BROOKLYN (CN) — Lauren Salzman, who helped to run a secret sex cult within a self-help organization that her mother co-founded, was sentenced to five years of probation in Brooklyn federal court on Wednesday.
Pitched as a women’s mentorship group, DOS — also called “The Vow” — operated as a pyramid scheme with sex “slaves” who were roped into the sub-group of NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) by providing nude photos and sensitive information as collateral.
Salzman, 45, was a “first line master” of DOS, who instructed women in the group to have sex with NXIVM founder Keith Raniere. She pleaded guilty to one count each of racketeering and racketeering conspiracy.
At trial, Salzman testified she assisted in holding a woman named Daniela captive in a room for two years, from March 2010 until February 2012, because she had kissed a man other than Raniere.
DOS leaders regularly took full-frontal group photos they sent to Raniere, Salzman said, and would sometimes sit naked before him on the floor as he perched, clothed, in a chair.
Salzman — who became involved with Raniere’s scheme at age 21 through her mother, former NXIVM president Nancy Salzman — also described being told to keep her weight around 100 pounds, and to adhere to Raniere’s sexual preferences, like having natural pubic hair.
Prosecutors had asked U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis to impose a sentence below the 7.25- to 9-year guidelines because of the value of her testimony.
“By virtue of her close, decades-long relationship with Raniere, Lauren Salzman was privy to a significant amount of information regarding Raniere’s role in directing criminal activity within the enterprise, even where Raniere had taken great pains to conceal his role,” the government’s sentencing memo said.
In addition to probation, Salzman will have to perform 300 hours of community service.
Ivy Nevares, one of Salzman’s victims, gave a prerecorded statement in court on Wednesday. She described herself as Salzman’s best friend who was then subjected to her “gaslighting, manipulation and lies.”
“You were a fellow woman, yet you did what you did,” Nevares said, breaking into tears at times while Salzman dabbed her own eyes with a tissue in the courtroom.
A second, in-person victim statement came from former NXIVM member Susan Dones, who said Salzman had groomed actress Allison Mack — who was recently sentenced to three years in prison for her leadership in DOS — whom she worked to “neatly wrap” into a “nice package” for Raniere.
Salzman addressed the victims present in court, thanking them and calling them “brave.”
“I hear what they’re saying and I know that it’s true,” Salzman said. “It kills me that I hurt people that I love so much.”
She described the process of coming to terms with the “complete nightmare” her life had become, and said that being in home confinement “allowed me to see the truth.”
“The whole way this transpired really saved my life,” she said.
“There isn’t a day that goes by without me feeling regret and remorse. I showed reprehensible judgment and I harmed a lot of people.”
Of DOS, Salzman said: “There was nothing empowering about this group. There was pain, deceit. There was humiliation, control.”
Garaufis appeared to have been moved by Salzman’s four-day testimony at trial, as well as her efforts to move forward with her life while under home confinement.
As he did during Mack’s sentencing, Garaufis acknowledged that Salzman had participated in carrying out Raniere’s “sadistic and sexually deviant visions,” but that “she is also herself a victim of Raniere and his depravity.”
Supportive letters to the court describe Salzman attending dog grooming school, running an in-home service in Clifton Park, New York, and focusing in particular on animals with skin and coat disorders.
A job “helping animals back to health” is a sign of Salzman’s “inner sense of empathy and duty,” Garaufis said.
“[It’s] not going to make her rich, it’s not going to make her powerful. It’s just going to make her a whole person,” he said.
Garaufis offered some overarching thoughts on the prosecution of NXIVM leaders, noting the difference between violent crimes that are portrayed visually. This case involved the “silent, secret manipulation that is so difficult to find, expose and punish.”
“How in the world this went on for so many years in Albany, New York, and its environs … will forever be a sad mystery to this court,” the judge said.
He praised Eastern District of New York prosecutors for taking up the case, holding that it “is not comprehensible” how Albany officials were aware of the “ongoing illegality and abuse.”
Ultimately, Garaufis said, prosecuting the case saved the lives of those involved with NXIVM, and “who knows how many others” that may have been roped into the cult if it had not been stopped.
That applies to Salzman directly, he said.
“This prosecution has salvaged a life,” Garaufis said. “That’s what we’re really here to do.”
Salzman’s attorney, Hector J. Diaz, declined to comment on his client’s sentencing.
Raniere was recently ordered to pay nearly $3.5 million in restitution. He is serving a life sentence in an Arizona federal prison, after being convicted on all charged counts of sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and creation and possession of child pornography.
Like Salzman, each of the women charged alongside Raniere pleaded guilty, including Seagrams heiress Clare Bronfman, who has been paying Raniere's attorney fees, Bronfman received a prison sentence of nearly seven years.
Nancy Salzman is scheduled to be sentenced in September.
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