Keith Raniere, a self-improvement guru whose organization NXIVM attracted millionaires and actresses among its adherents, was sentenced Tuesday to 120 years in prison on convictions that he turned some female followers into sex slaves branded with his initials.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis announced the unusually lengthy prison term Tuesday afternoon for Raniere after hearing 15 victims speak in court, and saying that the cult leader failed to demonstrate any remorse for the “particularly egregious” crimes in which he targeted girls and young women. Some of those who spoke described the sexual and emotional abuse they suffered, while others still expressed support for Raniere.
The judge told a woman who Raniere ordered to be kept in a room for two years when she was 18: “What happened to you is not your fault.” He said that went for the other victims too.
Raniere looked at victims as they spoke in the courtroom, maintained his defiant tone, although he said he was “truly sorry” that his organization led to a place where “there is so much anger and so much pain.”
“I do believe I am innocent of the charges. ... It is true I am not remorseful of the crimes I do not believe I committed at all,” he said.
After victims spoke for 2 1/2 hours, the judge grew impatient and a bit angry when defense lawyer Marc Agnifilo sought to portray his client’s organization as “doing good” for women before things turned bad for some.
“I’ve heard enough about Mr. Raniere’s theories,” Garaufis snapped.
The judge said Raniere groomed a 13-year-old girl so that “two years later he’s having sex with a 15-year-old girl.” At another point, he cut Agnifilo off as the lawyer tried to argue victims were not always factually correct.
“You’re starting to tire me out here,” the judge said. “It’s pretty clear he took advantage of people sexually.”
Earlier, India Oxenberg, the daughter of “Dynasty” actor Catherine Oxenberg, called Raniere an “entitled little princess” and a sexual predator and lamented that she “may have to spend the rest of my life with Keith Raneire’s initials seared into me.” Another victim said she had the initials removed from her body by a plastic surgeon.
Other victims labeled him a liar, a parasite, a terrorist, a sociopath, a racist, a sadist and “a toddler with too much power and zero accountability.” The woman who was sexually abused beginning at age 15 said Raniere groomed her by telling her she was mature for her age.
“It is false. I was a child,” she said.
She said that when Raniere saw blood running down her arm after a botched suicide attempt, he revealed his self-obsessed attitude, asking her: “Do you know how bad that could have been for me if you killed yourself?”
Outside court afterward, Barbara Boucher, who described herself as the first whistleblower of Raniere’s scam when she left the group 11 years ago, said the sentencing left her “enormously relieved.”
“I loved Keith for many years. I really thought he was my soulmate,” said Boucher, who recalled her role in helping to build the organization when she first viewed it as a kind of Camelot where people could be empowered to be more loving and compassionate and live better lives.
“A lot of people today in this room will carry their wounds with them for life. You don’t recover fully from something like this. It’s deep,” she said. Still, the once-successful financial planner sees a future.
“This is a 20-year book and this is the last chapter of the book and when I leave here today, that book is closing,” Boucher said.
The court proceeding in Brooklyn culminates several years of revelations about NXIVM, which charged thousands of dollars for invitation-only self improvement courses at its headquarters near Albany, New York, and had branches in Mexico and Canada.
Guests included Hollywood actors and other affluent or prominent individuals, some of whom were willing to endure humiliation and pledge obedience for Raniere's vision of how to pursue perfection.
Prosecutors seeked life in prison while defense lawyers say he should face 15 years behind bars for his conviction on charges including racketeering, alien smuggling, sex trafficking, extortion and obstruction of justice.
NXIVM has been the subject of two TV documentary series this year, HBO's “The Vow,” and the Starz series “Seduced: Inside the NXIVM Cult.”
Prosecutors said Raniere, 60, led what amounted to a criminal enterprise, inducing shame and guilt to influence and control co-conspirators who helped recruit and groom sexual partners for Raniere.
They said that among other crimes, Raniere began a sexual relationship in 2005 with a 15-year-old girl and confined another teenager to a room for nearly two years.
The likelihood of leniency seemed to dissipate with the recent sentencing of Clare Bronfman, 41, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, for her role in what has been described by some ex-members as a cult. Bronfman was sentenced to nearly seven years in prison. Prosecutors had only sought five years.
Ex-followers told the judge that Bronfman for years had used her wealth to try to silence NXIVM defectors.
Reniere's followers called him “Vanguard.” To honor him, the group formed a secret sorority comprised of female “slaves” who were branded with his initials and ordered to have sex with him, the prosecutors said. Women were also pressured into giving up embarrassing information about themselves that could be used against them if they left the group.
Along with Bronfman, Raniere’s teachings won him the devotion of Hollywood actors including Allison Mack of TV’s “Smallville.” Mack also has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.
In a sentencing submission, lawyers for Reniere said he “continues to assert his complete innocence to these charges.”
They wrote that his jury conviction at an unfair trial resulted from a media campaign involving witnesses who were motivated to testify falsely as part of a “heavy-handed prosecution that threatened potential defense witnesses."
And they noted that prosecutors have criticized him for not showing remorse as he tried to create a podcast to amplify his claims of innocence.
“He has acted precisely how an innocent man would act, shouting from every rooftop every waking hour that the system has wrongfully convicted him," the lawyers wrote.
His lawyers said the life prison term prosecutors sought seemed out of line with a case involving no guns, knives or force.
“No one was shot, stabbed, punched, kicked, slapped or even yelled at," they said. “Despite the sex offenses, there is no evidence that any woman ever told Keith Raniere that she did not want to kiss him, touch him, hold his hand or have sex with him.”