NXIVM founder Keith Raniere seeks bail, calls Justice Department 'morality police'

Raniere offers $10 million bond and to live under armed guard while case pending

Albany Times-Union/June 6, 2018

By Brendan J. Lyons

Brooklyn — NXIVM co-founder Keith Raniere has filed an application seeking to be released on $10 million bond, arguing he is not a flight risk and offering to live in a residence secured by armed private security guards while his criminal case is pending.

In a filing late Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, Raniere's attorneys referred to the U.S. Justice Department as the "morality police" and accused them of wrongly implicating Raniere in sex trafficking. They said their client, who has been held without bond since his arrest in March, is an accomplished "ethicist" who is not a danger and should be released from custody.

"The federal government apparently does not approve of the way hundreds of women are searching for happiness, fulfillment and meaning in their lives and is now seeking to incarcerate a number of them as well as Raniere, whose ideas inspired this group," the motion states. "Raniere's proposed conditions, including round-the-clock security as well as electronic monitoring will ensure no danger of his fleeing because he would be under constant guard."

Raniere, 57, whose organization has been described by experts as a cult, was arrested at a luxury villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in late March. In Mexico, authorities said, Raniere got rid of his mobile phone and used encrypted email to communicate with his followers. It took authorities nearly two months to locate and arrest him.

But Raniere's attorneys said that he was keeping a low profile in Mexico merely to avoid a group of NXIVM critics who had been stalking and photographing him there. They said he was not fleeing law enforcement, and that one of his attorneys had contacted federal authorities almost two weeks before his arrest asking for Raniere to be able to explain his side of the allegations being made against him.

In a federal indictment unsealed April 20, Raniere and former television actress Allison Mack — a longtime NXIVM member and close associate of Raniere's — were accused of organizing a secret group within NXIVM in which some of its female members said they were coerced into joining a slave-master club, and later branded with a design that included the initials of Raniere and Mack.

Raniere, in statements previously posted on NXIVM's website, had characterized the slave-master group as a consensual, private "sorority" and said that he and the corporation had no role in it.

In the motion for bail, Raniere's attorneys do not acknowledge whether he took part in forming the secretive group, which they compared to the international college fraternity Omega Psi Phi, "with over 750 undergraduate and graduate chapters, (that) has developed an unofficial practice where members voluntarily brand themselves to show dedication to the group."

Federal court records filed earlier this year indicate emails seized from Raniere's private messaging accounts "support the conclusion that Raniere created" the club, known as "Dominus Obsequious Sororium," which means "Master Over the Slave Women."

The women in the group, according to a federal criminal complaint, were lured into the club by other female NXIVM members, including Mack, who considered Raniere her "grand master," and were required to provide "collateral" in order to join. If they tried to leave, they were threatened that their collateral — sometimes damaging information about family members or close-up photographs of their genitalia — would be released.

The government alleges that some of the women felt coerced into having sex with Raniere due to the threat of having damaging information about them released if they tried to leave the group or failed to follow orders.

The motion by Raniere argues that many woman who joined the secret group did not have sex with him and were not branded. Also, his attorneys argued, the women who were branded were never held down against their will. Some have said they were held down by other female members to help them get through the grueling and painful procedure.

"While there may be instances of someone branded who later second-guessed or regretted her decision, the evidence will be clear that the decision was knowing, voluntary and based on free will at the time it was made," the bail motions states.

"The decision of some DOS women to brand themselves was absolutely knowing and voluntary, and a product solely and exclusively of their free will," the motion continues. "In fact, the woman being branded typically placed the stencil on her body where she wanted the brand to be located."

Raniere's attorneys also argue that the government has improperly cast members of the DOS group as victims of sex trafficking.

"The government rushes to judgment that women who similarly brand themselves must be victims, a notion that is anathema not only to the principles underlying the very creation of DOS, but also to the freedom of choice we are all afforded," the motion states. "The government’s overarching premise is that DOS was created as a way of Raniere having access to women who were brought into DOS on an ongoing basis. This is absolutely false and will be soundly disproven through the testimony of the actual DOS members who will testify at the trial."

Raniere's motion also disputes the government's assertion that women were coerced into having sex with him.

"First, there is no evidence of force, threats of force, fraud, coercion or any combination. None of the women have stated, nor could truthfully state, that Raniere had sex with them against their will," the motion states. "This is not a case of non-consensual sexual conduct. Rather, the government seems to be manufacturing a case where women feel compelled to remain in DOS because they voluntarily gave collateral when they joined. But, this is in essence a contract."

Raniere's application for bail requests a hearing and includes his offers to restrict his travel to eastern and southern New York, wear an electronic monitoring device, limit his use of a computer only to helping prepare for his criminal trial, and surrender his passport.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis directed the government to file a response to Raniere's motion by noon Friday.

The motion filed by Raniere's attorneys publicly disclosed for the first time that in mid-March, about nine days before Raniere was taken into custody in Mexico and deported, he had hired Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, to contact the U.S. attorney's office in Albany to share "his side of the story."

The motion indicates that U.S. Attorney Grant Jaquith said his office in Albany did not have an investigation of Raniere underway and was not aware of another U.S. attorney's office conducting one. The investigation and prosecution of Raniere is being handled by the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn.

"Having an attorney reach out to the United States attorney is the antithesis of running, hiding or fleeing investigators," Raniere's motion states.

His attorneys also offered a detailed argument, including flight records and travel itineraries of Raniere, to counter the government's argument that he had fled to Mexico to avoid arrest after a New York Times story was published last fall highlighting information on the DOS club.

Raniere's attorneys said the mother of one of Raniere's children is Mexican and that her six-month visa had required her to exit the United States by last October. Raniere flew to Mexico in November, and they had also made alternate plans to travel to Canada in early October.

"Raniere and the mother of his child were seeking to comply with United States law," the motion states.

The motion indicates that Raniere had flown to Mexico twice last year, and had returned to the United States on the day the New York Times story was published.

"His flight itinerary was sent to his Yahoo! email account, on which the government has executed a search warrant, yet they have still represented in their multiple public filings that prior to November 2017, he had not flown out of the country since 2015 — ignoring that Raniere had traveled to Mexico weeks earlier," the motion states.

Raniere's motion indicates he stayed in Halfmoon, where he has lived for many years, until Nov. 10 and then flew back to Mexico "to be with his child and the mother of his child."

The government's filings have also referenced Raniere's access to private jets, but filings in his motion indicate that during his October trip to Mexico he traveled aboard a commercial airline. There are no travel records provided that detail Raniere's flight to Mexico in November, indicating he may have flown aboard a private jet on that trip.

"Raniere’s open return to his New York home for several weeks while under threat of prosecution and having his attorney communicate with the Justice Department militates against detention," the motion states.

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