A “self-help” guru convicted of leading a cult-like organization of sex slaves marked with his initials was sentenced to 120 years in prison by a judge in New York on Tuesday.
The effective life sentence for Keith Raniere, 60, comes after he was found guilty of forcing women to have sex with him as the charismatic leader of Nxivm, a life coaching group that attracted a coterie of rich and famous devotees.
Supporters signed up for $ 5,000, five-day self-help courses, but some were then exploited financially and sexually and forced to follow a restrictive diet when Raniere – known as “Vanguard” – exercised control, hearing his six-week trial.
He established a faction within the group called the DOS, a pyramid structure in which the women were “slaves” and the “Grand Master” Raniere sat at the top.
The “slaves” were made to have sex with Raniere, handing over personal information and compromising photos – and some of the women were labeled as cattle when other members held them down.
Raniere was convicted in June 2019 on all seven charges against him, including violence, sex trafficking, extortion, criminal conspiracy and sexual exploitation of a 15-year-old girl.
“I was a child. (He) robbed me of my youth,” the woman said in a statement regarding consequences during her hearing.
A total of 15 people – including 13 women – spoke in Brooklyn court on Tuesday, while more than 90 victims wrote letters to Judge Nicholas Garaufis.
Nxivm – pronounced Nexium – proved to be a major feature of its promise of self-improvement courses after Raniere founded the organization in New York State in 1998.
But Raniere, who was arrested in Mexico in 2018, switched the personal development courses to sex sessions as the leader of the subgroup of up to 20 women – the youngest of whom was the 15-year-old.
The dramatic story has been the subject of two screen adaptations: HBO’s recently released “The Vow” docu-series and “Escaping the Nxivm Cult,” a 2019 Lisa Robinson film that focused on the testimony of a mother who worked to save his daughter from the organization.
Raniere spoke to the court on Tuesday, saying he was “deeply saddened” by the “pain and anger” his victims had expressed but maintained his innocence.
“I have no regrets about the charges. That is not true,” he added.
Five other people were charged in the case and all pleaded guilty.
German-born American actress Allison Mack – known for her role in “Smallville” – admitted two counts of racketeering in April 2019.
The heir to the Canadian drinking empire Seagram, Clare Bronfman, was convicted last month after also pleading guilty.
The 41-year-old was accused of spending more than $ 100 million of his estimated net worth of $ 2.6 billion to fund the group and received more than six years in prison.
Following Ranier’s conviction, New York prosecutor Richard Donoghue said the case “revealed that Raniere, who portrayed himself as a savant and a genius, was in fact a master manipulator, a man and the head of crime for a cult-like organization.”
Prosecutors had called for a life sentence and accused Raniere of a “total denial of guilt”.
Based on calls and emails after conviction, prosecutors said Raniere presented his organization as a “good” thing and wondered “who will carry out this burning torch?”
Raniere’s defense team – which unsuccessfully asked the jury to focus on whether they saw his actions as legal, even though they found them immoral – had suggested that a 15-year prison sentence would be appropriate.