BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – Just hours into deliberations, jurors returned a guilty verdict Wednesday against NXIVM cult leader Keith Raniere.
The jury began deliberations at about 9:25 this morning and announced Raniere’s convictions on all counts just after 2:30 p.m., bringing a quick end to the trial that has already spanned six weeks.
Raniere faced seven counts in total charging him, among other things, with sex trafficking, forced labor and wire fraud. The fraud charge alone included 11 different racketeering acts, including creation and possession of child pornography, conspiracy to commit identity theft, extortion, and trafficking and document servitude.
Though many in the packed courtroom let out gasps and sobs as the judge’s clerk read the verdict aloud, the 58-year-old Raniere did not appear to react.
U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue called Raniere a “modern-day Svengali” afterward in a press conference outside the courthouse, referring to the fictional character now invoked to connote a person who manipulates or controls another through bad influence.
One of Raniere’s attorneys, Paul DerOhannesian, put a different spin on it.
“He’s not someone who fits in with everyday moral arithmetic,” the lawyer said of Raniere.
As the verdict was read, most of the jurors kept their gazes down, though one, a man in the second row, sat with his arms crossed, staring straight at Raniere with a slight smile on his face.
Lead defense attorney Marc Agnifilo vowed to appeal but said he was not surprised that the jury turned around the verdict so quickly.
“I think that happens in emotional cases … and I can’t think of a more emotional case,” Agnifilo said in the hallway after the verdict. “It was an incredibly taxing, emotional, difficult trial for so many people, and I think that emotion sometimes gets reflected in the jury’s verdict.”
Raniere billed NXIVM (pronounced Nexium) as a self-help group, and held himself out to followers as a “renunciate” who had no need for money or material possessions.
But witnesses painted the 58-year-old as a manipulative, controlling leader who ran a secret society within NXIVM called DOS, or “The Vow,” where women were forced into sexual relationships with Raniere and branded with his initials along their pubic lines.
Following his March 2018 arrest in Mexico, Raniere was charged alongside five NXIVM members, all women, who pleaded guilty before trial: Seagram’s liquor heiress Clare Bronfman, “Smallville” actress Allison Mack, NXIVM bookkeeper Kathy Russell, and mother-daughter duo Nancy and Lauren Salzman.
Lauren Salzman testified to acting as a so-called first-line slave master in the DOS group, in which Raniere purportedly held himself out as “Vanguard.”
One former DOS slave named Nicole testified that Raniere had blindfolded her and brought her to an apartment where she was tied to a table and sexually assaulted by another woman while he watched.
Prosecutors have identified that other woman as Camila, a sister of another slave identified only as Daniela. One of the charges against Raniere involves pornographic images of Camila taken in 2005 when she was a child.
Lauren Salzman testified that she helped Raniere use threats of deportation to keep Daniela, who is a Mexican national, in a room in the Albany suburbs for two years.
Along with Salzman, former DOS members Sylvie, Nicole and “J” testified that they had handed over compromising images of themselves as collateral to join DOS. Jurors heard audiotape of Raniere giving stream-of-consciousness instructions for the DOS branding ceremonies, where members had his initials burned into their bikini lines as they were held to a table “like a sacrificial whatever,” in his words.
They said Raniere held some women in DOS to 500- or 600-calorie-per-day diets; Lauren Salzman said he told her to get her weight down to 100 pounds. He also would not allow his sex partners to groom their pubic hair, and kept a folder of naked photographs of these women hidden on a hard drive in his “Executive Library” at 8 Hale Drive in Halfmoon, N.Y.
Agnifilo argued that while Raniere might be a womanizer and full of himself, “repulsive” evidence does not necessarily equal a guilty defendant. He tried to undermine the witnesses’ credibility and pin the blame on others including Allison Mack or Raniere’s former longtime partner Kristin Keeffe, who mothered one of his children and did not testify at the trial.
Raniere has been held without bail at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.
Lead prosecutor Moira Penza was visibly tearful in the courtroom after the verdict as she exchanged hugs with fellow Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tanya Hajjar and Mark Lesko, who also appeared emotional. As they departed the press conference outside, cheers erupted from a crowd of onlookers — presumably part of the anti-NXIVM population that attended days of the trial and later trailed the lawyers down the sidewalk away from the courthouse.
The trial saw a number of attendees with close emotional connections to the case, including two former partners of Raniere, Toni Natalie and Barbara Bouchey, who attended every day. “Dynasty” actress Catherine Oxenberg, mother of former DOS slave India Oxenberg, also made frequent appearances and was present for the verdict Wednesday, wearing sunglasses and sobbing in the back row.
Afterward, when asked by reporters what they were going to do now, Natalie told reporters she and Catherine Oxenberg were going to “have a drink.”
On the first day of summations, India Oxenberg sat in the back row with government witnesses and fellow former DOS slaves Nicole and “J.”
Donoghue told reporters he was pleased with the verdict.
“Over the last seven weeks, this trial has revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact, a master manipulator, a con man and the crime boss of a cult-like organization involved in sex trafficking, child pornography, extortion, compelled abortions, branding, degradation and humiliation,” Donoghue said.
“His crimes, and the crimes of his co-conspirators, ruined marriages, careers, fortunes and lives.”