'NXIVM' leader accused of keeping women slaves as part of cult appears in Texas court on sex trafficking charges

The Dallas Morning News/March 28, 2018

By Claire Z. Cardona

The leader of a secretive group in New York where women were reportedly branded and forced to serve as the leader's slaves appeared in federal court Tuesday in Fort Worth, officials said. 

Keith Raniere, the founder of the so-called self-help organization "NXIVM," was arrested and deported back to the U.S. after he was found Sunday in a luxury villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. 

Raniere, also known as "The Vanguard," faces sex trafficking and forced labor conspiracy charges. He made his initial appearance at a federal courthouse in Fort Worth. Some former members have accused him of leading a cult. 

Raniere left the United States last year after The New York Times reported that some women who joined a secret sorority within his Albany-based group had been branded with a symbol that included the 57-year-old's initials.

The women told investigators they were subjected to "master-slave" conditions in which they were emotionally and physically tormented. NXIVM has called the women's complaints "lies."

"As alleged, Keith Raniere displayed a disgusting abuse of power in his efforts to denigrate and manipulate women he considered his sex slaves," FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney said in a written statement. "He allegedly participated in horrifying acts of branding and burning them, with the cooperation of other women operating within this unorthodox pyramid scheme. These serious crimes against humanity are not only shocking, but disconcerting to say the least, and we are putting an end to this torture today."

U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cureton granted Raniere's request Tuesday to have his preliminary and detention hearings take place in the court prosecuting him in the Eastern District of New York.

Cureton ordered him taken into custody by the U.S. Marshals Service for transfer to New York. Laura Vega, a spokeswoman for the agency, says Raniere will be moved sometime in the next two weeks.

Also Tuesday, federal authorities raided the upstate New York home of NXIVM president Nancy Salzman.

A second upstate location also was searched Tuesday, but authorities declined to discuss what they were looking for in either operation. They said no other people have been taken into custody in connection with the ongoing investigation of the purported self-help group that critics have likened to a cult.

Raniere and NXIVM have been the subject of criticism for years, dating to at least 2012, when Albany's Times Union published a series of articles examining the organization and allegations it was like a cult.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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