NXIVM leader Keith Raniere to face sex slave charges in Brooklyn

Democrat and Chronicle, New York/March 27, 2018

By Joseph Spector and Jon Campbell

Albany, New York --Keith Raniere, the co-founder of secretive Albany-area self-help group NXIVM, will remain in custody as he's transported to Brooklyn to face charges that he led a secret society that used woman as sex slaves and branded them with a logo bearing his initials.

Raniere, who was known as “The Vanguard” by followers of the cult-like group, was arrested Monday in Mexico and charged with sex trafficking, sex trafficking conspiracy and forced labor conspiracy. 

He did not make an argument for bail Tuesday during an initial court appearance in Fort Worth, Texas, clearing the way for him to be transported to Brooklyn to face bail and preliminary hearings, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for New York's Eastern District.

Raniere will be "removed to the Eastern District of New York in the custody of the United States Marshal Service," John Marzulli, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, said in a statement.

Masters and slaves

Prosecutors have accused Raniere of leading "DOS", a secret group in which women who joined were known as "masters" and "slaves."

The women were recruited to the group under the guise of it being a mentoring group.

But in actuality, the women were treated as slaves and in some cases used as sex slaves by Raniere, according to the FBI.

To join the group, they were required to strip naked before they were branded on their pubic area and had to give up collateral — such as naked photos or damaging confessions — to ensure they wouldn't defect.

Raniere was found Monday in a luxury villa outside Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, after fleeing the country following a New York Times report in October on the branding.

When he was taken away in custody by Mexican officials, a group of women followed behind in a car being driven at high speeds, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors are trying to block Raniere, who grew up in Suffern, Rockland County, from getting bail, arguing that he's a risk to flee because of his past actions and his access to the vast resources of Clare Bronfman, an heiress to the Seagram's liquor fortune who is a longtime follower of Raniere.

They also pointed to Raniere's history of sexual deviance and manipulation of women, carrying between 15 and 20 sexual partners and having been accused of having sex with underage women.

"The defendant, who was living in Mexico prior to his arrest and has access to vast resources, poses a significant risk of flight," court papers said Tuesday.

"In addition, his long-standing history of systematically exploiting women through coercive practices for his own financial and sexual benefit demonstrates that, if released, he would pose a danger to the community."

Remains in detention

Brian Poe, a Fort Worth-based attorney who represented Raniere at his hearing Tuesday, said Raniere would have his next court proceedings in Brooklyn. A court date has not yet been set.

Poe said he was retained by Raniere only for his Texas hearing on Tuesday, not for the rest of the proceedings.

"Mr. Raniere waived the identity hearing and elected to have his preliminary and detention hearing in the Eastern District of New York, so the court ordered that he be transferred to New York for further proceedings," Poe wrote in an email.

Natalie has spoken out against Raniere and NXIVM for nearly 20 years, warning of his manipulative techniques and assisting women who defected from the group.

Raniere has tied Natalie up with lawsuits and court proceedings since they broke up in 1999.

“To hear the relief from these women — for all of us, it’s really over," Natalie said Tuesday. 

"Every five or six years, a group of women comes out and I sit down with them and support them any way I can. And every time, he walks away. He’s not walking away this time."

NXIVM participants would allegedly sign up for a weeklong course that could cost $5,000. When they couldn't pay, they "remained obliged to NXIVM," according to the allegations in a federal complaint unsealed Monday.

"Ranierie has maintained a rotating group of 15 to 20 women with whom he maintains sexual relationships," the criminal complaint states.

More reaction

On NXIVM's website last year, Raniere had claimed DOS, the secret society, was not associated with the group, which has been active since 1999. 

But a Yahoo! email account subpoenaed by federal investigators included emails showing a pyramid diagram showing the slave masters ultimately reported to Raniere and that he conceived of the group. 

“As alleged in the complaint, Keith Raniere created a secret society of women whom he had sex with and branded with his initials, coercing them with the threat of releasing their highly personal information and taking their assets,” U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue in the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

Toni Natalie, a Rochester-area woman who dated Raniere in the 1990s, said seeing the news of Raniere's arrest Monday was "surreal."

In the Albany area, there were media reports Tuesday of raids at homes associated with NXIVM.

Raniere did not respond to emails seeking comment Monday, and it remains unclear whether he has retained an attorney to represent him in New York.

Catherine Oxenberg, the Dynasty actress whose daughter remains involved in NXIVM, issued a statement Monday saying she wants to "help all the young women affected by this cult."

Oxenberg has been out of touch with her daughter in recent months and had raised concerns about her well-being.

"They are the victims of human trafficking — which is slavery," she said in the statement. 

"For months, I have worked to expose Keith Raniere and NXIVM, and today’s arrest vindicates my efforts. I want my daughter to know I love her and that I want her back in my life.”

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