NXIVM's Raniere says fellow sex trafficker punched him in prison

Albany Times-Union/September 21, 2022

By Robert Gavin

There’s apparently no honor among convicted sex traffickers – at least not for NXIVM leader Keith Raniere.

The former Saratoga County-based cult leader known as “Vanguard” says he was assaulted July 26 in his Arizona prison by Maurice Withers, 33,  a man who, like Raniere, is serving time for sex trafficking.  

Like Raniere, based for decades outside New York's capital city in Halfmoon, Withers operated out Madison, the capital of Wisconsin. And like Raniere, he liked to mark skin to send a message. Raniere ordered his female "slaves" to be branded with a symbol they later learned was his initials; prosecutors said Withers sported a tattoo proclaiming: "Ain't No Money Like Hoe Money."

On July 26, however, they did not meet to discuss their sordid legal tales.

Raniere – who preached to pupils of his personal growth organization that there were no ultimate victims –was in the dining hall of the Tucson federal prison when Withers allegedly victimized him with a closed fist to the face and head about 6:50 a.m., according to court papers filed in Raniere’s lawsuit against the prison.

"I was assaulted while walking to a table with my food in the dining hall. I did not fight back," Raniere said in a sworn affidavit on Sept. 6, adding that while he was the one attacked, he was punished.

"I was given a disciplinary ticket for 'fighting' and have had my privileges revoked and was placed in segregation 'pending investigation," Raniere said. "I have had no contact with Mr. Withers prior to his assault on me."

Raniere and his attorney, Stacy Scheff, said the incident left the NXIVM guru with a black eye and nausea for over a week. Raniere asked for ice packs to quell the pain, they said, but was denied.

"I was dizzy for several days and could not get out of bed," Raniere said. "I believe that I was given a disciplinary ticket as retaliation for the recent publicity that my case has received as a result of my efforts to challenge my conviction."

Scheff alleged that the warden of the prison was "aware that Mr. Raniere was the victim of an assault and not a combatant" and was continuing a pattern of retaliation against Raniere because he was challenging his conviction.

On Aug. 23, Scheff said, the disciplinary ticket brought against Raniere was dropped.

Withers, convicted in 2017 of sex trafficking and other federal charges, is serving an 18-year sentence.

At the outset of his trial, a federal prosecutor told jurors, referring to Withers,  "You will hear evidence in this case the defendant is a pimp. He is proud and even boastful about that ... he sells women and girls for sex. You will hear that he would do anything to make money. He would use violence and physical abuse, emotional control and manipulation, empty promises, coercion and threats. All he needed was a steady supply of women and girls to sell."

Prosecutors said Withers used force and threats of it to coerce women to work as prostitutes for him in Madison and other locations  —  and transported three victims to Las Vegas to work as prostitutes there for a month.

Raniere, who commanded NXIVM and its Executive Success Programs (ESP) for two decades based in Colonie, is serving 120 years in prison. A federal jury in Brooklyn convicted him in 2019 of all charges of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy and racketeering charges with underlying acts that included possession of child pornography, extortion and identify theft.

Raniere's sex trafficking convictions are tied to his command of Dominus Obsequious Sororium, known as DOS, where sleep-deprived and calorie-starved women joined what was described as a women's empowerment group. Once they joined, they learned they were "slaves" answering to "masters" — none higher than Raniere.

Raniere and co-defendant Clare Bronfman, the Seagram heiress and former NXIVM operations director serving nearly seven years in prison for conspiring to conceal and harbor undocumented immigrants for financial gain and identification fraud, appealed their convictions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan.

Raniere is suing the prison on allegations that officials there wrongly cut short phone conversations he's had with his attorney and kept him from meeting with Suneel Chakravorty, a supporter whom Raniere identified as having power of attorney. The prison has asked that Raniere's suit be dismissed.

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