raniere.

Keith Raniere, center, pictured in a June 18, 2019 sketch Elizabeth Williams via AP

During closing arguments this week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza recounted testimony that Raniere had some of his brainwashed female followers starved, forced one to have sex with another woman and confined a third to a room for nearly two years for defying his orders. The jury has also seen alleged child pornography involving a teenage girl prosecutors say Raniere coerced into sex.

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Penza on Monday called Raniere a "con man" and a "crime boss" who used the organization to "tap into a never-ending flow of women and money." DOS, she said, was formed "to satisfy the defendant's desire for sex, power and control."

But attorneys for Raniere, 58, say he had no criminal intent and that his sexual encounters with female followers were consensual.

Raniere's lawyer Marc Agnifilo said Raniere had a "disgusting lifestyle," the New York Daily News reported, but that the government has not proven its case that he is guilty of sex trafficking, racketeering and conspiracy. Agnifilo argued that the so-called collateral wasn't meaningful because it was never released.

Raniere stood trial alone after five former members of his inner circle negotiated plea deals, including TV actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heiress Clare Bronfman. Last year, after a New York Times exposé on the group and reports that investigators were interviewing some women who had defected from DOS, Raniere fled to Mexico. He was found staying with Mack and other women in a luxury villa and taken into custody on a U.S. warrant.

Mack was initially indicted on sex trafficking charges for allegedly recruiting women into DOS, but pleaded guilty to racketeering in April, admitting she collected "collateral" from two women at Raniere's direction and threatened to make it public if they didn't perform "so-called acts of love."

Bronfman, who bankrolled Raniere and his program of intense self-improvement classes, admitted she harbored someone who was living in the U.S. illegally for unpaid "labor and services" and that she committed credit card fraud on behalf of Raniere. Both Bronfman and Mack, who await sentencing, said they wanted to help people through NXIVM and apologized for their actions.
Raniere faces life in prison.

First published on June 19, 2019 / 2:54 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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