New York – Encompassing 700 acres of shoreline property on Lake George, the Silver Bay YMCA Conference and Family Retreat Center is described on its website as an ideal location for a vacation, wedding or family reunion.
And for members of NXIVM, it was apparently the perfect spot for the Colonie-based self-help group to hold "V Week," an annual bash to mark the Aug. 26 birthday of the group's spiritual leader, Keith Raniere, known as "Vanguard," the 58-year-old man now on trial accused of racketeering, sex trafficking, wire fraud and forced labor in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn.
The event – whose "V" also stands for "Vanguard" - began as a single day to honor the birthday of Raniere. It expanded to as many as 11 days, according to Mark Vicente, a former senior member of NXIVM.
"The entire thing was a celebration of him and this civilization that he had built," Vicente testified on Thursday.
He said members of NXIVM came from all across the country, Canada and Europe to the spot located in the Warren County town of Hague to attend what he likened to a corporate retreat on the grounds of Silver Bay, a property that dates to 1902.
Neither he nor other NXIVM members were paid for their work at V Week, he said. But they attended.
"It was frowned upon, if you were a member of a rank, a coach or above, not to go," Vicente told the jury.
Vicente, the second witness to testify at the trial, will resume his testimony Monday morning. He and the first witness in the trial, a woman who once worked for NXIVM and joined a "master/slave" club within the organization, testified that attendees would pay $1,400 to $3,500 to stay at the resort and attend V-Week.
"My understanding is before my time it was like a day-long event, and then three days. By the time I arrived, it was seven days. And by the time I left, it was 11 days," Vicente testified Thursday.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn appeared highly interested in details about the annual Raniere festival.
"I don't know if you want me to explain what V Week is," the first witness, a 32-year-old woman whose last name was not revealed in court, told Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza.
"I would love you to explain what V Week is," Penza responded.
"It's 10 days where you celebrate Vanguard's birthday and it's called V Week and so, yeah, it's a celebration of Keith Raniere," she testified.
"And, so what would happen at V Week?" the prosecutor inquired.
"Well, people from all the different centers would come to celebrate Keith, so there were different -- like, tons of different activities going on all the time and in the evening," she testified. "There was always sort of entertainment or different kind of tribute ceremonies to Keith from the different centers, or there would be like performances of singers. But it was kind of all centered around the idea of a tribute to Keith and celebrating Keith's work."
During one V Week, Vicente testified, an attorney stood on stage with Raniere, who held large plaques engraved with five to six patents that Raniere had recently filed. Vicente said Clare Bronfman, the Seagram's liquor company heiress and NXIVM's operations director, told him she had been spending $40,000 monthly on patents.
V Week included areas of interest called "objectives" for members to work on, he said.
"There were like singing objectives, and dancing objectives, drumming objectives," Vicente testified.
He said it was "sort of like summer camp for adults, where you could go and you had all these things you could choose from that you wanted to do. Drumming, dancing, singing. There was poetry."
Vicente said V Week included forums featuring Raniere on stage, plays that were worked on all week and performances, including one from television actress Allison Mack, a disciple of Raniere and member of the master/slave group. who was crying on stage as she sang during V Week in 2016, according to footage posted by Frank Parlato, a former NXIVM publicist who is now highly critical of the group on his blog, called The Frank Report.
The racketeering charges Raniere faces include 14 underlying alleged acts that include sex trafficking, possession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child, identity theft and extortion.
Silver Bay YMCA Chief Executive Officer Steve Tamm issued a four-paragraph statement after being asked about V Week by the Times Union. It did not mention NXIVM nor V Week by name.
"The Silver Bay YMCA community is troubled to hear of the recent allegations, as reported in the media, concerning a group that had used our facility," Tamm said.
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