The New York self-help guru who ran a secretive organization that imprisoned women as sex slaves branded with his initials, has been found guilty of all counts in sex cult case.
Keith Raniere, 58, founder of the Nxivm cult was found guilty on all seven counts, including racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, forced labor conspiracy, sex trafficking and possession of child pornography.
He now faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Raniere, a bespectacled and unprepossessing figure, began Nxivm(pronounced nexium) in the late 1990s, setting up in Albany, capital of New York state, what he describes as a self-help organisation.
About 17,000 people passed through Nxivm’s doors.
The group was pitched as an empowerment group, touting theories about femininity, victimhood, money and ethics – much of it influenced by Ayn Rand, one of Raniere’s favourite authors.
All pledged loyalty to Raniere, a man who was portrayed within the group as “some kind of god” who would unlock a more fulfilling life for his followers. Raniere himself promoted the idea of his being someone special – a child prodigy, who spoke in full sentences at a year old, read by the age of two and taught himself to play concert-level piano at 12.
Among the high-ranking devotees was British-American one-time professional showjumper Clare Bronfman, millionaire heiress to the Seagram liquor fortune.
Bronfman, one of the five to plead guilty, has paid $14 million (£11m) in Raniere’s legal costs, it emerged during the trial.
Another Briton was the first of the six victims to testify – Sylvie, who joined the group at age 18. The group, she was told, would “help me be the person that I’ve always wanted to be”, and would “fix” her.
To join she gave in to the demand for “collateral” – material to be held in trust, and forfeited if they broke the group’s vow of silence.
Some handed over deeds to their homes, or wrote down stories of childhood abuse, which may or may not be true.
Often, as in Sylvie’s case, it was explicit photographs of herself, which she handed over to a senior DOS member. Sylvie said she was told that providing “collateral” was meant to show dedication.
Raniere’s lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, told jurors in his closing arguments on Monday that no women were ever forced to do anything against their will.
As the verdict was read out Raniere remained calm, whispering to his lawyer. Several of the Nxivm defectors, however, were crying and trembling.