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.”