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

Kimberley case counts not at the point for 18 years and older community vaccination, says Interior Health. (File photo)
Many factors considered for smaller community-wide vaccination: Interior Health

East Kootenay resort town’s COVID-19 situation not at the point of community-wide vaccination, say officials

The BC Wildfire Service is urging caution amid forecasts of strong winds throughout the Kamloops Fire Centre. (BC Wildfire Service photo)
Strong winds forecasted for Kamloops Fire Centre, BC Wildfire service urges caution

“Wind can cause grass fires to spread very quickly,” says the BC Wildfire Service

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

The freed osprey keeps a wary eye on its rescuers after being deposited on its nest. (Photo credit: Greg Hiltz)
Hydro crew in Ashcroft gets osprey rescue call-out they won’t soon forget

Bird was tangled in baling wire hanging from a hydro pole, necessitating a tricky rescue

Hesco baskets were first used outside the Cache Creek fire hall in 2020 (pictured), and have once again been put in place as a pre-emptive measure to safeguard the hall against possible flooding. (Photo credit: Barbara Roden)
Cache Creek taking pre-emptive measures to prevent flooding

Sand and sandbags will soon be available for all residents who need them

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

MLA Shirley Bond, right, answers questions during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on February 19, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. gaming minister says she wasn’t told directly about dirty cash flowing to casinos

Shirley Bond said Thursday civil forfeiture, gang violence and gambling addiction were also major concerns in 2011

RCMP Constable Etsell speaks to tourists leaving the area at a police roadblock on Westside Road south of Fintry, B.C., Thursday, July 23, 2009. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Yvonne Berg
B.C. police say they take ‘exception’ to conducting roadblocks limiting travel

Asking the police to enforce roadblocks exposes officers to further risk and possible COVID-19 infections, says federation president Brian Sauve

As part of the province’s strategy to combat the opioid overdose crisis, take-home naloxone kits have been distributed throughout the province. (Courtesy of Gaëlle Nicolussi)
Vancouver Island could be at its worst point of overdose crises yet: medical health officer

Island Health issued overdose advisories for Victoria, various communities in the last two weeks

BC Hydro released a survey Thursday, April 22. It found that many British Columbians are unintentionally contributing to climate change with their yard maintenance choices. (Pixabay)
Spend a lot of time doing yard work? It might be contributing to climate change

Recent BC Hydro survey finds 60% of homeowners still use gas-powered lawnmowers and yard equipment

Journal de Montreal is seen in Montreal, on Thursday, April 22, 2021. The daily newspaper uses a file picture of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau dressed in traditional Indian clothing during his trip to India to illustrate a story on the Indian variant of the coronavirus. Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press
Montreal newspaper blasted for front-page photo of Trudeau in India

Trudeau is wearing traditional Indian clothes and holding his hands together in prayer beside a caption that reads, ‘The Indian variant has arrived’

Nanaimo RCMP say a man was injured while pouring gunpowder on a backyard fire in Harewood on Wednesday, April 21. (File photo)
Nanaimo man hospitalized after pouring gunpowder onto backyard fire

RCMP investigating explosion in Harewood also came across a still for making alcohol on property

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. sees 1,006 COVID-19 cases Thursday, ‘alarming’ 502 in hospital

Vaccine bookings for people aged 60 and older set to start

Most Read