NXIVM Cult Leader’s Jailhouse Call to Disciples: ‘The Judge Needs to Know He’s Being Watched’


“I’ll be in here for the rest of my life if we don’t do something,” Keith Raniere said in one phone call to an NXIVM supporter.

The Daily Beast/August 28, 2020

By Pilar Melendez

As NXIVM leader Keith Raniere awaits sentencing for using the self-help group as a sex cult for his personal pleasure, prosecutors say he is still issuing demands to his disciples from inside a prison cell, and has “demonstrated a complete lack of acceptance and responsibility for his crimes.”

One of those commands was to “get scrutiny” on the Brooklyn federal judge who will issue his sentence for several sex crimes in October, prosecutors said in a sentencing memo filed late Thursday. Another was to get pundits, including Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, to speak on his behalf. And he allegedly wanted a podcast created with a $25,000 cash prize that would entice listeners to find “purported errors in Raniere’s prosecution and trial,” prosecutors said.

“So we gotta… we, what we have to do also is get scrutiny on this judge, get some pundit who is willing to speak out about what this judge is saying, which is crazy and the judge needs to know he’s being watched… by someone who is wise,” the purported cult leader told an NXIVM supporter in an April jailhouse call from the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn. “So. Now we gotta figure out the next step with Dershowitz.”

Raniere, 60, was convicted last June of seven offenses ranging from sex trafficking to racketeering conspiracy after prosecutors argued he had created a criminal enterprise over two decades that allowed him to have sex with underage girls, force women he impregnated to have abortions and command his “slaves” to illegally monitor his enemies.

In a lengthy sentencing memo to U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, prosecutors said Raniere, known as the “Vanguard,” has still been communicating with his remaining supporters through phone calls and emails—all reflecting that “he is unrepentant, has no empathy for his victims, and would continue to commit crimes if released.”

“Raniere concealed his abuse behind the smokescreen of his supposed ‘personal growth’ programs—a charade he continues to this day,” the memo says. “Since his conviction, Raniere has continued to demonstrate a complete lack of remorse for his crimes.” Prosecutors asked the judge to impose a life sentence at Raniere’s Oct. 27 sentencing.

The memo also notes that, throughout his prosecution and subsequent imprisonment, Raniere “has demonstrated a disregard for the law and for the system of justice” and has expressed “contempt for the prosecution” and Garaufis in several conversations with his supporters. Raniere appears to be focused on discrediting Garaufis and former acolytes who he believes betrayed him, the memo says.

“I’ll be in here for the rest of my life if we don’t do something,” Raniere said in an April 8 call to a supporter, Suneel Chakravorty, adding that the witnesses in his trial “all lied.” “[And] the rest of my life might not be that long considering the way things are in here, you know,” he said.

Raniere then proceeded to push for a pundit to speak out against the judge, suggesting Dershowitz, who is best known for representing Jeffrey Epstein. There is no public indication that Dershowitz has been involved in Raniere’s case, and his lawyers did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

Later in the conversation, Raniere spoke about a podcast that prosecutors allege he directed his supporters to develop in order to invite the public to “check the prosecutor’s homework” for a cash prize. In one January 2020 email to another NXIVM member, Raniere explained that the prize should be $25,000, to which the supporter responded: “Some people have feedback that it might be good to have a PR firm linked to the contest. It can filter people who’d just want attention and not to seriously analyze the case. And help in general with the contest.”

“In subsequent calls, Raniere offers lengthy diatribes on the criminal justice system for Mr. Chakravorty to record, similar to the ‘verbal downloads’ that were described at Raniere’s trial… presumably for publication on a podcast,” the memo states. “In these calls, Raniere claims that his conviction resulted from corruption.”

Since 1998, NXIVM amassed an estimated 17,000 members and held $5,000 workshops that promised to give followers the skills to promote a path to “greater self-fulfillment.” However, prosecutors say it was an illegal pyramid scheme, sucking in new recruits who were made to recruit others. In 2017, authorities opened an investigation after a New York Times exposé alleged female NXIVM members were being branded and used as Raniere’s playthings.

Less than a year later, Raniere was arrested in Mexico and extradited to the U.S. on charges including sex trafficking, racketeering conspiracy, child exploitation, and child pornography.

Raniere was charged along with five other women: co-founder Nancy Salzman and her daughter Lauren, a top lieutenant; Smallville actress and alleged second-in-command Allison Mack; Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram’s fortune and NXIVM’s largest donor; and the group’s bookkeeper, Kathy Russell. While all five pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, Salzman was the only one to testify against Raniere.

According to the memo, however, Raniere continues to downplay his manipulation of women for sexual gratification under the guise of NXIVM’s mission—and he has even begun to reference his arrest in Mexico as a “kidnapping.”

“Even starting before my kidnapping, this situation has been a purely political, envy-driven, money-powered lie to destroy a community, and keep me either incarcerated for life or otherwise ‘disposed of,’” Raniere said in Feb. 24 messages to a woman whose sisters were also both in a relationship with him, including one who was locked in a room for two years as punishment. “This lie is perpetrated by certain politicians, prosecutors, lobbyists, agents, judges, and people of influence, who likely received great benefits of recognition, social capital, favors, and even money: it should all be closely examined.”

Throughout Raniere’s trial last year, several women testified about NXIVM’s purported women’s empowerment group, DOS. The women allege it was actually a master-slave program where they were forced to have sex with Raniere, blindly obey their “masters,” and brand themselves with his initials near their crotch with a cautery pen—without anesthesia.

DOS slaves would be forced into a vow of obedience to Raniere, secured by “collateral” in the form of blackmail material, such as a naked photo or access to their financial assets, prosecutors said.

Thursday’s memo stressed that Raniere continues to deny his role in the branding via email and phone calls to supporters. He claims he was not a member of the “sorority”—despite recordings played at the trial showing the purported guru offering strict instructions to Mack on how the ritual should be performed.

In a Nov. 2019 email to actress Nicki Clyne, who was a “first-line slave” in DOS who answered directly to Raniere, the 60-year-old admitted that he believed “the sorority is good—not just good and even noble, but great—and vitally important for woman and humanity.”

Several months later, in a conversation with Chakravorty, Raniere scoffed at the claim that any of his victims feared for their lives during their time in NXIVM. “The whole fear for my life [claim] is such a lie,” Raniere said, to which his loyal supporter responded, “It’s like the most absurd lie if they actually knew you.”

Raniere’s lawyers did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment, but are expected to file their own memo in response.

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