Prosecutors ask judge to keep NXIVM founder Raniere locked up

Text messages show Raniere's slave club was about sex and control

Albany Times-Union/June 9, 2018

By Brendan J. Lyons

Albany — Federal prosecutors on Friday asked a judge to reject NXIVM founder Keith Raniere's request to be released on a $10 million bond, unveiling text messages the Justice Department said show Raniere was directly involved in recruiting women to be his sex slaves and having them branded with a "monogram" that included his initials.

The request by the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn was filed in response to Raniere's motion earlier this week in which he characterized his prosecutors as the "morality police" and alleged the women around him were never forced to have sex and were willingly branded. Raniere also argued that he is not a flight risk and offered to live in a New York residence secured by armed private guards.

But prosecutors urged the judge to reject Raniere's request and keep him in custody, describing him as a flight risk and danger to the community with access to private jets and unlimited wealth. They said he also has both male and female devotees who may remain willing to help him escape.

"One could imagine scenarios where any escape or obstruction plan would involve the presence or help of one of the defendant’s devotees or slaves," the government's motion states. "An escape attempt could result in armed guards pursuing the defendant in New York City streets."

The Justice Department's filing included a series of 2015 text messages attributed to Raniere that were obtained with a search warrant. Prosecutors said the messages demonstrate that Raniere created the secret slave-master club within NXIVM and that his position as the head of the group would be kept hidden from the women lured into it.

The text messages, the government argued, also showed there was a sexual component to the club.

"I think it would be good for you to own a (expletive) toy slave for me, that you could groom, and use as a tool, to pleasure me," Raniere wrote in a text message to one of his slaves, according to the filing.

In another text attributed to Raniere, also sent to his female slave, he acknowledged his awareness of the branding rituals that had taken place.

"Without going into detail. It caused there to be other slaves, all who want to be branded with my monogram plus a number ... your number is reserved ... it is number 1. It is now a secret growing organization," he wrote. "I don't know well some of the people involved but I command them ultimately. They are not who you might think ... I think there are 10 or more in the current jness2 track ... and others outside of it."

Jness was a training program for a women's group within NXIVM that touted a special curriculum and was created by Raniere.

In the motion seeking his release, Raniere's attorneys accused the government of wrongly implicating Raniere in sex trafficking and forced labor. Raniere last year publicly disavowed any connection with the secret club, but in his motion he said it was similar to a college fraternity.

"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," states the the motion seeking Raniere's release..

Raniere, 57, whose organization has been described by experts as a cult, was arrested in late March at a luxury beach villa in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, along the Pacific Ocean. 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.

Raniere's attorneys said that he was keeping a low profile — including staying in a private compound protected by armed security — 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 the secret group within NXIVM in which some of its female members said they felt coerced into joining a slave-master club, and later branded with a design that included the initials of Raniere and Mack.

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."

In the government's response on Friday, they provided additional details about Raniere's alleged imprisonment of a young Mexican woman who was held against her will in a Halfmoon townhouse for more than a year. NXIVM insiders said the woman was punished for showing interest in a man other than Raniere.

"The defendant admits participation in the psychological torture of a young woman by ordering her to be confined to a room for a year-and-a-half, but characterizes her imprisonment as 'akin to grounding,'" prosecutors wrote. The government characterized her as a victim of "psychological torture."

The woman had no human contact during the 18 months she was held captive except for"occasional visits from Nxivm members who were there to make sure the woman was 'healing' her 'breach.'"

Prosecutors said their evidence of that incident includes video footage from a security camera that had been positioned outside the room where the woman was held under the threat of being returned to Mexico.

"When the woman finally did leave the room, the defendant, as he had threatened, had her driven to the Mexican border and ordered to walk across, without money or identification papers," prosecutors said. She is the sister of a woman who gave birth to one of Raniere's children.

Frank Parlato, a former NXIVM publicist who runs a Buffalo-based blog that first exp0sed the slave-master club and branding, said the government's assertions are not fully accurate. He said that the woman escaped and was driven to the Mexican border by her father, who has been a NXIVM devotee, and Kristen Keeffe, who was a member of Raniere's inner circle before she fled the group several years ago.

Federal prosecutors said 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 federal court records, 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 the 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 branding, which was done by a female osteopath, Danielle Roberts, associated with NXIVM.

"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 motion for bail states. "In fact, the woman being branded typically placed the stencil on her body where she wanted the brand to be located."

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.

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 has not issued a decision on the request and it's unclear whether he will schedule a hearing.

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