Jailed NXIVM leader Keith Raniere says the federal prison system conspired to “set me up for a sexual assault charge” when it placed him with a cellmate who has lodged dozens of rape complaints from behind bars.
The 62-year-old Raniere, formerly of Halfmoon, said in an Oct. 24 court filing that he wants to be placed back in general population in the Tucson, Ariz. lockup where the ex-personal growth guru now widely recognized as a cult leader is serving a 120-year sentence for sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy and racketeering charges.
Raniere, known in NXIVM as "Vanguard," said he has never been informed about reviews for his custody, which he said should have been done every seven days. Raniere, who claimed to be one of the world's three top problem solvers and who fostered a god-like image in NXIVM, also griped that he is locked in a cell 23-to-24 hours a day. He said he gets outside for less than an hour a day. And he said he is often caged with sex offenders.
Raniere said his current cellmate has lodged roughly 75 complaints under the federal Prison Rape Elimination Act.
"I have never been given the chance to express my concerns about the retaliation I'm experiencing, or my current cellmate who I believe was placed with me to set me up for a sexual assault charge," Raniere stated in the filing, part of his federal lawsuit against the prison in Arizona. "The perception of me as a 'sex cult' leader makes the placement of (the cellmate) with me extremely suspicious, and inappropriate. I would never harm (the cellmate) but I believe (the cellmate) was placed in my cell to fabricate a new charge against me."
In a previous filing in late September, Raniere attorney Stacy Scheff said the cellmate has female genitalia. The attorney suggested it would be highly unlikely for prison officials to intentionally place the person with Raniere if they truly believed Raniere posed a actual threat to the cellmate.
Raniere led the Colonie-based NXIVM and its Executive Success Programs for two decades before he was arrested March 25, 2018, in a Mexican fishing village. A jury in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn convicted him in 2019, a saga now being chronicled on the second season of the HBO documentary series “The Vow.”
The "sex cult" term has been used to refer to the Raniere-controlled group, Dominus Obsequious Sororium, or DOS, a supposed women's empowerment sorority in which female "slaves" were coerced into repeatedly handing over blackmail material known as collateral to "masters." Women in DOS were deprived of sleep, starved on extremely low-calorie diets and told to wear chains to symbolize collars. A number of "slaves" were given assignments to sexually "seduce" Raniere. A number of others were physically branded on their pelvic areas with a symbol they later learned to be Raniere's initials.
In the court filing, Raniere said he believed his placement in administrative segregation in the prison for more than 100 days and counting for an investigation he deemed specious "was clear retaliation from prison officials for my unpopular crimes of conviction, and my continued legal efforts to clear my name."
Raniere's statements were in a motion by Scheff, who argued that prison officials are retaliating against Raniere because he is fighting his convictions — including one for an underlying racketeering act for possessing child pornography. At trial. prosecutors presented evidence that Raniere possessed images of a 15-year-old female from Mexico who later became a DOS "slave." Raniere and his supporters claim that the FBI tampered with the evidence.
Raniere's evidence-tampering claims are in a separate motion that will not be addressed until a tribunal decides his appeal, which is before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan.
In September, the Times Union reported that on July 26, Raniere was assaulted by another inmate, convicted sex trafficker Maurice Withers, in a dining hall. Raniere said even though he was the one attacked, he received a disciplinary ticket for fighting. He argued that, too, was retaliation.
Scheff contends prison authorities are wrongly denying Raniere contact with supporters that include Suneel Chakravorty, who has identified himself as a paralegal, Nicki Clyne, a longtime NXIVM member and high-ranking member of DOS, and Danielle Roberts, a DOS member and former physician, who performed brandings of women.
Federal prosecutors in Arizona in response, said Chakravorty, Clyne and Roberts have all been banned from communicating with Raniere due to their NXIVM involvement, among other reasons. They said no evidence established grounds to override the Bureau of Prisons' decisions on how to house Raniere as it investigated safety and security issues involving him.
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