Sex cult trial in New York moves to closing arguments on Monday

by Reuters
Monday, 17 June 2019 10:00 GMT

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK, June 17 (Reuters) - Jurors are expected to hear closing arguments on Monday in the trial of Keith Raniere, the New York man accused of trapping women in a sex cult and having them branded with his initials.

Raniere, 58, faces charges including racketeering, sex trafficking and child pornography. Prosecutors said he used his organization Nxivm, which billed itself as a self-help group, to hide a secretive sorority known as DOS in which young women were blackmailed into have sex with him, follow dangerously restrictive diets and be branded with his initials.

Raniere, who could face life in prison if convicted, has pleaded not guilty.

His six-week trial has featured testimony from several women who said Raniere victimized them, including Lauren Salzman, daughter of Nxivm co-founder Nancy Salzman and a longtime member of Raniere's inner circle.

Lauren Salzman, who has pleaded guilty to related criminal charges, told jurors of how she became Raniere's "slave," and recruited other slaves for herself.

DOS slaves were forced to hand over compromising information about themselves, often including nude photos and embarrassing confessions, and told that the material would be released if they disobeyed orders or tried to leave, according to Salzman and other witnesses.

Raniere declined to testify in his own defense and called no witnesses after the prosecutors rested their case on Friday. His lawyer, Marc Agnifilo, has said women were never forced to act against their will.

In their closing arguments on Monday, prosecutors and Raniere's lawyers will each get the chance to argue their view of the evidence. U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis will then instruct the jury before they begin deliberating on the verdict.

Other members of Nxivm, which is pronounced "nexium," were charged. They include Nancy Salzman, actress Allison Mack and Seagram liquor heiress Claire Bronfman, who bankrolled the group's frequent lawsuits. All have pleaded guilty to crimes and have not yet been sentenced.

The group first became known for its "Executive Success Program" courses, which purported to give students the ability to achieve their goals in life by overcoming mental blocks. Witnesses in the trial, however, testified that leaders of the organization psychologically manipulated and abused its members and demanded total obedience from them.

Nxivm has suspended classes, according to a statement posted on its website after Raniere's 2018 arrest in Mexico. (Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Grant McCool)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.