BROOKLYN (CN) — The former leader of a sexual wellness company accused of abusing her staffers pleaded not guilty Tuesday to federal charges of forced labor conspiracy.
With former CEO Nicole Daedone at its helm, OneTaste promised empowerment and liberty. But within the Bay Area-based company that taught “orgasmic meditation,” prosecutors say, Daedone and other company leaders were manipulating staff into forced labor and other types of abuse — sexual, emotional and financial.
After the hearing in Brooklyn Federal Court, Daedone, 56, was released on a $1 million bond secured by her mother, her mother’s boyfriend and a friend who put up her $2 million property in Fort Bragg, California. Last week, prosecutors arraigned Daedone's former head of sales, Rachel Cherwitz, on related charges.
Daedone founded OneTaste in 2004, touting it as a sexuality focused wellness education company with courses, coaching and events where the cost to enroll ranged from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars each. Riffing on a chant common in yoga sessions, OneTaste offered hands-on classes for its signature OM work, short for orgasmic meditation, which the indictment describes as “a partnered practice typically involving the methodical stroking of a woman's genitals for a period of fifteen minutes.”
With the coaching, prosecutors say, came a demand of “absolute commitment” to OneTaste. Leaders including Daedone and Cherwitz would direct members to engage in sexual acts with the company’s current and prospective investors, clients, employees and beneficiaries.
“Daedone and Cherwitz also instructed the OneTaste members to engage in sexual acts they found uncomfortable or repulsive as a requirement to obtain ‘freedom’ and ‘enlightenment’ and demonstrate their commitment to OneTaste and Daedone,” the eight-page indictment states.
Many members lived in communal homes where they were under constant surveillance, with Daedone and Cherwitz allegedly collecting private information and using it to manipulate and isolate them.
Prosecutors say Daedone and Cherwitz promised members wages and commissions throughout the scheme from 2004 to 2018, but such payments never came. Members would allegedly see their employment statuses or locations changed without notice.
Daedone and Cherwitz are accused of targeting members who had experienced sexual trauma, advertising their course as one that could help them to heal. Members went into debt if they couldn't pay, and authorities say the OneTaste leaders helped them take out new credit cards to pay their bills in some cases.
From its roots in California's tech hub, Silicon Valley, the operation spread across the globe, reaching New York City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, London and other cities. It was profiled last year in the 2022 Netflix documentary "Orgasm Inc.: The Story of OneTaste."
“Under the guise of empowerment and wellness, the defendants are alleged to have sought complete control over their employees’ lives, including by driving them into debt and directing them to perform sexual acts while also withholding wages,” U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Breon Peace said in a statement last week. “This prosecution should serve as a reminder to both employer and employee that no matter the marketing mantra, this conduct is never acceptable.”
Daedone’s attorney Julia Gatto praised her client as a business leader and champion of women.
“Nicole Daedone is a ceiling-shattering feminist entrepreneur who built and grew a company like no other, supporting and embracing female sexuality, female worth and female empowerment,” Gatto, of the firm Steptoe & Johnson, said in a statement. “The idea that this woman at this company engaged in forced labor is as far from the truth and reality as one can comprehend. She pleaded not guilty today, she’s not guilty.”
Tuesday's arraignment took place in the same courthouse where NXIVM sex cult leader Keith Raniere was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison for running a sex ring beneath his self-improvement course business.
If convicted, Daedone and Cherwitz face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.Follow @NinaPullano
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