Nxivm founder sentenced to the remainder of his life in prison

Key players of Nxivm
AP/Getty/Nxivm

Keith Raniere, founder of the group Nxivm, has been sentenced to 120 years in prison.

US District Judge Nicholas Garaufis read the sentence in Brooklyn federal court Tuesday, after more than a dozen people gave victim impact statements at his sentencing.

Raniere was convicted in 2019 by a jury in Brooklyn federal court of counts including racketeering, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child and human trafficking.

Fifteen of Raniere’s victims either spoke or had statements read at his sentencing in Brooklyn federal court, John Marzulli, a spokesman for the US Attorney’s Office of Eastern New York, said.

One of those victims was the 15-year-old girl at the center of the sexual exploitation of a child charge that Raniere was convicted of. A redacted copy of her victim impact statement was posted to the court record, in which she said she was 15 and he was 45 when they began to have sex, and that he took nude photos of her.

“While he hid our sexual relationship from others, he explained it to me by telling me that I was very mature for my age. And I know now that it was false — I was a child,” her victim impact statement read. “He used my innocence to do whatever he wanted with me — not just sexually but also psychologically.”

CNN is not reporting the name of the girl, who is now an adult.

The girl’s father was among those who submitted letters in support of Raniere ahead of his sentencing.

Prosecutors say Raniere is ‘unrepentant’

Prosecutors said that in the months leading to his sentencing Raniere, 60, has been “unrepentant” and has — from behind bars — directed efforts to “cast himself as a victim” of persecution.

Prosecutors described him as the leader of a criminal enterprise who recruited people at the self-help company Nxivm to exploit them “for power, for profit, or for sex.”

Prosecutors argued at his trial that Raniere “maintained control over his followers and his criminal organization … by ensuring that no one questioned him.” “No one could challenge his authority,” Assistant US Attorney Tanja Hajjar said. “The defendant used shame and humiliation as ways to break people down.”

Since his conviction, Raniere has remained “unrepentant” with “no empathy for his victims,” wrote prosecutors, who in their sentencing memorandum shared emails and transcripts of conversations Raniere has had in recent months from prison with those who still back him.

“In his communications with his supporters, Raniere repeatedly attempts to cast himself as a victim of persecution and harassment from the government and from unknown enemies,” prosecutors wrote.

Supporters lined up in advance of the sentencing hearing to defend Raniere, with some saying in letters to the court that Raniere’s actions weren’t abusive. They include the father of a girl whom Raniere was convicted of sexually exploiting; he calls the Nxivm founder “honest,” “brilliant” and “cheerful.” Also in Raniere’s corner is “Battlestar Galactica” actress Nicki Clyne, who participated in part of the alleged Nxivm scheme and has not been charged with a crime. She did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

Meanwhile, supporters’ efforts to write letters and a petition that demands prosecutors acknowledge whether they acted ethically in the case, “appear to be directed” by Raniere, government lawyers said in a court filing.

In his own memo ahead of the sentencing, Raniere “continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges” and has alleged misconduct by prosecutors for their handling of his trial, the document by attorney Marc Agnifilo states.

Agnifilo has not responded to CNN’s multiple requests for comment. Raniere, in a Friday interview with NBC News, continued to assert he was innocent but also apologized for his role in the Nxivm case.

“I apologize for my participation in all of this — this pain and suffering,” he said in the interview. “I’ve clearly participated. I’ve been the leader of the community. And it has come to this. Even if it is by oppression, I am absolutely sorry and pained. This is a horrible situation.”

Victim addressed the court, prosecutors say

In a February email to a supporter, an incarcerated Raniere wrote that his prosecution was a “political, envy-driven, money-powered lie to destroy a community and keep me either incarcerated for life or otherwise ‘disposed of,'” federal records show.

Referring to Garaufis, who oversaw his trial, Raniere in an April phone call with a supporter said: “This judge needs to know he’s being watched,” prosecutors say. Garaufis will hand down Raniere’s sentence.

Raniere in another conversation with that supporter “offers lengthy diatribes” on the criminal justice system, “presumably for publication on a podcast,” prosecutors said.

Garaufis on Friday denied Raniere’s motion for a new trial, in which his lawyers cited as “newly discovered evidence” testimony by people including Clyne. She wrote in an affidavit this month that she wanted to testify in Raniere’s defense at his trial but couldn’t because of “threats from the prosecution.” Prosecutors called these claims “meritless” in court filings.

Garaufis wrote in his opinion that he takes seriously the allegations of prosecutorial misconduct but that the allegations in the affidavits submitted “provide scant and highly questionable evidence” of the government improperly threatening or intimidating witnesses.

Clyne had been part of a Nxivm “women’s empowerment group” known as DOS that required recruits to share compromising information and photos as “collateral.” Once accepted, a woman would become a “slave” reporting up to a “master,” a former DOS member testified at the trial.

Raniere in November 2019 sent an email to Clyne, a former DOS master, continuing to defend DOS and calling it “noble” and “vitally important for women and humanity.”

“It is tragic the current organization has been stymied by a few envious men abusing position of power in government, media, and film; some women who didn’t live up to their sacred honor and vows; and people in general who just feel threatened by this idea,” Raniere wrote in a November 2019 email shared in a prosecutors’ memo.

In her October 9 affidavit, Clyne wrote that when the idea for DOS was discussed in 2015, she “knew it wasn’t going to be for everyone.”

“I thought maybe only a handful of women would want to embark on this more extreme version of coaching and personal accountability,” Clyne wrote. “Maybe the idea was simply too extreme, or too controversial for where most people are at on their journeys. I am willing to accept that reality. But that it was abusive or deceitful in any way is something I will firmly contest.”

Another letter of support filed ahead of Raniere’s sentencing is attributed to a man identified only as Hector, whose daughter Raniere was convicted of sexually exploiting when she was 15.

Jurors heard testimony about Raniere grooming the girl, whom CNN is not naming, and having sex with her. Her sister, who was identified only as Daniela during the trial, testified that after she found out Raniere was having sex with her sister, he told her, “… there were some women — girls — that were more emotionally mature than others.”

In his affidavit ahead of Raniere’s sentencing, the girl’s father describes Raniere as, “Honest, Whole, Brilliant Intelligence, always ready to help, Cheerful and In Love with Humanity.”

Five women who had been part of the Nxivm leadership have pleaded guilty to crimes related to the scheme. Among them is Clare Bronfman, heiress to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, who was sentenced in September to nearly seven years in prison. Her attorneys are in the process of filing an appeal.