BROOKLYN (CN) — Convicted of keeping women as sex “slaves” and branding his initials above their pubic lines, NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere was sentenced Tuesday to 120 years in federal prison.
Raniere, 60, must also pay a $1.75 million fine, and he is forbidden from contacting anyone affiliated with NXIVM or its subgroup DOS.
A jury found Raniere guilty in June 2019 on all seven counts against him: sex trafficking, forced labor conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, and creation and possession of child pornography.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis handed down the sentence on a gray day in Brooklyn, after more than a dozen of Raniere’s victims came forward despite the ongoing pandemic to share their stories in person.
The hours of testimony described decades of physical and emotional abuse, surveillance, threats and litigation from Raniere and his followers. While most of the witnesses spoke in person, two testified via video, and another by audio.
They included four members of a family torn apart by NXIVM: sisters Daniela and Camila; their brother, Adrian; and mother, Adriana. The family’s remaining daughter and father remain in NXIVM (pronounced Nexium).
Camila spoke in an even voice, with just a slight waver at times, as she described being sexually and emotionally abused by Raniere. Camila first met Raniere when she was 13 years old. She was 15 the first time they had sex; Raniere was 45.
“He tried to replace my voice with his own, my thoughts with his self-serving ideas.”
Raniere isolated Camila from her family and cut off ties, she said.
“He made himself my only lifeline.” As she became unreachable to family and friends concerned for her wellbeing, “eventually, they stopped asking.”
To reflect the “immeasurable damage” that they said Raniere’s victims endured, prosecutors had called for him to serve a life sentence. Raniere has been kept behind bars since his arrest, and the government’s sentencing memo says he has continued to contact supporters from there, while also expressing contempt for victims.
Twice already Raniere has demanded a new trial, bringing the last request just eight days before his sentencing date. Judge Garaufis denied the second motion on Oct. 23.
The sexual abuse charges against Raniere arose largely from a subgroup he created within NXIVM called DOS or The Vow.
Likened to a pyramid scheme, the group included “masters” who recruited “slaves” as sexual partners for Raniere, who made members call him “Vanguard.”
Both the DOS leaders and slaves were women. As witnesses testified during last year’s six-week trial, everything about their lives from what they ate or wore was decided by Raniere. He forbade them from having sex with anyone other than himself, using collateral like sexually explicit photos and sensitive information to coopt the women into pledging lifelong vows. Camila was blackmailed with a nude photo taken of her when she was only 15.
She later became a “first-line master of DOS,” according to the sentencing memo. In a 368-page appendix, prosecutors showed thousands of text messages between Raniere and Camila in which he asks her to recruit “virgins” for him to have sex with, including as a birthday present.
The messages also discuss Camila’s older sister, Daniela, with whom Raniere began a sexual relationship when Daniela was 18. After Daniela told Raniere she had developed feelings for someone else, he confined her to a room for two years, “during which she went months without human contact,” the memo says.
Raniere confiscated Daniela’s birth certificate, a copy of which she was ultimately able to obtain with the help of an attorney at a human rights commission.
Several women in the higher level of DOS pleaded guilty to related charges. Seagram’s heiress Clare Bronfman was sentenced just last month to nearly seven years in prison for her role in financing the operation.
Raniere started NXIVM in Albany, New York, in the 1990s, along with former nurse and hypnotherapist Nancy Salzman. Membership grew to include more than 16,000 people in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Telling recruits he had a genius IQ and would help them find enlightenment, Raniere attracted prominent members including Bronfman and actress Allison Mack. Salzman’s daughter Lauren, Mack and NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell were charged alongside Raniere, and all pleaded guilty.
NXIVM is the subject of HBO documentary “The Vow,” which wrapped up its first season on Oct. 18.