NXIVM guru gets 120 years in prison in sex-slaves case

FILE - In this Tuesday, May 7, 2019, file courtroom drawing, defendant Keith Raniere, center, leader of the secretive group NXIVM, is seated between his attorneys Paul DerOhannesian, left, and Marc Agnifilo during the first day of his sex trafficking trial. Raniere, a self-improvement guru whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, faces sentencing Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)FILE - In this Tuesday, May 7, 2019, file courtroom drawing, defendant Keith Raniere, center, leader of the secretive group NXIVM, is seated between his attorneys Paul DerOhannesian, left, and Marc Agnifilo during the first day of his sex trafficking trial. Raniere, a self-improvement guru whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, faces sentencing Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials. (Elizabeth Williams via AP, File)
Toni Natalie, second from left, and India Oxenberg, right, arrive with their attorneys at Brooklyn federal court for a sentencing hearing for self-improvement guru Keith Raniere, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 in New York. Raniere, whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, is expected to be sentenced Tuesday on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)Toni Natalie, second from left, and India Oxenberg, right, arrive with their attorneys at Brooklyn federal court for a sentencing hearing for self-improvement guru Keith Raniere, Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020 in New York. Raniere, whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, is expected to be sentenced Tuesday on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Disgraced self-improvement guru Keith Raniere, whose NXIVM followers included millionaires and Hollywood actors, was sentenced to 120 years on Tuesday for turning some adherents into sex slaves branded with his initials and sexually abusing a 15-year-old.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis called Raniere “ruthless and unyielding” in crimes that were “particularly egregious” because he targeted girls and young women in the sex-trafficking conspiracy that resulted in Raniere’s conviction last year.

He handed down the unusually stiff sentence in Brooklyn federal court after hearing 15 victims call for a long prison term to reflect the nightmares and anguish they’ll confront the rest of their lives.

As he announced the sentence, Garaufis noted that Raniere labeled some of the victims’ claims lies. The judge told a woman who Raniere ordered to be kept in a room for two years when she was 18: “What happened to you is not your fault.” He said that went for the other victims too.

Raniere, who looked at victims as they spoke in the courtroom, maintained his defiant tone, although he said he was “truly sorry” that his organization led to a place where “there is so much anger and so much pain.”

“I do believe I am innocent of the charges. … It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all,” Raniere said.

Prosecutors had sought life in prison, while a defence lawyer told the judge Raniere should face 20 years behind bars.

The sentencing was the culmination of several years of revelations about Raniere’s program, NXIVM, which charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self-improvement courses at its headquarters near Albany, New York, along with branches in Mexico and Canada. Adherents endured humiliation and pledged obedience to Raniere as part of his teachings.

NXIVM has been the subject of two TV documentary series this year, HBO’s “The Vow,” and the Starz series “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult.”

Prosecutors said Raniere, 60, led what amounted to a criminal enterprise, inducing shame and guilt to influence and control co-conspirators who helped recruit and groom sexual partners for him. Raniere was convicted on charges including racketeering, alien smuggling, sex trafficking, extortion and obstruction of justice.

After victims spoke for 2 1/2 hours, the judge grew impatient and a bit angry when defence lawyer Marc Agnifilo sought to portray his client’s organization as “doing good” for women before things turned bad for some.

“I’ve heard enough about Mr. Raniere’s theories,” Garaufis snapped.

The judge said Raniere groomed a 13-year-old girl so that “two years later he’s having sex with a 15-year-old girl.”

At another point, he cut Agnifilo off as the lawyer tried to argue victims were not always factually correct.

“You’re starting to tire me out here,” the judge said. “It’s pretty clear he took advantage of people sexually.”

Earlier, India Oxenberg, the daughter of “Dynasty” actor Catherine Oxenberg, called Raniere an “entitled little princess” and a sexual predator and lamented that she “may have to spend the rest of my life with Keith Raneire’s initials seared into me.”

Another victim said she had the initials removed from her body by a plastic surgeon.

Other victims labeled him a liar, a parasite, a terrorist, a sociopath, a racist, a sadist and “a toddler with too much power and zero accountability.”

And the woman who was sexually abused beginning at age 15 said Raniere groomed her by telling her she was mature for her age.

“It is false. I was a child,” she said.

READ MORE: Sentencing date set for NY self-help guru in sex slave case

She said that when Raniere saw blood running down her arm after a botched suicide attempt, he revealed his self-obsessed attitude, asking her: “Do you know how bad that could have been for me if you killed yourself?”

The likelihood of leniency had seemed to dissipate with the recent sentencing of Clare Bronfman, 41, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, for her role in NXIVM, which has been described by some ex-members as a cult. Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. Prosecutors had only sought five years.

Ex-followers told the judge that Bronfman for years had used her wealth to try to silence NXIVM defectors.

Reniere’s followers called him “Vanguard.” To honour him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, the prosecutors said. Women were also pressured into giving up embarrassing information about themselves that could be used against them if they left the group.

Along with Bronfman, Raniere’s teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actors, including Allison Mack of TV’s “Smallville.” Mack also has pleaded guilty to charges in the case and is awaiting sentencing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tanya Hajjar told the judge only a life sentence would protect the public because Raniere otherwise “would be committing crimes today, tomorrow and in the future.”

Outside court afterward, Barbara Boucher, who described herself as the first whistleblower of Raniere’s scam when she left the group 11 years ago, said the sentencing left her “enormously relieved.”

“I loved Keith for many years. I really thought he was my soulmate,” said Boucher, who recalled her role in helping to build the organization when she first viewed it as a kind of Camelot where people could be empowered to be more loving and compassionate and live better lives.

“A lot of people today in this room will carry their wounds with them for life. You don’t recover fully from something like this. It’s deep,” she said. Still, the once-successful financial planner sees a future.

“This is a 20-year book and this is the last chapter of the book and when I leave here today, that book is closing,” Boucher said.

Larry Neumeister And Tom Hays, The Associated Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

crime

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(Photo submitted)
Bentley couple celebrates 60th anniversary

They still laugh, hold hands, play crib and fish says daughter

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, announced the province surpasses one million COVID-19 tests Friday. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up by 100 in last 24 hours

Most central Alberta communities under province’s enhanced measures list

.
Alberta confirmed more than 1,500 COVID-19 cases Sunday

Central zone active cases slightly up

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Kyle Charles poses for a photo in Edmonton on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Marvel Entertainment, the biggest comic book publisher in the world, hired the 34-year-old First Nations illustrator as one of the artists involved in Marvel Voice: Indigenous Voices #1 in August. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
VIDEO: Indigenous illustrator of new Marvel comic hopes Aboriginal women feel inspired

Kyle Charles says Indigenous women around the world have reached out

Russ and Luanne Carl are sharing about their experiences of fighting COVID-19 this past summer. (Photo submitted)
Stettler couple opens up about COVID-19 battle

Luanne and Russ Carl urge others to bolster personal safety measures amidst ongoing pandemic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s inability to manufacture vaccines in-house will delay distribution: Trudeau

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in first few months of 2021, prime minister says

This undated photo issued by the University of Oxford shows of vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
VIDEO: How do the leading COVID vaccines differ? And what does that mean for Canada?

All three of the drug companies are incorporating novel techniques in developing their vaccines

Ilaria Rubino is shown in this undated handout image at University of Alberta. Alberta researcher Rubino has developed technology allowing mostly salt to kill pathogens in COVID-19 droplets as they land on a mask. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-University of Alberta
Alberta researcher gets award for COVID-19 mask innovation

The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval.

This 2019 photo provided by The ALS Association shows Pat Quinn. Quinn, a co-founder of the viral ice bucket challenge, died Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, at the age of 37. (Scott Kauffman/The ALS Association via AP)
Co-founder of viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge dies at 37

Pat Quinn was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2013

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti speaks with the media following party caucus in Ottawa, Tuesday, January 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Exclusion of mental health as grounds for assisted death is likely temporary: Lametti

Senators also suggested the exclusion renders the bill unconstitutional

Claudio Mastronardi, Toronto branch manager at Carmichael Engineering, is photographed at the company’s offices in Mississauga, Ont., Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. As indoor air quality becomes a major concern in places of business, HVAC companies are struggling to keep up with demand for high quality filtration systems. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Business is booming for HVAC companies as commercial buildings see pandemic upgrades

‘The demand right now is very high. People are putting their health and safety ahead of cost’

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speak to the media about the COVID-19 virus outside Rideau Cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Long-awaited federal rent subsidy program for businesses hurt by COVID-19 opens today

The new program will cover up to 65 per cent of rent or commercial mortgage interest

Most Read