For two decades, NXIVM founder Keith Raniere was hailed as “the smartest man in the world” by thousands who joined his ultra-secretive organization in upstate New York that preached personal growth through sacrifice.
But on Tuesday, his downfall was made complete when the 60-year-old was sentenced by a judge to 120 years in prison for sex trafficking and fraud, shortly after 15 former NXIVM members confronted him in Brooklyn federal court, recalling in harrowing detail the abuse they endured in his sex cult.
In addition to what is effectively a life sentence, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis slapped Raniere with a $1.75 million fine for his crimes, stating that his offenses were “cruel, perverse, and extremely serious.” The judge also forbade Raniere from having contact with any NXIVM associates.
Addressing the court on Tuesday, Raniere expressed his “deep remorse” to those he has hurt over the years—but continued to insist he has been wrongfully accused.
“I am deeply sorry and I see that where I am is caused by me. I am deeply remorseful and repentant,” he said. “It is true I am not remorseful over the crimes I do not believe I have committed at all. But I am deeply remorseful of all this pain.”
The sentencing marks the end of a years-long battle between Raniere, known as “Vanguard,” and scores of former members who allege NXIVM was a criminal enterprise in which Raniere had sex with underage girls, forced women he impregnated to have abortions, and made “slaves” illegally monitor his enemies. Last June, Raniere was convicted of seven offenses—including wire fraud conspiracy, sex trafficking conspiracy, and forced labor conspiracy—for manipulating his followers for his own sexual gratification under the guise of NXIVM’s mission.
Camila, one of Raniere’s victims, slammed the sex-cult leader in court on Tuesday afternoon, describing how he “hid his abuse behind concepts of value and nobility.”
“But there is nothing noble about abusing a child,” she declared as Raniere looked away.
Camila, who said she had a sexual relationship with Raniere for over 12 years—beginning when she was 15 years old—spoke for the first time about the abuse she endured, detailing to the court how he isolated her from friends and family for his “sexual gratification.”
The woman, now in her 30s, explained that her decision to speak was her way of “getting her voice back” after years of “coming to terms with the trauma and abuse.”
Throughout Raniere’s trial, jurors saw sexually explicit messages between the pair, including multiple conversations about BDSM. Prosecutors used Camila’s abuse as the basis for Raniere’s child-pornography charge.
On Tuesday, Camila, whose two sisters also had relationships with Raniere and were forced to get abortions, said the abuse was more than sexual—that it was also emotional, mental, and psychological, resulting in her isolating herself from friends and family to “please” Raniere.
“He manipulated me for what he wanted,” she said. “I became unreachable to my parents, my brother, my friends until I had nobody to worry about me. He knew the things that mattered most to me and what I feared and used that against me.”
“I hold scars on my body from him that can never be erased,” Camila added.
Sarah Edmondson, a former top recruit in NXIVM who was one of the original whistleblowers against the organization, also addressed the court via video. Speaking directly to Raniere, she slammed the cult leader for being a “liar, parasite, and a grifter” who manipulated people seeking personal growth.
“In a curriculum that focused on personal growth—you have taken none,” she said. The 43-year-old, who was part of a secret group forced to have Raniere’s initials branded on them, said she removed the marking with plastic surgery.
As the two women spoke to Raniere, clad in a navy prison jumpsuit and orange T-shirt, he remained emotionless.
Hours before the sentencing in Brooklyn federal court, over a dozen of Raniere’s supporters lined up outside the courthouse—including Battlestar Galactica actress Nicki Clyne, who arrived with a camera crew. (While Clyne was a NXIVM member, she has not been charged with a crime.)
Prosecutors recommended a life sentence for Raniere, while his defense asked for 15 years behind bars, arguing that while the 60-year-old “continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges,” he believes there was misconduct by prosecutors in his case. During the sentencing, defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo conceded and asked for 20 years—stating that for a 60-year-old with no prior offenses the recommended sentence was more than enough.
“Keith Raniere will not be able to victimize people anymore after today’s sentence and we’re very grateful for that,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Seth DuCharme said after the sentencing outside the courthouse, stressing the steep prison sentence was a triumph.
Since its founding in 1998, NXIVM amassed an estimated 17,000 members, holding $5,000 workshops that promised to give followers the skills to promote a path to “greater self-fulfillment.” But prosecutors contend it was nothing more than an illegal pyramid scheme, luring in new recruits who were made to recruit others. In 2017, authorities opened an investigation after a New York Times exposé alleged female NXIVM members were being branded and used as Raniere’s playthings.
Less than a year later, Raniere was arrested in Mexico and extradited to the U.S. on charges including sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy, child exploitation, and child pornography.
Raniere was charged along with five other women: co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren, a top lieutenant; Smallville actress and alleged second-in-command Allison Mack; Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram’s fortune and NXIVM’s largest donor; and the group’s bookkeeper, Kathy Russell. While all five pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, Salzman was the only one to testify against Raniere.
Bronfman was sentenced last month to 81 months in prison for the extreme lengths the 41-year-old went to in order to protect the group and its leader.
“I’m immensely grateful and privileged that people all over the world are praying for me because they know my goodness,” Bronfman said just before she was sentenced. “It doesn’t mean I haven’t made mistakes, I have made mistakes.”
In a stunning move, Kristin Keeffe, who has a 13-year-old son with Raniere and worked in NXIVM’s legal department for a decade, also spoke to the court on Tuesday about Bronfman and Raniere. Breaking down in tears, Keeffe described the power Raniere and his inner circle wielded over her—a force that led her into hiding with her son for years.
“My child will never get back the years we spent in hiding,” she said, after detailing how Raniere and several of NXIVM’s top lieutenants used threats to silence her after she had Raniere’s child.
Throughout Raniere’s six-week trial last June, jurors heard lurid testimony from several women, some of whom testified about NXIVM’s purported women’s empowerment group, DOS. The women allege it was actually a master-slave program in which they were forced to have sex with Raniere, blindly obey their “masters,” and brand themselves with his initials near their crotch with a cautery pen—without anesthesia.
Among the written DOS instructions created by Raniere, Lauren Salzman testified, slaves were told to “be a hungry dog for your master.”
India Oxenberg, a former member of NXIVM and daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, detailed to the court on Tuesday how Raniere “stole seven years of her life” and abused her. Calling Raniere several names—including “sexual predator” and “racist”—Oxenberg went into detail about the pain she endured while in DOS and the mental manipulation she endured while in the perverted sorority.
“You’re a liar and sadist for getting pleasure watching our skins burn,” she said. “I may have to live the rest of my life with Keith Raniere’s initials on my skin.”
Oxenberg, who didn’t leave the organization until after Raniere’s arrest, urged the judge for a “permanent sentence” in light of the permanent effect his abuse had on his victims. “I will be the victim of Keith Raniere’s for the rest of my life—but I don’t need to act like one,” Oxenberg told the court, her voice breaking several times.
But since Raniere’s conviction, he has maintained his innocence and continued to issue demands to his disciples from inside prison, prosecutors said in a sentencing memo last month.
Requesting a life sentence, prosecutors revealed in a memo to Garaufis that Raniere has still been communicating with his remaining supporters through phone calls and emails—suggesting that “he is unrepentant, has no empathy for his victims, and would continue to commit crimes if released.”
Some of those commands include digging up dirt on Garaufis, asking pundits, including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, to speak on Raniere’s behalf, and to allegedly start a podcast with a $25,000 cash prize that would entice listeners to find “purported errors in Raniere’s prosecution and trial.”
“Raniere concealed his abuse behind the smokescreen of his supposed ‘personal growth’ programs—a charade he continues to this day,” the memo said, asking for the judge to impose a life sentence. “Since his conviction, Raniere has continued to demonstrate a complete lack of remorse for his crimes.”
In a court filing last month, Raniere’s own defense lawyers admitted that the “Vanguard” carries no remorse for his actions and will not be asking his former members for forgiveness. Instead, the legal team accused Garaufis of corruption and demanded a new trial. Garaufis on Friday denied Raniere’s second bid for a new trial.
Raniere has repeatedly insisted he is innocent. In his first interview since his conviction, Raniere claimed that while he was a leader of an organization that essentially imprisoned women, he is simply the victim of unethical prosecution.
“I am innocent,” Raniere said in the Friday jailhouse interview with Dateline, before stating he was “sorry and pained” over his role in NXIVM. “This is a horrible tragedy with many, many people being hurt. There is a horrible injustice here. And whether you think I’m the devil or not, the justice process has to be examined.”