Coffey knocks Raniere's attorney and jury that convicted NXIVM leader

Albany Times-Union/June 30, 2019

By Robert Gavin

lbany — Albany lawyer Steve Coffey says a federal jury in Brooklyn did not deliberate long enough before it found NXIVM leader Keith Raniere guilty of all charges in less than five hours.

It took Coffey far less time to find Raniere's lead trial attorney, Marc Agnifilo, guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of making "disgusting" and "terrible" comments at a post-verdict press conference.

"I thought it was embarrassing, that his remarks were embarrassing and I was ashamed that an attorney for any client would stand out after a verdict and put his own self-interests – what he perceives to be his own self-interests — before the client," Coffey told Law Beat.

The jury, during its only day of deliberations, convicted Raniere of all charges in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn on June 19.

Agnifilo later stood outside the courthouse alongside fellow Raniere co-counsel Paul DerOhannesian and told reporters he hoped the verdict brought peace and closure — and that he believed Raniere was "sorry for the damage that he's caused."

It's worth mentioning that Coffey, a veteran Albany criminal defense and civil attorney, has a history representing NXIVM, the purported self-help group based in Colonie. He said it was not a factor in his commentary.

Agnifilo earlier had approached Barbara Bouchey, a NXIVM defector and former girlfriend of Raniere in a courtroom hallway.

"Congratulations. I hope it helps. I really do," Agnifilo told Bouchey, who became a target of NXIVM after she left the organization in 2009. She has been an outspoken critic of Raniere.

Coffey is particularly aghast about Agnifilo's remarks to Bouchey.

"You’re gonna speak to Barbara Bouchey? You’re going over to her and say, ‘I hope that you can heal?’ Are you f---ing kidding me? Really?” an irked Coffey told Law Beat.

He was equally animated at the jurors.

"The jury took five f---ing hours! You know what, on a six-week trial, I’ll tell you something – I don’t think that jury was into this case," Coffey said.

"And I’m very disappointed in this jury," Coffey added. "I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I thought the jury did a good job. You know what, I don’t think they did a great job. It’s not a question of respect. I don’t believe it."

Raniere, 58, formerly of Halfmoon, the purported self-help guru known within NXIVM as "Vanguard," went to trial on May 7 after five of his top NXIVM disciples (NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, her daughter Lauren Salzman, Seagram's liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, actress Allison Mack and bookkeeper Kathy Russell) pleaded guilty.

Raniere faced a seven-count indictment charging him with sex trafficking, forced labor, conspiracy and racketeering charges. The latter contained 11 underlying acts that included allegations of possession of child pornography, sexual exploitation of a child, extortion, identity theft, document servitude, labor trafficking and conspiracy to alter records.

Agnifilo, DerOhannesian and fellow defense attorneys Teny Geragos and Danielle Smith had their work cut out for them. The prosecution's case included, among other evidence, recordings of Raniere saying some children are "perfectly happy" having sex with adults — and that the age of consent in some countries is 12.

The government produced incriminating emails, recordings and testimony from former NXIVM members, including Lauren Salzman and three other women in Raniere's secret "master/slave" club. At Raniere's instruction, a physician, Danielle Roberts, used a cauterizing pen to brand women in the group in their groin areas with Raniere's initials.

"I don’t care who it is. The question isn’t the defendant. The question is if you’re an attorney and you have a role and, listen, if you don’t want to comment, fine – I’ve got no problem with that … and sometimes people say too much and they lash out.”

It's also worth mentioning that if Coffey attended the trial of Raniere, Law Beat did not see him.

But Coffey was nonetheless livid at the jury for, in his view, not taking the proper amount of time before rendering its verdict.

And clearly, he was angry at Agnifilo. It had nothing to do with Agnifilo's work in the courtroom. That Agnifilo told jurors in his closing argument they may find Raniere "repulsive" and "offensive" was not the issue, Coffey said.

“You have to do what you got to do in that courtroom. My problems with this guy is that when he stood outside that courtroom afterward, he was talking so that no one would blame him, so that he would look OK, so no one thought that just because they lost … that he should be blamed," Coffey said.

"You know what, then don’t represent anybody. If you don’t like him, if you’ve got a problem with a client like that, don’t represent him. But if you do, don’t say anything," Coffey said.

"Look — I’ve represented people in a lot of tough cases," he said. "Sometimes I’d walk out and say: ‘Gentlemen, for a lot of reasons I’m not going to say anything.’ But there’s one thing I’ve never done, there’s no lawyer I respect who could ever stand out there and make comments that really are so self-serving … that people say. ‘Oh, he’s got a problem representing (the client). ‘Don’t blame me! I just did my job.’ “

Coffey lauded DerOhannesian -- and noted that while they are both Albany lawyers, that wasn't the reason for his praise.

"You saw a real attorney, DerOhannesian, speak like a real defense attorney after a verdict," Coffey said. "You want to see the difference? Put the two of them back to back and there’s no comparison."

"He did what a very good defense attorney should do – he defended his client, didn’t apologize for his representation and didn’t try to make himself look better…”

DerOhannesian declined to comment.

Agnifilo, when told of Coffey's remarks, was far less emotional than Coffey.

"I have no comment. Thank you," he said.

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