BROOKLYN, N.Y. (CN) – One member of a Mexican family with deep ties to the New York-based purported self-help group NXIVM testified Thursday that its former leader, accused of leading a secretive sex cult within the organization, had sex with her younger sister when the girl was 16.
The witness, identified only as Daniela, took the stand Thursday morning in the Brooklyn trial of former NXIVM leader Keith Raniere, 58. He faces charges of racketeering, sex trafficking, forced labor, and sexual exploitation of a child, among others.
Daniela, now 33, told jurors Raniere had had sexual relationships with her, her older sister Marianna, and her younger sister Camila. Daniela said she found out about Camila’s relationship with the defendant in late 2006. Camila, born in March 1990, was 16 at the time. Raniere was about 30 years her senior.
It’s a devastating allegation against Raniere and will be difficult for his defense team to refute, as prosecutors say they have nude photos of a teenage Camila.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Penza timed her direct examination for a powerful conclusion to the week. At the very end of the day, jurors saw several photos of a younger, beaming Camila on a beach in Mexico with her family followed by a final, cropped photo of the girl lying back on a bed, neck and shoulders bare. On that note, jurors were dismissed for the long weekend and will not sit again until Tuesday.
Raniere called Camila “Virgin Camila” or “VC,” Daniela said. Camila had come to Albany to be a maid for former NXIVM president Nancy Salzman, though the family lived a comfortable life in Mexico and she was still in high school. Daniela said she confronted Raniere about his relationship with her little sister in 2006. Years later, Camila would become a “first-line master” in DOS, the secret sex slavery group within NXIVM allegedly headed by Raniere.
“He told me that there were some women -- girls -- that were more emotionally mature than others,” Daniela told the jury. “I never spoke to Keith again.”
She described feeling concerned but also jealous, which she said she is ashamed of.
“I was thinking, oh, he made me wait until after my 18th birthday [to have sex],” she told jurors, choking up on the stand. “I deeply regret that I didn’t at that moment get my sister out of there.”
Daniela, her sisters, and their brother, Hector Adrian, had an “idyllic” childhood in Mexico, she told Raniere’s jury. Exceptionally bright, Daniela was enrolled in an international baccalaureate program and had plans to attend an elite boarding school in Switzerland on a scholarship when NXIVM came to town.
Her parents had attended some of the group’s self-help courses in Monterrey, and as a farewell gift before Daniela left for Switzerland, her father bought her a package of classes. Then-16-year-old Daniela decided to forego Switzerland and fly to Albany to learn from NXIVM and its storied leader. She never got a high school diploma.
When Daniela was 17, Raniere kissed her unexpectedly, she said. It was her first kiss. She characterized what happened next as a setup. She stole $6,000 in cash from the NXIVM administrative office, where she was working without pay. Wracked with guilt, she put it back a day later, but then confessed to Raniere, who held it over her head, she said.
“He set me up like a little deer. He set the trap and then when I fell, he was like, ‘Oh, you fell in the trap!’” she told the jury.
She testified that just days after her 18th birthday, a 40-something Raniere took her to an old office building to have sex, on what she described as a mattress on the floor with dirty sheets. He performed oral sex on her, she said, and “then he took off his clothes and climbed on top of me for a little while, and he gave me a hug -- a long hug is what it was,” Daniela said.