Child Porn Will Follow Accused Sex Cult Leader to Trial

This still from a video in the YouTube series “Keith Raniere Conversations” shows the NXIVM leader who will begin trial May 7 on sex-trafficking and other charges.

BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – In a devastating blow to former NXIVM leader Keith Raniere on the eve of his trial, a federal judge opened the door Friday for prosecutors to display the pornographic images of an underage teenager whom Raniere is accused of enslaving.

Raniere had twice moved to suppress the images, most recently on April 22, arguing they fell outside the scope of the government’s search warrant for a house near Albany that has been called his “sex lair.”

The 58-year-old co-founder of the purported self-help group NXIVM (pronounced Nexium), is expected to face an approximately six-week trial beginning May 7 on charges including forced labor, sex trafficking, sexual exploitation of a child, wire fraud and violations of federal anti-racketeering law.

He’s accused of leading a secretive group called DOS within NXIVM in which women served as slaves, were branded with his initials and forced to have sex with him. Some of that activity is said to have occurred in what Raniere reportedly called his “library” — a house at 8 Hale Drive in Halfmoon, N.Y., which the feds have been searching since last year.

While searching a hard drive at the house in February, FBI agents found two digital images of a naked girl referred to as Jane Doe 2.

U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis noted this afternoon in his order that the agents recognized Doe as a girl who was forced to have sex with Raniere as a DOS “slave” when she was 15. 

The photos were taken on or before Nov. 2, 2005, when Doe would have been 15, and located in a computer folder with the same date.

Since the day the prosecution leveled child-exploitation charges against Raniere in March with a second superseding indictment, each of his co-defendants has pleaded guilty.

Former NXIVM president and longtime Raniere ally Nancy Salzman went first, just hours before the new charges were announced March 14. According to a federal forfeiture complaint filed last year in Brooklyn, the Hale Drive house was purchased in 2004 by a company run by Nancy Salzman.

Nancy Salzman’s plea was followed by that of her daughter Lauren two weeks later, followed on April 8 by actress Allison Mack, and finally by NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell and Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, who both pleaded on April 19 ahead of jury selection.

Raniere had claimed to have a Fourth Amendment interest in the Hale Drive house because “it was his study, he renovated it, he stored books and computers there, and he engaged in sexual activity there,” the 8-page order by Garaufis states.

Garaufis rejected this argument, however, as well as Raniere’s claim that the images were outside the scope of the search warrant.

“The warrant permitted the government to review materials created before 2015, so long as the materials were evidence …. [of] offenses involving Raniere that occurred in 2015 or later,” Garaufis wrote.

“Although the images were created in 2005, they are within the scope of the 8 Hale Warrant because they are evidence of multiple subject offenses involving Raniere that occurred in 2015 or later,” including a pattern of racketeering that allegedly lasted through March 2018.

Garaufis also found the images relevant to Raniere’s suspected motive in forming DOS since prosecutors say that the group used compromising images of DOS slaves to keep them in line.

“Thus, the Images are ‘evidence regarding the formation and structure of DOS,’ which makes them evidence of subject offenses (sex trafficking, forced labor, and extortion) occurring in 2015 or later,” the ruling states.

Additionally, Garaufis noted that the search warrant contains a plain-view exception that the images clearly meet.

Jury selection is set to conclude Monday. Child-pornography cases in which jurors see the images are rare, but experts have said in recent weeks that the charges alone could be a death knell for Raniere’s case.

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