Federal judge dashes sex cult leader Keith Raniere’s latest bid for new trial

Keith Raniere, who's serving a 120-year sentence, tried to "manufacture new evidence ... to receive a second bite of the apple," a federal judge wrote.

Courthouse News/April 30, 2024

By Nika Schoonover

Brooklyn — The ex-leader of an upstate New York cult who branded women he kept as sex "slaves" lost his fourth attempt for a new trial after a federal judge denied his motion claiming federal agents tried to frame him for child pornography.

Keith Raniere billed NXIVM, pronounced "Nexium," as a self-help group, but the organization was shut down in 2018 after its leaders were arrested for operating a secret inner sex ring called DOS or “The Vow.” Women brought into the cult were forced to have sex with Raniere and branded with his initials along their pubic lines, according to trial testimony.

During a six-week trial, witnesses detailed sexual abuse, control and manipulation at the hands of Raniere. He was sentenced to 120 years of prison after being convicted on all seven counts, which included sex trafficking, forced labor and wire fraud. The fraud charge alone included 11 racketeering acts, among them creation and possession of child pornography, conspiracy to commit identity theft and extortion.

In Raniere’s latest motion for a new trial, he claims prosecutors fabricated “files, timestamps, folders and metadata” associated with nude pictures from 2005 of a 15-year-old DOS member named Camila.

He says he didn’t have enough time to examine the metadata evidence before and during trial and claims the government fudged the dates of the images and planted it on his computer.  

But to constitute a new trial, Raniere must prove he has come into new evidence that couldn't have been discovered before or after the trial, and he had been aware of the metadata evidence in the leadup to and during trial, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis said in an order Monday.

“Mr. Raniere ultimately seeks to have a new trial to challenge evidence that he previously stated he was ready to challenge, that he had the opportunity to challenge, and that he did in fact challenge during his trial,” Garaufis said in his decision.

“The jury found him guilty of the predicate acts at issue so he now attempts to manufacture ‘new evidence’ he argues would lead to his acquittal to receive a second bite at the apple.”

The Bill Clinton appointee added that the government offered to push back the trial date so Raniere could have more time to examine additional evidence related to his child pornography and exploitation charges, including the metadata evidence.

Garaufis quashed Raniere's argument that it was impossible to discover certain evidence, like details of the metadata’s chain of custody, which wasn't included in the government’s evidence and which Raniere claims would have revealed at trial that the government was “tampering” with the data.

“Raniere seeks to circumvent his defense’s ability to inspect and challenge the photographs’ metadata by distinguishing the evidence his defense reviewed from other pieces of evidence… which, to be clear, his defense was also aware of during trial,” Garaufis added.

The motion also failed, the judge said, because Raniere failed to demonstrate that the purported new evidence would result in his acquittal, "or otherwise demonstrate that a new trial is necessary to prevent a manifest injustice.”

Joseph Tully, Raniere's attorney, disagreed with the judge's ruling and said Raniere's defense team provided enough evidence to show the government tampered with the photographs in evidence.

"The judge’s decision here greenlights any prosecutor or corrupt FBI agent to use AI to manufacture false digital evidence, introduce it in the last 3 days of a long trial, allow them to mislabel the evidence so the defense doesn’t know it’s new, and unless the defense can catch the tampering before the end of the trial, no one will ever care that the government cheated to get a conviction. This is an impossible task," Tully, of Tully & Weiss in Martinez, California, said in a statement.

The Second Circuit previously rejected Raniere’s appeal to overturn his conviction.

“[Raniere] principally argues that to qualify as a ‘commercial sex act,’ there must be a monetary or financial component to the ‘thing of value’ that is given or received, and the sexual exploitation must be for profit. We conclude that the statute has no such requirement,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote in a 2022 decision for the three-judge panel.

To see more documents/articles regarding this group/organization/subject click here