BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) - Keith Raniere and several associates of the purported self-help group NXIVM held a young woman in a room in her family’s house for two years after she kissed another man, she testified over several days at Raniere’s sex-cult trial before finally leaving the witness stand Friday afternoon.
The woman, a Mexican national identified only as “Daniela,” told jurors she had been so psychologically manipulated by Raniere that she stayed in the room in Clifton Park, N.Y., from approximately March 2010 until February 2012 even though the door was unlocked.
She described the room as punishment from a jealous Raniere, whom she’d been performing regular oral sex on since just after her 18th birthday.
“Please Keith I don’t wanna be in here anymore. Please, please,” Daniela, now 33, wrote in a letter to the defendant in October 2010, when she was about 25 and illegally in the U.S. “Can I please come out of this room? Please? PLEASE?’
Several days later she wrote, “Keith, I think I’ve made myself very clear. I want to come out of this room.”
She had only a foam mattress a few inches thick, a pen and paper, she testified this week, telling jurors, “After I spent a certain amount of time alone, there were times when I think I went crazy.”
Daniela is one of six members of a Mexican family that moved to Albany in the mid-2000s and became deeply involved in NXIVM, the purported self-help company Raniere led. He’s now on trial for racketeering conspiracy, sex trafficking, child porn, forced labor and other charges. Before being confined in the room, Daniela says she performed illegal computer hacking and other unpaid labor for NXIVM at Raniere’s direction.
Lauren Salzman, a co-defendant of Raniere who pleaded guilty in March and testified earlier this month, said she assisted Raniere in Daniela’s captivity.
Daniela was supposed to be healing what she called her “ethical breach,” a NXIVM term that basically means she’d committed a sin in the community. She said she was not exactly sure what the breach entailed but thought it included the relationship with the other man, as well as her weight and the fact that she had stolen $6,000 from the NXIVM administrative office years earlier. Raniere had an obsession with women’s weight, several witnesses have now testified, and pressured them into low-calorie diets.
Jurors heard an audio recording of Raniere convincing her mother and sister she needed to be punished, comparing her ethical breach to killing a baby.
“Every waking hour was about my ethical breach,” Daniela said earlier this week.
Jurors also saw a May 2009 email from Raniere in which he wrote, “Fix your breach you lazy shit.”
In the room, Daniela drew self-portraits with captions like “Is this the end? Yes.” She also created a lively newsletter she called The Wilton Times and even described making herself a French-English dictionary using labels from soap and a container of spinach.
At one point Daniela started collecting cleaning supplies with plans to end her life, she told jurors. But on the day she planned for the attempt, she said she looked out the window and saw a cardinal, and decided she wanted to live.
It wasn’t long after that she walked out of the room and into one of NXIVM’s famous all-night volleyball games to confront Raniere. He ran away from her, she testified. Not long after, Daniela was driven back to Mexico by her father and another high-ranking NXIVM member.
On cross-examination, Raniere’s lawyer Marc Agnifilo cut to the crux of the complicated case against his client.
Daniela wrote dozens, perhaps hundreds, of what appear to be love letters and emails to Raniere while she was in the room and after she left. But she insisted she hadn’t meant what she wrote -- that Raniere and his colleagues had manipulated and “coached” her into writing what she thought Raniere wanted to see.
“None of these [letters] are simple,” she said Friday, wearing a black blazer over a white T-shirt emblazoned with a tiger. “This is the product of a small lifetime of manipulation.”
“That’s not what you’re saying,” Agnifilo shot back. “What you’re saying is, ‘Hi. I have been thinking about you.’”
Daniela’s story is mostly unrelated to and precedes the creation of DOS, the alleged secretive sex cult within NXIVM that has dominated the case.
Daniela said she now lives in Mexico and is a plant manager and general director at a manufacturing company she plans to purchase. She left the stand Friday after nearly five full days of testimony.
As she exited the well of the courtroom, she swung around for one last glance at Raniere, smiled slightly almost to herself, shook her head, and kept walking.
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