28 October 2020 02:43
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Keith Raniere, the founder of the cult-like group NXIVM where women were kept on starvation diets, branded with his initials, and ordered to have sex with him, was sentenced on Tuesday to 120 years in prison following his conviction for sex trafficking and other crimes. The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn, after a hearing where 15 former NXIVM members spoke out against Raniere, 60. Garaufis said "no words can adequately express the lasting pain" Raniere caused his victims. "I do believe strongly that I'm innocent of these crimes," Raniere said before being sentenced. Federal prosecutors had sought a life sentence for Raniere for crimes he committed as the leader of NXIVM, a purported self-help group based near Albany, New York.
Agnifilo said the sentence should take into account Raniere's "perspective," drawing a sharp rebuke from Garaufis. Another former member, the actress India Oxenberg, told Raniere at the hearing: "You stole seven years of my life that I'll never get back." Jurors convicted Raniere in June 2019 of racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking and possession of child pornography in the form of photos of 15-year-old Camila, among other crimes, following extensive testimony from former NXIVM members. Prosecutors said Raniere created a secret sorority within NXIVM called DOS, where female "slaves" turned over nude photos and other compromising materials that could be used for blackmail if they tried to leave. More than 50 people wrote letters to Garaufis urging leniency for Raniere, including Camila's and Daniela's father, Hector. Several other people affiliated with NXIVM have pleaded guilty to criminal charges.
Prosecutors had sought life in prison while defence lawyers said he should face 15 years behind bars. India Oxenberg, right, arrives with her lawyer at Brooklyn federal court for the sentencing hearing for Keith Raniere (Mark Lennihan/AP) The sentencing culminated several years of revelations about Raniere's programme, 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. He was convicted on charges including racketeering, sex trafficking, extortion and obstruction of justice. They said that among other crimes, Raniere began a sexual relationship in 2005 with a 15-year-old girl and confined another teenager to a room for nearly two years. Raniere had come under harsh attack on Tuesday from former followers during sentencing in his sex-trafficking case. India Oxenberg, the daughter of Dynasty actress Catherine Oxenberg, called him an "entitled little princess" and a sexual predator and lamented that she "may have to spend the rest of my life with Keith Raniere's initials seared into me". Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. Ex-followers told the judge that Bronfman for years had used her wealth to try to silence Nxivm defectors. 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. The company charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self-improvement courses in Albany, New York, along with branches in Mexico and Vancouver, Canada, according to The Associated Press. NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere looks on during his sentencing hearing in a sex trafficking and racketeering case inside the Brooklyn Federal Courthouse in New York, U.S., New York, U.S., October 27, 2020 in this courtroom sketch. A "self-help" guru convicted of running a cult-like organisation of sex slaves who were branded with his initials was sentenced to 120 years in prison by a New York judge Tuesday. The effective life sentence for Keith Raniere, 60, comes after he was found guilty of coercing women into having sex with him as the charismatic leader of Nxivm, a life-coaching group that attracted a coterie of rich and famous devotees. The "slaves" were made to have sex with Raniere, hand over personal information and compromising photos--and some of the women were branded like cattle as other members held them down. Raniere was convicted in June 2019 on all seven charges brought against him, including racketeering, sex trafficking, extortion, criminal conspiracy and the sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old girl. A total of 15 people--13 of them women--addressed the Brooklyn court Tuesday while more than 90 victims wrote letters to Judge Nicholas Garaufis. Nxivm--pronounced Nexium--proved a huge draw with its promise of self-improvement courses after Raniere founded the organization in New York state in 1998. But Raniere, who was arrested in Mexico in 2018, swapped the personal development training courses for sex sessions as the head of subgroup of up to 20 women--the youngest of whom was the 15-year-old. Addressing the court Tuesday, Raniere said he was "deeply sorry" for the "pain and anger" that his victims had expressed but maintained his innocence. The heiress of the Canadian drinks empire Seagram, Clare Bronfman, was sentenced last month after also pleading guilty. Following Raniere's conviction, New York prosecutor Richard Donoghue said the proceedings "revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con-man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization." Prosecutors had called for a life sentence, accusing Raniere of a "total denial of culpability."